“Indie-vaudeveille conceptual art-rock pop band.” Mull that over for a minute. For that is the only partially ironic epigram Seattle, Wash.’s, Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players have slapped on themselves.
So what exactly is this thing called the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players? It is the family Trachtenburg’s invitation to join them for a collision of pop music, theatre, performance art and laffs.
Dad Jason plays keyboards and sings, 9-year-old daughter Rachel sings and plays drums and mom Tina projects the slides and makes the costumes. See? The name makes perfect sense.
“The concept started off as just an exercise,” says Jason. “I didn’t look to set the entertainment world on fire with slide shows.
“It was just, ‘Here’s a test: Can I write a song about these slides?’”
Performing infectious-if-minimal indie-pop/show tunes with lyrical narratives cribbed, rewritten and inspired by slides the family has found along the way — yard sales, thrift stores — each song is given shape by the slides. A tray of McDonalds corporate training slides becomes winning social commentary. A set of slides of office workers and gray-suited urban drudgery becomes a visual straw man for the trickle-down effects of corporate America. It’s important however, to note that the Trachtenburgs make light work of this potentially heavy lifting, preferring to err short on theory, long on charm.
The Trachtenburgs are the creative, thrifty family that makes their own fun. On stage, Jason resembles some DNA splice between a trusty, disheveled record store clerk and Austin Powers. Rachel is the precocious kid at the birthday party — engaged but aloof and likely brighter than she’ll show. Mom Tina’s patient, the rock, a beatific grin finding its way across her face as she watches mate and progeny shine. In an alternate universe they’re bigger than the Osbournes and the Osmonds.
“We have to do this band,” says Jason, “because we received a calling from the hierarchy of Entertainment. Entertainment is such a necessity. Entertainment is asexual. If you’re truly being entertained, you’re not concerned about the situations of the world. … I am not afraid of hyper-bowl.”
“We have this act. I’m a big fan of the history of entertainment and of the history of rock and the history of American songwriting. I felt that the genre was in need of an artistic and comical, yet still melodic, boost. It really struck a nerve in fans of entertainment.”
And they’ve struck a nerve amongst the critics, apparently. Scribes across the country have dutifully spread the gospel of the Trachtenburgs low-rent high-concept. And rightfully so. As the family’s audiences have grown larger, it is becoming apparent that they might be that rare collision of critical adoration and honest-to-goodness grassroots phenomenon. Their debut CD, Vintage Slide Collections from Seattle Vol. 1, has been re-released on Bar/None records as an interactive CD. (You can view the slides along with the songs — highly recommended, as the music is nice, but nonessential without context sans visuals.)
From the jump, the Trachtenburgs consciously tried to raise expectations. “I’m just asking bands to be as entertaining as they can possibly be. You’re only given so much entertainment ability chromosomally,” says Jason.
For the Trachtenburgs (presuming they’re all on the same page as Dad), part of entertaining meant skewering the ongoing homogenization of the American mainstream culture — a process the band has had the (dis)pleasure of witnessing firsthand on their numerous road jaunts in the family’s ’83 Chevrolet Suburban.
“Being able to put my own twist on it, on how society runs, is part of the purpose of this. I feel corporatization of America is getting pretty sad when you drive into any town in the country and it all looks the same. We’ve driven around the country five times now and it’s really disheartening. It’s not the people’s fault; corporations don’t give you much of a choice,” Jason says.
But he’s hopeful for the holdouts too. “When you find the little independent areas, it’s so much more enriching.” That sort of independence is part and parcel of the Trachtenburgs’ family ethos.
“This is how we make our living. We don’t have to go to jobs or anything!” he says.
“Rachel is home-schooled, which is much better than those factories kids get sent to.”
On a more conceptual level, the band-family dynamic feeds the fires. “Of course our family is our reality too. And in the band we get to incorporate our family reality. Our life is our band and our band is our life. … It’s just a natural extension of the reality that we’ve carved out for ourselves which is nutty and unconventional — very much outside the mainstream.”
You can say that again.
See the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players at Magic Bag (22920 Woodward, Ferndale) on Thursday, Oct. 30. Call 248-544-3030 for information. Detroit’s Cass Records will release a TFSP 7-inch sometime before year’s end. More at www.cassrecords.com.Chris Handyside is a freelance writer for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org