With apologies to Justin Timberlake, the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players are bringing VaudevilleBack. The eccentric family father Jason, mother Tina Piña and daughter Rachel, age twelve purchase photographic slides and reinterpret them as pop songs, projecting both music and snapshots while draped in hand-sewn variety ensembles. Jason, who sincerely believes that the future holds "radios that will come with a little pop-up slide screen so you can watch the slide shows" took time to discuss their craftsmanship and their debut day-in-the-life DVD, Off and On Broadway via landline, of course. He eschews cell phones (and microwaves!) for their radioactive properties and encourages everyone to look into their cancer-causing effects. But anyway, on with the show....
Kristyn Pomranz: When you buy slides at a garage or estate sale, do you tell the people what you're using them for?
Jason Trachtenburg: I generally don't say, "We're going to broadcast these all over the world and make fun of you and your deceased relatives." I get a little vague, with a distant look in my eyes: "Oh, we're just going to use them for an art project." Then as soon as I leave and we're running down the street with the slides, they're like, "Damn, it was the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players! I should have known! The Slideshow Players got us again!" At estate sales, a circular gets passed around: "Watch out for this Vaudeville family. They'll get your slides. They'll poke fun at you. And they'll poke fun at American culture while they do it! Beware! Don't sell your slides to this family!"
Talk to me about the art of finding a great slideshow.
We look for slides that contain interesting people doing interesting things someone from the golden age of slide photography (the '50s, '60s and '70s), wearing time-relevant fashions and visual imagery, colors that don't exist anymore. We're showing people images that time has forgotten, and reinterpreting lives of anonymous deceased strangers as shown through their slide collections.
How does the music evolve?
It comes together from a couple of strange notes that sound unique together; a mistake becomes the basis of the song. Your semblance of a note has to have a topic or a theory, and then the slides interpret the lyrics, which helps guide the song along. And if we're ever in need of the next logical lyric, we find some more slides and it takes care of itself.
Do you think it's more difficult to write when combining art and music, or easier since one can lead to the other?
The amount of time it takes to put together a slide song is about five times the length of a regular song, just because of the choreographing of it. It usually takes five two-hour sessions; I kind of have it down to a science. The songs can be done but the slides are still in their inception, so it has to come together at least on two levels. To make it have meaning beyond the obvious interpretations takes a bit more work, but that's what we do. The songs aren't taken at face value, there are usually levels of intrigue.
How do you feel about having the entire act seen on DVD versus just the CD songs?
If any band is going to have a DVD, I suppose it should be us; we should have had one out four years ago. It's great because it chronicles our first five years as a band, and it has allowed us to move on to the next five years. Just like any band, if you don't record your things, you get stuck with them. It's allowed us to come up with a whole new set of material, because we know that this set is out there and people can watch it on repeated viewings. So there's the live set, and now the DVD, and maybe in two years we'll release a new DVD of these songs. I feel that the DVD format is ideally suited for our band, and every two years we'll put out a new one that represents where we are in that two-year frame.
Where do you fall in the spectrum of musical families?
We've made ourselves a sociological reference point. When people talk about traveling families and traveling bands in the greater history of things, we will be mentioned. And obviously when it comes to traveling slideshow bands, we are at the forefront of the industry. If all bands start becoming slide bands as a result of our contribution, we'll definitely be known as the pioneers of the department. People say we fall somewhere between the Partridges and the Osbournes, but I think we're more like the Osmonds because they're a real family. Not that the Osbournes aren't, although that's open for interpretation. Jesus Christ, that was a weird time in American television history.
Why don't you guys do a reality show?
Oh, it's been bantered about. There's been talk of a concept show where we travel from city to city to purchase slide selections and then write songs specific to the town. Y'know: [sings] "St. Louis is alllriiiight with meee...."
I'd watch that in a hot second!
Obviously, I'm not as incoherent as Ozzy Osbourne, and I don't have the track record of Gene Simmons, but where it counts and I could be setting myself up for a serious, serious ass-whooping I would put my songwriting against either of those guys. The only reason I make such a challenge is because we are now all family entertainment outfits. They've chosen to enter that medium we're going to put our family up for scrutiny and entertainment possibilities. OK, but guys, let's talk about songwriting. I feel that our songs are better than yours, KISS and Black Sabbath! And even though both of you guys could kick my ass one hundred times over especially you, Gene, since Ozzy's a little sluggish at this point, although Sharon could kick my ass I will put my cards on the table and say we could make a more intriguing show and record than either of you guys at your best. I won't make you come out with new songs now because that won't be fair to you, but I'll put our stuff against your best stuff any day!
I'm going to print this. Is that OK with you?
No, actually, please don't print it.
OK, OK, print it. It's on! We're on, Ozzy! We're on, Gene! Bring it on!
Well, hopefully Ozzy and Gene don't take themselves too seriously.
That's the thing with the emo and indie scene. There's no irony left, there's no sense of humor, there's no social or political commentary. Try to find a melody, and you'll be scratching your head for the last fifteen years. But there are some good trends happening in pop and R&B Christina Aguilera! You think I'm kidding, but I love Christina Aguilera's new hit! And Britney Spears! Seriously. They just come out with hit after hit and they've been at it for five years. They are the future.
Do you think Britney and Kevin Federline and Sean Preston should start a traveling family slideshow band?
They have to! Britney has babies, get 'em on drums!