The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players are creating a sensation in New York City nightclubs. From left: Tina, Rachel and Jason Trachtenburg.
Nine-year-old Rachel Trachtenburg plays drums for the family band.
Ned Wharton, NPR
The Trachtenburg family at the NorthSix club in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
One of the hippest drummers to hit the New York City nightclub scene recently is also one of the youngest. She's Rachel Trachtenburg, and at age nine, she's the youngest member of the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, an eccentric act that's become one of the most talked-about bands in Manhattan and its environs.
The group also includes Rachel's father, Jason, who plays the piano and keyboards and sings, and her mother, Tina, who mans the slide projector — filled with photos of other people's lives — that's at the heart of the musical trio's act. NPR's Ned Wharton recently caught up with the band at NorthSix, a nightclub in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Jason and Tina met at an open mic session in New York City in the late 1980s. The couple drifted to Austin, Texas, and San Francisco before eventually settling in Seattle, where Rachel was born. While Jason, a struggling musician, played garage pop, the family supported itself through a dog-walking business.
Then a few years ago, Tina came home with an old slide projector and a box of slides labeled "Mountain Trip to Japan, 1959" that she'd picked up at estate sales. Jason made up quirky lyrics to accompany the photos, and a gimmick was born. It wasn't long before the family was regularly playing Seattle's coffee houses with their slideshow act in tow.
Jason Trachtenburg, an ambitious artist and proud parent, was determined to find bigger audiences, and last summer he loaded up the family in their Volvo and drove east to make it in New York. He's convinced he's onto something big.
"The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players have come up with a concept that will potentially revolutionize entertainment as we know it," Jason says.
Industrial slides from the 1970s, wide-lapelled executives from a McDonald's corporate presentation — all are fodder for a Trachtenburg extravaganza. With titles such as What Will the Corporation Do? and Fondue Friends in Switzerland, their loopy, catchy songs have been described as falling somewhere between the ridiculous and the subversive.
The star of the show is young Rachel — her pigtailed stage presence has earned her comparisons to fellow drummer Meg White of the White Stripes. Rachel, who's also played bass for indie band Schwervon, seems comfortable in the limelight.
"I like staying up late and I like being with my mommy and daddy, and I think it's fun to play the drums," Rachel says.
The Trachtenburgs like to blur the lines between their onstage presence and offstage reality. Jason's father Mort Trachtenburg often comes up from New Jersey to catch the shows, a proud father and grandfather with a camera hanging from his neck. Rachel stamps the hands of club patrons at the door, while Jason and Tina mingle with the crowd.
The family act has definitely struck a chord with audiences. In recent months, the group has played weekly to packed clubs in Manhattan and across the river in the latest hipster hangouts of Williamsburg. Write-ups in publications including The New Yorker and a January appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien have only enhanced the group's drawing power. They've even released a CD, Vintage Slide Collections from Seattle Volume 1, which is only available from their website and at their shows. Jason says the group has plenty left to offer.
"We would like to put out 5 volumes of records," Jason says. "I have thousands of slides that are all choice cuts, good pictures, interesting people doing interesting things from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. There's at least 3 more records worth of material on those."