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— By Gil Kaufman

If music is all about painting pictures with sound, then the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players might just be the Andy Warhols of the underground. This mother/father/daughter team has grown from being a bizarre art project to a buzzworthy group this year via a quirky stage show that combines mundane slides found at estate sales with sugary pop songs describing them.

Watching 9-year-old drummer Rachel pound the skins as dad Jason sings the praises of "Mountain Trip to Japan, 1959" is one thing, but like the Blue Man Group and Fischerspooner, the dilemma for the family was, "How do you take a show that is inherently visual and capture it on a CD?"

The answer can be found, and heard, on the group's recently released full-length debut, Vintage Slide Collections From Seattle, Vol. 1. "As a singer/songwriter, the medium of recorded music is always your first avenue," said keyboardist/singer Jason Trachtenburg, who struggled in bands and as a solo performer for nearly a decade before stumbling upon the slide show concept with wife/projector operator Tina "Piña" Trachtenburg a few years ago. "But when we started this it became a question of, 'Will it translate to a CD?' "

The way Jason saw it, something like "Opnad Contribution Study Committee Report, June 1977" was still just a song, but it happened to be a conceptual art song based on someone else's memories. "All songs are from somewhere, generally from someone's fictitious relationship or an exaggerated version of a real relationship," he said. "I never felt comfortable singing about my own reality."

The latter might explain why Jason's solo material included odes to the radiation effects of cell phone antennas, the realities of auto insurance in the '90s and toothpaste.

"We took our 11 songs in the studio just like any other band and tried to make the best possible recordings from a pop perspective," said Trachtenburg, 39, who helped support his family for 10 years as a professional dog walker. "On top of that, because the songs are all based on slides, we felt strongly that we needed to make the record stand on its own." The band recruited Presidents of the United States of America's Chris Ballew to play bass, as well as former Gigolo Aunts guitarist Phil Hurley and Fastbacks drummer Mike Musburger to help out.

In order to capture the whimsy and vaudeville feel of the group's typically sold-out live gigs, the Trachtenburgs and their label, Bar/None Records, decided to bring a bit of the show to the studio. "We spent a lot of time with them wrestling over that," said Bar/None owner Glenn Morrow, who also recommended that the tracks, cut two years ago, be overdubbed with some of Rachel's drumming.

"Jason is a real songwriter, with choruses that stick in your brain, but we also thought the CD [should] have a great, expanded booklet with slides." Though the original plan was to include all of the band's slides in the booklet, Morrow said that concept was abandoned in favor of including two full slide shows on the disc as QuickTime movies in addition to a 16-page selection of slides.

"Eggs" and "Mountain Trip" give the uninitiated a glimpse of how the music and visuals come together at a Trachtenburg show, bridging the gap in ways your old Kiss albums never could. "Everyone keeps asking if it will make sense," Jason Trachtenburg laughed. "I think we'll be judged differently than all other bands because we have to prove ourselves in ways other bands don't."

Morrow hopes to eventually release a DVD that will give the full experience, but until that happens, Jason said the family will keep its show on the road.

The band recently filmed a pilot for a possible VH1 special in which Jason writes songs based on current events. In addition, he's already written the next three volumes of the group's albums. "The plan is to release five albums of slide material," he said. "We have thousands of slides and we'd like to put out a holiday album in 2004 based on the holiday shows we do every year. It's called Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players On Ice and it will feature holiday songs based on holiday slides we've found, a holiday song Rachel wrote and one about seasonal affective disorder."

Jason promised that Volume 2 will be more of a rock record along the lines of a White Stripes album. "[Vol. 1] laid the groundwork," he said noting that some people might find his "unique" vocal style a bit hard to swallow at first. "It takes a while to train the ear to hear it," he said. "Originally people had no idea what [Bob] Dylan was talking about either."


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(full-length audio)
Vintage Slide Collections From Seattle, Vol. 1
(Bar None)

 "Mountain Trip to Japan, 1959" (live)
Vintage Slide Collections From Seattle, Vol. 1
(Bar None)

 "Look At Me" (live)
Vintage Slide Collections From Seattle, Vol. 1
(Bar None)

 "Eggs" (live)
Vintage Slide Collections From Seattle, Vol. 1
(Bar None)
   Photo: John E. Hollingsworth