Thomas Truax

This photo by Andrew Werner; banner photo by Chris Saunders
This photo by Andrew Werner; banner photo by Chris Saunders

We’re back! Did you miss us? We promise to resume regularly posting Weird Bands of the Week and occasionally updating our Weird 100 chart, but other site updates will probably be more infrequent because we’ve both got demanding day jobs now. For our ever-popular Weird of the Day picks, follow us on Twitter or Facebook. And now, back to the weirdness…

This week’s “band” is a solo artist from New York named Thomas Truax (pronounced “True-Ax”) who plays guitar and a variety of homemade instruments, mostly of the beat-making variety. He started out as the bassist/vocalist for a ’90s trio called Like Wow that was part of downtown Manhattan’s “antifolk” scene (did anyone actually like the term “antifolk”? didn’t think so), then turned solo around 2000 or so. His signature instrument, seen above, is called the Hornicator. It’s a modified gramophone horn that he can both sing into and use as a twangy percussion instrument by plucking a string wrapped around its neck. It apparently also has a kazoo inside it, because really, any halfway decent homemade instrument may as well include a kazoo.

Musically, Truax tends to play his own spin on mutant, lo-fi blues, evoking shades of everything from Nick Cave to Jon Spencer to another weird artist famous for cleverly constructed analog drum machines, Mr. Quintron. He’s done an entire album of songs from David Lynch films and another of original songs to accompany a production of Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. More recently, he’s teamed up with ex-Dresden Doll drummer Brian Viglione. But it’s his solo live shows, where he unleashes his Hornicator and a variety of steampunky percussion instruments with evocative names like the Sister Spinster and the Mother Superior, that really showcase Truax’s weirdness.

Truax has also made more than his fair share of memorable music videos over the years. Here’s our favorite, suggested by reader Chas (thanks, Chas!), for a typically offbeat Truax original called “Prove It to My Daughter” that doubles as both a song and a hypnosis session:

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The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players

So last week, we got an email from one of our favorite little oddball labels, a U.K. outfit called Tummy Touch, and they brought us great news. The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players are still in business! Apparently they played a private showcase in New York on March 28th. Our Lear Jet was in the shop, so we couldn’t make it out from L.A., but hopefully this means there’ll be more Trachtenburg merriment coming soon.

For those of y’all not familiar: the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players are an “indie-vaudeville-conceptual-art-rock-slideshow band” (their words) made up of husband-wife team Jason and Tina Piña Trachtenburg and their daughter, Rachel. Jason plays guitar and keyboards and sings; Rachel plays the drums and a little harmonica and ukulele and sings; and Tina “plays” the slide projector and sings backup. All of their songs are accompaniments to vintage slideshows from the ’50s and ’60s, scrounged in thrift stores and estate sales. The Trachtenburgs comb through these slide collections and make up stories about the people in the photos. Basically, it’s postmodern, multimedia folk art, in which most of the participants are unwitting and possibly even deceased.

Much of the attention devoted to the Trachtenburgs has focused on daughter Rachel, because how many bands can you name in which the drummer is an adorable nine-year-old girl? She’s now 17 and has her own band called Supercute!–and yes, they live up to their name. They have a song called “Candy City,” for goodness’ sake. If that Cute Overload website had a music section, they’d be featured like, all the time.

Here’s a video of what may still be the Trachtenburgs’ most famous performance, a 2003 appearance on Late Night With Conan O’Brien. According to the band’s MySpace page, they were the first unsigned band to appear on Late Night, which is pretty cool. We’re guessing it was also the first time something called the Festival of Gas ever got mentioned on a late-night talk show. But we’ll have our research dept. check on that.

P.S. In case you were wondering: No, these Trachtenburgs are no relation to the actress Michelle Trachtenberg. Although she’s pretty adorable, too.

P.P.S. We’re happy to report that since we first posted this, the Slideshow Players have released a new album, Lost and Found, their first new material in seven years. Go over to iTunes and get it.

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