Q&A: Rachel Trachtenburg's SUPERCUTE! on Boys, Beer (Or a Lack Thereof), and Opening for Kate Nash
Don't let the glittery star stickers she wears on her temples fool you: 16-year-old Rachel Trachtenburg is a music industry veteran, and would like it if you treated her as one. At the ripe old age of six she was recruited to back her parents in The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, the East Village's premiere vaudeville-folk-performance art trio, and spent much of her adolescence drumming along as father Jason sang about the random photos he found at garage sales. (Her mother Tina handled the photo projector, and "Mountain Trip To Japan, 1959" holds up better than you might suspect.) Along the way, Rachel blossomed into biz-savvy performer, an outspoken political activist (she protested Mayor Bloomberg's third term alongside Anthony Weiner), and a Web-savvy entertainment entrepreneur. Her charmingly ram-shackle web-series Rachel Trachtenburg's Homemade World should sate your cravings for young adult post-modernism until The Adventures Of Pete And Pete's third season finally arrives on DVD.
And now, armed with her trusty ukulele and new best friends, she has her own hook-rich folk pop band to front. And a lot of work to do. When Sound Of The City met with SUPERCUTE! (which includes 13-year-old June Lei on vocals, keyboards and ukulele and 14-year-old Julia Cumming on vocals, guitar and Uke) at a family friend's East Village apartment, they were busy signing stacks of pink-and-yellow envelopes, which now encase the hand-painted and self-recorded demo EPs they're selling on their upcoming tour with Kate Nash. (The Trachtenburgs used to live in the building too until rising rents pushed them out to Bushwick.) Since forming last summer, SUPERCUTE! have already played the Cake Shop, the CMJ Music Marathon and 92Y, won Deli Magazine's band of the month competition (earning them a bit of free studio time), and backed blogger Emily Gould on a family-friendly rendition of one of the most sexually explicit songs ever written (Liz Phair's "Flower," and it took a bit of back and forth to get a version they could do in front of June's mom). Dressed in thrift store-chic flowery dresses with candy wrapper bows (Julia) and Syd Barrett buttons (Rachel) in their hair, SUPERCUTE! balanced their signing duties to discuss brushing off haters, music education and activism. They also talked about boys. Rachel's mom Tina, dressed in eye-searingly red pants and jacket that were perhaps borrowed from a Broadway production of The Super Mario Brothers Story, added color commentary.
So Rachel, you've been playing professionally as a musician since you were six. Is it strange to go from being the youngest member of a band to the grizzled veteran of the band? Do you have to teach these kids the ropes?
Rachel: [Laughs] Yeah, and I really enjoy it, because now it's my own project. Before it was my dad. I didn't really have much input. I came up with the beats, but besides that, it was his project. And my mom did the creative designing, the look of the band. This is completely different, it's my own thing. But it's great to have two people who are adding lots of stuff.
In addition to music, do you find yourself instructing them in the ways of the industry? Like, "Here's the thing about bookers."
Rachel: Yeah, here's a good example. We were at the CMJ show at the Living Room, and I whispered to June because there was a band onstage, "Okay, meet me down in the green room," and she was like, "What?" and I was like "Meet me down in the green room!" "What?" "green room!" and she was like, "Rachel, I know what you're saying! I don't know what it means!"
Rachel: Rider, green room, bio. It's all this stuff.
June: It's like, 'What?'
I was at that Living Room show. I remember you did "Happy Together." Afer you guys finished, a little bit later Margaret Cho came on. And her material was blue, as they say in the industry. Were you hustled out of there?
Julia: No. We even watched a bit, and were like, "This is weird," and just left.
Rachel: I've been around it for a while, and it's weird, especially with the girls' parents. We're always at shows where the person after us is like "Oh, we don't want to say this because SUPERCUTE!'s in the room."
Rachel: Then one comedian actually was like, "I want to say this because SUPERCUTE!'s in the room." And he just went for it.
Julia: Of course it was this weird, gross thing.
Rachel: This old, bald guy. And we're like "Oh Godddddd."
Julia: He was like, "This is something you have to know..."
Rachel: No [we don't], weird comedian.
Julia: It's hard with the parents.
Rachel: You don't want to watch a dirty movie with your mom and dad, so it's like [laughs].
You're probably more uncomfortable for them than they are.
Rachel: Yeah. I go to shows all the time with my parents, and you don't know what's going to come on.
Having more or less growing up in the industry, did you find that when you were seven or eight and playing in bands, did most of the musicians around you treat you like a kid, or did they treat you like an adult?
Rachel: I've been treated like an equal, completely. We were at this show not long ago and this woman in charge or whatever came in. And there were beers in the back, and she was like, "Keep an eye on the girls, because there's beers in the back!" And my mom was like, "Uh, they're not going to go drink." So she'd come back whenever we were backstage, and she would count the beers and then walk away. It was the funniest thing. My God, we're not Drew Barrymore. It's ridiculous. Different people treat you different ways.
When you guys talk about when you were younger, do you ever realize just how different your childhood was from hers, growing up on the road?
Rachel: They're surprisingly pretty similar, compared to the average, average teenage girl. June's dad is freelance photographer, and her mom is a painter. So they're artsy in their own form.
June: We're all very exposed to art, and we're not like, "Ew," like some people in my school.
Rachel: We get some very silly reactions.
June: Our music is geared more to college kids and up, rather than kids our own age. A lot of times [kids our age] don't get it. All they hear is that we're singing about candy.
Rachel: And hula hoops. They don't understand the message.
June: And they're like, "Ew." We get a lot of weird stuff at school, usually.
Rachel: One of the coolest kids at their school as far as niceness and smarts and all that stuff, he doesn't know who--
Julia: He didn't know Lou Reed or David Bowie or anyone and I was like "Oofff..."
Rachel: Or Joan Jett!
How old is this person?
Rachel: 13 or 14. And he doesn't know Joan Jett.
Is "Not To Write About Boys" a true story, or are you goofing on the idea that girls your age are supposed to be boy crazy?
Rachel: June will take it.
June: We did meet a boy...
Rachel: Wait, I want to add something. It's exactly likeCarly Simon, "You're So Vain." We will never, ever, ever, ever release who it's about. Even though our parents know.
Julia: [Who it was] inspired by.
Rachel: Most people know, but he doesn't.
[Rachel's mom] Tina: Wait, wait, I'm sorry, I have to pipe in.
Tina: You guys were on tour, and you said you were talking about how you were going to write a song called "I Want A Boyfriend."
Rachel: See, we go like this a lot with boys. We're like, [high, exasperated voice] "I want a boyfriend! I want a boyfriend!" and then the next minute it's "Boys suck, ew!" And then it's like, "Oh, he's cute." Julia flip-flops all the time and so do I. We all do. It's like, "Oh yeah, I guess it would be nice to have a boyfriend" and then "Ew, no, too busy, gross. There's no one interesting enough." It goes back and forth. So we were going to write a song on tour--Julia was on tour with the Family Band--and we were going to write a song called "I Want A Boyfriend." We had the harmonies down and it was a really fun song. And it got to the point where we were about to finish it, and we realized "We don't want boyfriends." So that song went down the drain.
June: And I heard it and I was like, "I don't like this song, guys."
Rachel: So tell the story.
June: We met this boy, and we all really liked him--he was very cute. We would joke around about it. So it was kind of inspired by a true story.
Tina: Where did you meet the boy? This is interesting too.
Rachel: Mom we can't say that!
June: Tina! Inapprops!
Tina: You can't say where you met the boy?
Rachel: He's going to know where we met him!
Tina: Okay, that's true.
Rachel: He plays music. We can say that.
June: He plays music, and we met him at a show.
Tina: Oh God.
Rachel: June, you can't say this!
Julia: We're ruining this. We're disgracing Carly Simon. She was a lot cooler about this.
June: We weren't actually clawing each other's eyes out about him, but it was inspired by him.
Rachel: We all liked him a lot. Past tense.
June: When we wrote this song we were going through this crazy phase about him and were like, "Ah! Boy!" So then we were like "Okay, we need to get this song out." So we wrote this song.
Julia: It was something we were feeling very passionate about. We were like "Wouldn't it be funny if we wrote this and we were fighting about this boy?"
Rachel: That's what all our songs are like. "We're just going to sing hulu hulu hulu hoop over and over again. Haha, that's so silly." And then we're like, "We're going to do it."
June: The first working title of the song was his name. The second working title was "Verbal Stage Abuse" because how Rachel and Julia yell at each other onstage. And now it's "Not To Write About Boys."
So he doesn't know the song is about him?
Rachel: No. Oh my goodness, off the record completely [Begins telling revealing anecdote about mysterious heartbreaker]
June: Be careful with this one.
It's off the record.
Rachel: It's off the record, June.
June: I don't know what that means.
It means I won't put it in the piece.
Tina: It doesn't mean they won't print it. We've learned from the past.
Hand to God. You know what? If it will make you feel better.... [Reaches across table and turns off recorder.]
[A few minutes of incriminating details later.]