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August Von Trapp Creates A “Harmonic Break”

by  in Comic News Comment
August Von Trapp Creates A “Harmonic Break”

Sofi, Melanie, Amanda and August von Trapp, the real-life descendants of Georg Ritter von Trapp — whose story was brought to life on Broadway and then film with “The Sound of Music” — have been singing professionally since the late-’90s. Their latest album, “Dream a Little Dream,” is a collaboration with the Portland-based band Pink Martini, and accompanying the release is a comic book, written by August.

Titled “Harmonic Break,” von Trapp’s story is illustrated by Ethan Nicolle, Zak Kinsella, Thien Pham, Jeff McComsey and Chris Grine. The comic features the von Trapps and Pink Martini founder Thomas Lauderdale in a series of fictionalized stories based on songs from the album. We spoke with August about the impetus for the project, how the two groups came to collaborate on the album and .

CBR News: Just to start, can you explain exactly what “Harmonic Break” is?

August von Trapp: It’s a comic book that we made in conjunction with the album “Dream a Little Dream.” It explains the ideas behind most of the songs that are on the album. They’re all pretty fantastic, fictitious explanations, but they’re the real sentiments that we had when we recorded the songs and chose to put them on the album. It’s also just fun and a nice addition to the “Dream a Little Dream” project.

People might guess that the album includes the song “Dream a Little Dream,” but what else is on the album?

We first met Pink Martini we were doing a Christmas Tree lighting in Portland, Oregon and we were amazed at how similar a lot of the repertoire that we had was — [music by both of us] encompassed lots of different languages, and was really focused on beautiful melodies and fun arrangements. Because of that similarity and the attraction to that style, we decided to collaborate on a project that pretty much embodied those ideas that we love.

Before we met Pink Martini, we — my siblings and I — used to sing folk songs from all over. Wherever we traveled, we’d learn a new song. We had a huge range of languages that we sang in. So when we did the “Dream a Little Dream” album, we sat around and picked songs with Thomas Lauderdale — the band leader — and had fun with how we were going to portray the songs and what we thought was the most thoughtful, beautiful way to sing them.

With a familiar song, there’s a very different experience for the singer and audience than with a new song.

For sure. Songs have so much a longer life, I think, than most people think. If the song is fundamentally true to something, then there are so many different angles you can look at it from. That’s the joy of singing songs that aren’t yours, being able to reinterpret and being able to expand on the ideas. You’re able to communicate something very cool that maybe the author didn’t think about, but it’s still there. That’s what’s so amazing about this album. We care about these songs and portray them in a light they may never have been heard before, but are still really integral to the way the song was written in the first place.

One of the songs on the album is “Edelweiss,” which is from “The Sound of Music.” Did you have any hesitation about performing it?

Not really. We grew up bouncing between “The Sound of Music” songs and other songs because people really, really adore “The Sound of Music.” We really appreciate the fact that people find so much joy in “The Sound of Music.” We do as well. They’re really great songs. We were able to sing with it with Charmian Carr, who played Liesl in the movie. That was pretty cool, and a little surreal. We have parallel lives, in a way, because our lives have been so influenced by “The Sound of Music,” but in totally different ways. We met together in the studio and recorded an iconic piece of that together. It’s hard to describe, but it was an interesting sensation.

“Edelweiss” is well known, but a lot of people think of it as a much older song than it is.

Yes, some people think of it as the Austrian National anthem — which Austrians are always grumbling about. It was written for “The Sound of Music,” when it was on Broadway, before the movie. It was Oscar Hammerstein’s very last song. He wrote the lyrics for “Edelweiss” at the end of his life, and that really gets at the power of the song, because its very emotional

When did you decide, “Let’s make a comic about the fictionalized creation of this album?”

Well, Portland is such a great center for comics. It was a great way to tie in Portland to the project. I’m a huge comics and manga and graphic arts fan. I think it’s a really amazing medium. I had this idea of making a comic because people here are so interested in comics and I thought it had a really good chance of communicating things. When people first hear about the album, before they hear the music, they have a little trouble with it. They’re like, what? Pink Martini and the von Trapps? That doesn’t make any sense? I thought the comic may help people understand it. If they see the comic and read it, they’ll get excited about this project.

Also, the album doesn’t necessarily explain why we sang the songs. I thought it would be really neat to make something that would accompany the album that would get at the heart of why because the stories behind the songs are incredible. Although the comic doesn’t explain them accurately and historically, it definitely gets the spirit of it, I think.

How did you line up the artists for the comic?

That was the work of our incredible editor Shawna Gore, who works at Dark Horse. She pulled everyone together and did an amazing job. A few of the artists were Pink Martini fans who were really excited to work with the band. A lot of people just liked the idea. I was totally thrilled when I heard the artist lineup. It blew my mind a bit. [Laughs]

Having done this once, would you want to do it again?

I would love to. I’m working on scripts, though they’re not always in connection to the music, but I would love to keep putting out comics that have a connection to the musical part of our lives. The whole process was amazing. I was able to draw the storyboards for the stories, and that alone was so much fun. I went to a comic con in Portland and someone jokingly put it that comics is less of a profession as it is a disease that you contract and can’t stop. For better or for worse, it’s what you end up doing. [Laughs] I feel a bit of that. Once you taste the power that comics have as far as communication, it’s totally on par with music. We went to comic book stores and did a few events, signed books and CD’s and the response was so positive. I feel like the overlap between Pink Martini fans and comic book fans, even if they don’t know they’re in that group, is pretty huge.

Did Thomas or your sisters ever go, I wouldn’t say that, or, don’t draw me like that?

[Laughs] No, actually. Amazingly, they gave me an incredible amount of freedom to do pretty much whatever I wanted. Thomas was really supportive, and all of my sisters were as well. They really wanted to see it happen, and when I showed them what I did, they all liked it. I was really thrilled by that. I’m pretty sure everyone was happy with it. [Laughs]

I know you’re busy and have a number of upcoming shows this fall.

We’re quite busy for the rest of the year. We’re doing zoo performances with Pink Martini in Seattle and Portland, and then we’re recording a new EP of songs in collaboration with a really cool Portland indie band. We have tons of stuff coming up. I think the only thing in Portland is the zoo show so far. It would nice to have more shows in Portland.

With this new EP, are you trying something different? What do you want to do next?

We’d love to try all sorts of things. The EP coming up is going to be all original music, and it’s a bit different from the Pink Martini album. No matter how the styles change, our mission is to focus on really fundamental things that make music beautiful. Other than that, we range through all sorts of styles but I think we may be trying some more modern styles. We’re not quite sure how the recording will turn out, but they’re more modern and have a bit more a Portland-y sound.

If you make a Portland-y sounding album, then you definitely need a comic book to accompany it.

I agree — a Portland-themed comic would be excellent!

The von Trapps and Pink Martini will be appearing at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC in September. For more information about “Harmonic Break” and their music, go to vontrapps.net.

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