Voted “Best Band in New York” by readers of the Village Voice last year, Semi Precious Weapons are a band that’s thrilled to say they got to play all-ages gigs at CBGBs, but wouldn’t necessarily feel out of place at the John Varvatos store (which recently took over the lease from the legendary music club).
The band’s not-so-dirty secret, and the reason why the songs are as accomplished and concise as they are bloody and bombastic, is that all four members are whip-sharp musicians. Singer Justin Tranter, bassist Cole Whittle and drummer Dan Crean met when studying music at school in Boston. Introduced through a producer friend, the foursome joined up for good after they met guitarist Stevy Pyne. “We heard him play and were blown away,” says Justin.
A classic rock obsessive, Whittle encouraged Justin to make SPW more grandiose. “We wanted to make filthy party hits; bring the party back to rock’n’roll and back to New York City.” Whittle says. “The songs Justin had already written were great songs, but they didn’t have super-catchy choruses. I kind of thought, let’s write songs that should be on the radio.” Whittle’s new riffs allowed the band to play as hard as they wanted and the lyrics to be as over-the-top as Justin wanted.
Live, Semi Precious Weapons are in a class of their own. The band is known for their energy filled, circus-like live shows. LA Weekly describes SPW as ‘gun-blazing bitch-rock. Weapons are a hybrid of Bowie-esque stage seduction and Sex Pistols-style insolence.’ Bass player Cole Whittle thrashes about stage with his ultimate fighting moves, while drummer Dan Crean fiercely pummels the drums. “Every time Justin sings I can’t pay my rent but I’m f*****g gorgeous, every face in the crowd lights up,” adds Crean. The band has been engaging fans across the country, recently selling out shows at Canada’s NXNE Music Festival. Not to mention the shows in Paris and London where Kate Moss showed up, and The Guardian newspaper called SPW “the most important band in America.”
Part hedonist and part satirist, Justin’s lyrics are both tongue-in-cheek and a sincere expression of his core philosophy. The sentiment of the aforementioned ‘I can’t pay my rent but I’m f*****g gorgeous’ which he sings at the start of “Semi Precious Weapons” has made such an impact on the band’s followers that they now drown him out at the start of every show. ‘Sometimes I bleed because red is a good color for me,’ he sings in “Rock’N’Roll Never Looked So Beautiful,” a slow-burn epic on the order of “November Rain” or “Champagne Supernova.” “If you decide you look amazing, then you are,” he says. “If you say you’re the most beautiful, you are.” Don’t let the clothes or make-up fool you – Justin is neither goth nor emo (nor a drag queen), just a guy who gets along well with his inner glamazon. “People get so upset that we like ourselves,” he says. “They want bands to talk about how tortured they are, and how much fun they’re not having.”
Justin also fills that role by making jewelry, a business that he only started ‘cause the band needed some merch to sell at early gigs. “My mom’s an engagement ring designer, so when it was time to get a day job at 18, a jewelry store is where I went,” he says. “I knew where I could go in the wholesale fashion district to buy pieces to put stuff together.” His necklaces based on the band’s gun and hearts logo quickly blossomed into Fetty Brooklyn, now a three-tiered line (Fetty, Semi Precious Weapons and Fame) available at Barney’s, Urban Outfitters and Fred Segal, as well as home-base boutique Alter. “We paid for our record with jewelry money,” Justin says. Justin has also branched out into shoes, with a limited edition made for DKNY.
“The cool thing about this band is that everybody is themselves,” says Crean. “Justin wears his high heels every day. It’s not a stage performance choice. It’s what makes him feel good when he gets up in the morning.” Says Justin, “A man in heels and make-up is still quite a shock to most of the world. I think it looks fantastic, some people get angry. Which for rock’n’roll is kind of a perfect combination.” And it turns out Justin is willing to admit that Semi Precious Weapons are like everybody else in one respect. “We’re playing rock’n’roll as good as anybody that’s ever played rock’n’roll,” he says. “We just look better doing it.”
Earlier today, I had the chance to talk with Justin from Semi Precious Weapons about how they broke into the music industry, what goals they have lined out for themselves, and the one accomplishment he hopes to make above all others. You can read about that below.
When did you first realize you had an interest in music and what sparked that interest?
Well, I think really it began for us all when we were around 10 to 12 years old. Just hearing bands like Guns and Roses and Red Hot Chili Peppers and wanting to be like them. To be in a rock band. It was exciting
How did you break into the music industry?
We all met back in music school and afterwards we moved to New York as friends and then figured ‘Ya now what, F— it!’ and started a band. We’ve been a band for 4 years and its been a long 4 years. Our record is out today and before that we played in just about every bar across America and now we’re touring with Lady Gaga. We were just playing as many shows as we can and meet as many people as we can and never giving up. We have the type of music that you either love or hate but no matter what you’re talking about it!
How would you describe the sound of your music and what makes you feel that your album is different from other artists in your genre?
Rock and Roll. Some people want to define us as Glam Rock and that’s fine with me. We’re compared to AC/DC, Queen, and David Bowie. We’re just straight up Rock and Roll with filthy and glamorous lyrics. We’re showing people that you can still dance to rock and roll, you can party to rock and roll, and you can have sex to rock and roll.
What are some of your plans for promoting your album besides touring?
I’m very active in Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace. Touring endlessly, playing after-parties, and just making sure people hear us whether they love or hate us.
What are some short term and long term goals you have lined out for yourself? What’s next for you?
Short term is the Monster Ball Tour and have as many G–Damn people buy the album as possible. Long term we want to be the most loved band in the world and the most hated band in the world.
Have you written or created a song that didn’t make the album cut that you wished would have?
I just wrote a new song called “Geniuses Don’t Need To” that is absolutely beautiful. I was shocked at how fantastic it turned out. But I’m not upset that its not on the album.
Do you have any musical pet peeves?
Things that are average. Music should be urgent and exciting. I’m not saying it has to be loud and filthy. It can be soft and sensitive as well. But just not average.
Besides music, what are your favorite thing to do? What keeps you grounded?
Well for me, I’ve always thought that I was better than everyone else since I was 14 (laughs.) Just reading things about me, being a man who’s in high heels, and seeing where people have wrote that they hope I die or am killed, that pretty much keeps me grounded.
What do you miss most, besides family and friends, while you are out traveling and touring?
That’s a tough question for me because my family and friends are what I miss most when I’m traveling and touring because they inspire me to make music. But I would have to say what I miss most would be my collection of porcelain monkeys.
What is one accomplishment you hope to make above all others in your life and career?
I want to inspire lots and lots of people to love themselves.
What would you say is your favorite song on the album and why?
Oh, I can’t pick just one because I have two! My two favorite songs on the album is “Statues of Ourselves” because of my love for my family and my friends and then “Leave Your Pretty To Me” because it means so much to me. Its so personal and heartbreaking and no one thinks that I can sing like that!
Semi Precious Weapons’ debut full length, “You Love You,” is available today. Grab a copy in stores or digitally, on iTunes and Amazon.com! The nine full-throttle trash-punk anthems of You Love You redefine rock ‘n roll, combining the slick and glossy with the raw and gritty to create a toxic concoction best described as filthy glamor. Those who buy the album from iTunes will also score an exclusive version of “Her Hair is on Fire,” while the Amazon.com version includes a live cut of “Put a Diamond In It” from the band’s intimate performance for The Cherrytree House.
Watch Semi Precious Weapons strip down for The Cherrytree House, premiering today on cherrytreerecords.com. The set features a cover of Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen’s legendary “Because The Night,” plus acoustic versions of their own “Put A Diamond In It” and “Look At Me.”
Semi Precious Weapons is back on the road with Lady Gaga for the summer North American leg of the Monster Ball Tour (check out tour dates here,) serving double duty as the opening act while hosting and performing at official after-parties throughout the tour! No rest for the wicked, filthy and glamorous.
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Images Via: ThinkTankMktg.com