Semi Precious Weapons Are a Hemingway Novel on Ice

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Published August 9, 2010

PHOTO BY ADAM RIGGENBACH

 

At least a (peroxided) head taller than the average guy, Justin Tranter, frontman of New York-based trash rock outfit Semi Precious Weapons, stands out. With bandmates equally bedecked in chains and gold, patchwork and hair dye, the group parts the crowd with ease. The Weapons aren’t a household name yet, but their comrade-in-arms, Lady Gaga, certainly is (the friends made headlines when Gaga crowd-surfed with Tranter during his act, ending in a sloppy, audience-igniting kiss). The opening act on her Monster Ball tour, the boys are unabashedly loud, bombastic and glamorous. With his modelesque cheekbones and blinding hair, Tranter is the most noticeable, the others fill out his sentences as he speaks, occasionally even one-upping his signature hyperbole. Watching the four of them, there is an unmistakable sense of unity and friendship, even amidst their own personal chaos.

Though they know that the fans who love Gaga for her pop prowess may not get their grit and glam rock, the band doesn’t care. As bassist Cole Whittle says, “We love playing in punk rock bars with 20 people just as much as we love as we love playing in an arena. We do the same shit, no matter where we are.” Since Tranter and guitarist Stevy Pyne hail from Chicago, there seemed to be no better guides to the Midwest hedonism of Lollapalooza.

 

LEILA BRILLSON: So I know Justin and Stevy grew up in Chicago. So since we are here, where should we go?

JUSTIN TRANTER: Well, I love Belmont and Clark, which is like the classic punk area. Then Wicker Park is really cool, Bucktown is very exciting. Our favorite rock clubs are Cobra Lounge and Subterranean, and Cobra Lounge because its free. BRILLSON: So, let’s get this out of the way. Once upon a time, Lady Gaga opened for you. How did you become friends.

TRANTER: She was a big fan of ours, and we were looking for someone to open for us. And we heard she was really fun and a great performer. So we had her open for us, because it’s difficult to find bands in New York that understand that its OK to have a good time. You can still be really talented and have fun.

DAN CREAN: New York doesn’t think you can have sex and like it.

TRANTER: [LAUGHS] We share that same mentality. Gaga the person is much like Gaga the celebrity. She is very sweet, loyal and funny with her fans, and she is very sweet, loyal and funny with her friends. On stage, she is over-the-top, ridiculous, dirty and genuine on stage, and she is very over-the-top, ridiculous, dirty and genuine with her friends.

COLE WHITTLE: She’s a rock ‘n roll chick at heart. She’s not a pop star.

BRILLSON: So what is it like coming from the clubs in New York to major arenas?

WHITTLE: Well, there is less crimes in the arena, less sex in the bathroom. But we like that stuff, but who doesn’t. That’s where our band was born. That’s why we are making music.

BRILLSON: So, tell me about You Love You, which came out a month ago, and the response. It was a long time coming, and what was finally getting an album out like?

TRANTER: The response has been amazing. We hit the top 15 in album sales for every city we’ve played in. It’s a sign that when people actually hear us play, they really like us. So hopefully one day we’ll get on the radio and the TV, and then everyone will buy us.

WHITTLE: And then we will be number one at everything, in the world.

TRANTER: [Laughs)]We recorded it in LA with Jack Joseph Puig. It was kind of a dream come true. He’s a weirdo like us, who believes in talent and fashion. He looks like Willy Wonka–not facially, but “fashionally.” That’s a word now, I say. We have this weird thing called a “rock band,” where you actually play instruments at the same time, which doesn’t happen anymore.

WHITTLE: We use real drums–which is unheard of–and no keyboards…who’s ever heard of that? And a guitar that solos. There are no tropical robots on robots.

BRILLSON: What’s a record without tropical robots?

WHITTLE: [Sarcastic] What’s this fresh new sound?

BRILLSON: Well, while you are on the road with this fresh new sound, how do you guys and Gaga stay grounded to your New York roots?

CREAN: We party as much as possible. Literally, our occupation is acting like a bunch of 16-year-olds.

TRANTER: And we still hang out with Gaga, which we’ve always done in New York.

WHITTLE: If both of us had failed, we’d still be doing shows together to a hundred people in New York City right now.

TRANTER: Now that she has Lady Starlight DJ-ing the first hour of our show, it really is our whole posse. It really is the new New York, which is funny, because New York really didn’t like us. Venues didn’t want to book us, so we created this little world with about a thousand people coming to every show, but everyone else hated us. Now, we are playing all over the world and 10,000 people come to our show… and New York still hates us.

WHITTLE: And 12-year-olds come to the show, and Lady Starlight plays Black Flag and Pantera, and they are like, “What the fuck?” And then we play, and hurt ourselves and hurt everyone else, and they are like, “What the fuck?” And then Gaga comes on and the kids see an epic, futuristic show…basically a Hemingway novel, on ice, and they say, “What the fuck?”

BRILLSON: A Hemingway novel on ice? Thanks, you just gave me the name for this piece. Speaking of crazy styles and mashups, can you boys tell me about your look?

TRANTER: My fashion is inspired by Tina Turner and Sharon Stone. I’m wearing a nude leather jacket with gold grommets by Kimmy Him, and fishnets, and Fetty Jewelry, my line that is now sold in Barney’s. Also, Stuart Weitzman heels, which he makes for me, because I’m a 12.5 women’s wide.

WHITTLE: I’m inspired by LL Cool J, Turbo from Breaking, Don Knotts, Elvis, James Dean and common street trash.

CREAN: I’m Marc Jacobs on the bottom, NWA on top.

STEVY PYNE: I take my inspiration from a methadone clinic…and Weekend at Bernie’s.

TRANTER: All of my clothes can fit into a Ziploc bag. But I wear less than my bandmates.

BRILLSON: So after Chicago, where to?

TRANTER: LA. We really like LA because it really likes rock and roll. The tourist attractions in LA are rock clubs. Even though LA can be kind of tacky, when a city’s big draws are The Roxy and the Viper Room, you know its pretty amazing. Anywhere where rock and roll is number one, we are at home.