ABOVE: JUSTIN TRANTER AT MISTER H AT MONDRIAN SOHO LAST NIGHT. PHOTO COURTESY OF M. ALEXANDER WEBER
If the Sex Pistols had a love child with David Bowie, the end result would be glam-rock gods Semi Precious Weapons. The garage-rock band is the perfect combination of New York City, glamour, and animated rock music. Longtime friends of Lady Gaga and openers for her on the Monster Ball tour, Semi Precious Weapons have been entertaining crowds with their wildly outrageous and entertaining performances. Complementing Lady Gaga’s over-the-top antics, Semi Precious Weapons is known for bright makeup and Party Monster-style shows. The quartet, composed of vocalist Justin Tranter, guitarist Steve Pyne, bassist Cole Whittle, and drummer Dan Crean, has been working on their third studio album in LA with producer Tricky Stewart (who boasts a resumé that includes Rihanna and Beyoncé singles). After relocating to LA, Tranter began working with Morgans Hotel Group in LA doing parties known as “HIGH KICKS.” The album, due out in 2012, features a bit more hip-hop influenced tracks to their fresh take on rock-‘n’-roll.
We spoke to lead singer Justin Tranter after last night’s DJ set at Mister H at Mondrian Soho about touring for two years straight, his friendship with Lady Gaga, and getting touched in every inappropriate place.
ILANA KAPLAN: How’d the after-party go last night?
JUSTIN TRANTER: It was amazing! We had a very crazy 24 hours! We just added to open for 30 Seconds to Mars for their big 300th show, the Guinness World Record-breaking show. We got added to it Sunday. We were already scheduled to headline a show in Mexico City for Tuesday. We were in Mexico City on Tuesday night performing. Then, we slept for two hours, got on a plane and performed at Hammerstein Ballroom on Wednesday. Then we had our party and after-party at the Mondrian after that. It was a pretty fucking awesome couple of days.
KAPLAN: How did you get involved in playing at Mister H at Mondrian Soho?
TRANTER: I’ve been working with Morgans Hotels Group. We’re a New York-based band. That’s where we all started the band and have been for many years. Now, we’ve been on tour for two years straight. When we lived in New York, we did lots of stuff with the Hudson Hotel. We came to have a good, close working relationship with everyone at Morgans Hotel Group. Now that we’re living in LA and working on our album, we do a party every Wednesday called “HIGH KICKS.” When we heard we were coming to New York last minute, I emailed Morgans and saw what we could come up with. We decided to do two parties while we were here. I’m only in New York for two days, and we’re doing two parties with them. It’s pretty awesome. Last night was just a great after-party situation at Mister H. It was my first time being there. It was an awesome little place.
KAPLAN: What’s been your experience working on the album?
TRANTER: We spent the year opening for Gaga all over the world, which was such an amazing experience. We were in Paris and we were staying out with the band. We spent all this time in interviews and with fans talking about bringing rock-‘n’-roll back. And we’re going to bring rock-‘n’-roll back. Well, rock-‘n’-roll already happened and it was really successful and really, really fantastic. There’s really no topping it. So, let’s try and reinvent what rock-‘n’-roll means to us. We met with our dream producer, Tricky Stewart. He’s done everything from Rihanna’s “Umbrella” to Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies.” It’s more of a pop and hip-hop direction with his influence. We were in LA. We have written over 30 songs. We write songs, and we do everything ourselves in our own studio. We play everything for Tricky, and Tricky picks which songs are his favorites. He goes ahead and takes it to the next step. It’s unbelievable. We hand everything over to him. We trust his vision so much that it’s worked out great. We’re eight songs into a 12- or 13-song album.
KAPLAN: You and Lady Gaga have been friends for awhile now, right?
TRANTER: We were friends actually before we started playing. She was a huge fan of our band when she was a 20-year-old, adorable, brunette girl here in New York City. We found out that she was a musician, and that was back in 2007. So, we looked her up on Myspace, because Myspace was everything. She was honestly fucking awesome. We started having her open for us. She opened for us here at a show at the Knitting Factory, which was great. Then, for a couple of other shows in New York. Then she moved to LA to make her album, and the rest is history.
KAPLAN: That’s so awesome that you guys got to open and reunite with Lady Gaga for the Monster Ball tour.
TRANTER: It was fucking crazy! When she called us and asked us to open, we were so excited. It was supposed to be for two weeks, but the crowd that we put up was so good and everyone that works with Gaga into our performance. It was supposed to be for two weeks. Then they asked us to stay for a month. And then a year and a half.
KAPLAN: Do you have any plans to collaborate with Lady Gaga in the future, after working so closely with her over the years?
TRANTER: We’ve only collaborated on performances with her. We’ve never collaborated on songs together, but we’ve talked about it quite a bit. Obviously when we’ve performed together, we’ve had such an amazing time. I’m sure, never say never, we’ll end up doing it. We’re just trying to wait for it to be the right moment. We’re not trying to force it. Quite honestly, she’s the busiest woman in the entire fucking world. It’s quite a scheduling situation.KAPLAN: Who are your influences as a band?
TRANTER: For this new album, we’ve been really inspired by… Kanye West’s name comes up quite a bit. This producer, Hit-Boy, who has done some awesome stuff on the Jay-Z and Kanye West album. Tricky Stewart, who is our new producer now. We’re always referencing stuff he’s done. For me as a performer or a songwriter, Stevie Nicks is always a huge inspiration, as well as Iggy Pop.
KAPLAN: What can we expect from your next album, theme-wise?
TRANTER: It’s the first time that we’ve really had time to really write. Everything’s been so quick. For our last album, we had three weeks to make it before we started the tour with Gaga. This is the first time that we really had time to let the songs dictate everything. It was all about what was the best song possible. I think the theme is accidentally becoming… on the surface, these songs appear to be party songs. Whether it’s drinking or dancing, falling in love or having sex, or whatever it may be, it’s all of these party songs on the surface. It seems like that’s all they are, but for the fans who really want to take the time to listen to what I’m actually saying, there are breakup songs, or whether they’re songs about loving yourself or whatever the hell it is. They’re sort of disguised. I love myself. I love my friends. Let’s all have a great time.
KAPLAN: What’s the craziest thing that has happened to you onstage?
TRANTER: We were in Mexico City. While onstage, everything I was wearing was ripped off of me. I was wearing about six necklaces that were taken off of my body. I was pulled into the crowd and under the crowd. My shirt was almost taken off. I lost my jacket. I was probably touched in every inappropriate way humanly possible. And that was on Tuesday.