Semi Precious Weapons have provided the soundtrack to my life for more than a year now, when I first heard their single "Magnetic Baby" after Perez Hilton loved the track and posted it on his site.
Finally, the band is out touring the country on their debut album, "We Love You," which is an amazing collection of garage glam gems that show how much talent is behind the first impressions you might get based on seeing Justin Tranter, the band's lead singer. He tends to like his eyes lined, his hair platinum blonde, and his heels high.
Before the band's recent in-store gig at the Apple Store in San Francisco, Tranter and I headed over to a quiet tea place to do the interview. While Market Street lined with people in advance of the St. Patrick's Day parade, Tranter and I weaved through the crowd. You could see people checking him out in his ripped T-shirt, suit coat, heavy-eyelined eyes, black and grey striped panty hose, and high, high heels the whole way there.
But Tranter was just a delight to talk to, and a great performer a half hour after we spoke. I even got to sing one of the "I've been magnetic since I was a baby" lines when he held the mic in my face.
We chatted about the band, labels (both the record kind and the sexuality kind), the music scene, Nirvana, Pink Floyd, Lady Gaga, jewelry, and a lot of other topics over a quiet lunch. Here's what we said:
I first caught you a while ago on Perez Hilton, when he posted the "Magnetic Baby" video…
And I'm not sure if that was really early in the life of the band?
It depends when it was. We've been on there so many times.
It was quite a while ago.
Yeah, we had been a band for maybe… five months? Six months? It was pretty early.
And at that point, there was no album, nothing. But I really liked it so I kept coming back to it..
… bookmarked it, so whenever I needed my fix. So, it's great now that the album's out. Was Perez the first big push?
That was the first big push. We had a demo deal with Interscope, which is how we met Tony Visconti. He came to see us and loved it, because he heard about us in New York.
So we did that and they (Interscope) didn't like it. Jimmy Iovine said a man in makeup and heels won't sell in 2007, 2008, whenever that was, which is why the music industry is failing so miserably, because no one will take a risk, and rock and roll is about risk and danger.
Then we had problems with Columbia, so I just said 'Screw it,' we'll just take the money I made from making jewelry, and we made the record ourselves with Tony Visconti. Then, our A&R guy that was at Columbia, he got let go and went to Razor and Tie, so he said let me have it, let's do it.
And how did the band form? Is it an organic group of friends?
Yeah, we all met at music school. We went to Berklee College of Music in Boston, and me and Cole, the bass player, were roommates freshman year. There's been a change of guitar players, but the new guitar player was a godsend. We actually met him and the drummer within the first week of being in school. They both lived in the same dorm, and down the hall, but we never started a band.
We were just friends for all four years of school and all moved to New York around the same time, within a couple months of each other. And after I was in New York for like a year, I was doing a singer-songwriter thing that was boring even myself, and I was just going out to parties in New York thinking it was supposed to be like the Warhol days.
Like all the documentaries I watched about Max's Kansas City and about The Factory, and all the crazy shit, and you'd show up and it was either really bad dance music or rock band factories in New York , where there would be like six bands on a bill every night, they have nothing to do with each other. People come in five minutes before the band they want to see plays, and they leave immediately afterwards. And it's like nothing fun, nothing happening.
So, I called them all and said, 'We're starting a band, and it's called Semi Precious Weapons, and it's going to be about fun, and it's going to be about fucking glamour, and being ridiculous, and they were all for it.
We all went to music school. Dan (Crean, drummer) went for classical composition. I went for songwriting. The other two guys went for jazz performance. So we were confident in our musical abilities, so we were like, 'Fuck it, let's just start a band that's about fun.' Let everybody else who can't play their instruments show how "smart they are" quote-unquote.
Hearing the whole album, it reminds me a lot of Hedwig…
I wasn't even aware of Hedwig until after we started this. Same with The New York Dolls, I never listened to, but it's been amazing because all these things we get compared to a lot, and I'm very flattered to get compared to, we didn't know about until afterwards. My favorites when I was growing up were Courtney Love and Lil' Kim, all of these really ridiculous pop culture women. Then I met John Cameron Mitchell after we started this band, and it definitely fits into that whole early 90s thing.
It's just so surprising to hear you were rejected because they didn't know if there was an audience, but that movie had such an impact…
It still plays everywhere, and people love it.
Exactly. It's funny.
And "Magnetic Baby," I love it. It's still my favorite song.
I guess when you hear that first thing, nothing can kind of take its place.
But I was surprised when I heard the album how rich and varied it was…
Well, thank you.
And even in the slower song, like "Time Zones," has such a range and you can emote, whereas Magnetic Baby when you hit the high note, it's just that Edith Bunker voice.
So, it was great to hear it and realize that 'Wow, there's a lot here.' Were you always confident in the material? Like, I know you said you wanted it to be fun, but is being fun on CD a lot of work?
Tony Visconti's big thing with us, after he saw our show like five times before we went in the studio, was just trying to get us to play like we're live as much as possible. Just get that element of energy and fun, but it's definitely hard because you're definitely under a microscope it's hard to capture the fun, and capture everything. Songs like "Time Zones" were the easiest to record, because it's more about the song and more just me singing than it was trying to capture the live energy.