Justin Tranter of Semi Precious Weapons: Interview

I usually say the only label you need is your birth certificate. You're Justin. That's all we need.


Whatever Justin does, that's just Justin…

It's so true.

… but it always seems like the reaction is just 'Yeah, whatever, old man…' That sounds nice in…

… in theory…

and if I lived in the gay neighborhood in San Francisco. And I'm like, no, I'm a gay 40-year-old man. I don't worry about this stuff. I have no drama about this.


I just know from watching people struggle with this issue for 13-odd years is this issue seems to benefit no one.

No one.

But everyone wants it.

This is such a great example. We were walking down Haight Street and there was a bunch of gutter punks asking for money. And I love gutter punks. Their fashion is always so amazing. But, no matter what city you're in, gutter punks always look the same. They always have a bulldog. So even a group of fabulous, homeless punks want to still live by their stereotype. And they want to sit on the street. They want to ask for money. And they want to have a bulldog.

The conformity of non-conformists.

They still want to conform. In New York, you either want to be a hipster Brooklyn gay guy, or a Chelsea gay guy. You don't want to have anything in the middle and it's like… even my brothers when I first started sleeping with Platinum Ann, they were like 'Wait! What?! What are you doing?" And they all have wives and kids, but they were like 'Come on…really?!"

But things change. Sexuality is so much more fluid than people want to give it credit for. There's no agony about it. Labels just bore me. Just because I mainly date men, so when I find a woman I'm really attracted to and want to have sex with her, I have to now redefine myself?! Nah. Screw it. I'm not going to do it. I always say the last thing I ever want to do is be on the cover of The Advocate. That's like my worst nightmare.


Really. It is. I want to be on the cover of Us Weekly. I feel like that's what the freaky youth of America need, no matter what their sexual orientation is, no matter what they're interested in. They need someone who doesn't care about a label. Someone who doesn't care about gender. To be in tabloids, not to be in The Advocate. That's not going to do them any good. That's my driving force.

I can't remember the last time I even read The Advocate.

Exactly! It's why I'm desperately trying to get my own TV show. I did an episode of Made, and I jumped at the opportunity. And everyone is like, 'Rolling Stone just called you a mixture of Adam Ant, Marc Bolan, and Ziggy Stardust fronting AC/DC… are you sure you want to do an episode of Made?!" And I was like, "Yeah, because kids aren't reading Rolling Stone. They're watching Made." If I can go into a high school, wearing heels, and teach a girl how to be a rock star?

At this point, Ozzy Osbourne has a series…

Exactly. So now I'm trying to get my own show. I think the Kardashians are fucking fabulous, and if I could be the edgy New York City version of the Kardashians, I'd feel like I did my job. Rock and roll doesn't exist on the radio. People pushing gender boundaries don't exist in pop culture. So, if I can find a way to do it, I'd feel like I'm doing my job.

And you grew up in New York City?

I grew up in Chicago. I grew up in the suburbs, but then I went to the arts high school in the city, which was one of the most amazing experiences ever. I walked in the first day, and heard everyone talking about this person named Happy.

It was a small school, so it was only three days until I met this Happy. And it was a six foot-three black guy with a shaved head that he would paint silver every day, who wouldn't wear heels, but he would wear tights and was totally genderless. He wasn't trans, and he wasn't a gay guy, he just wasn't anything. And nobody fucking cared. And he ran the school.

At this arts high school, Happy was like the quarterback. And I remember thinking, 'Oh my God, it all makes sense now.' I had just come out as, like, gay in public school. But I wasn't a theater queen, I wrote songs. I didn't want to go to raves (because this was in the 90s) or anything the other gay kids I had met were doing. And he loved rock and roll. He took me to all these rock clubs and I was like 'Oh my God, that makes sense.' He didn't live by any labels or any rules.

Yeah, so many people I know are all about the Britney tour, and I'm just like, I need a guitar lick.

Good for you.

And if you're gay and like rock music in San Francisco, typically you can only find it in leather bars. So they like guitars, but I'm not a huge fan of leather… so I just go to a lot of shows. But the amount of people on Facebook counting down the days until she comes to their town, I just don't get it.

Yeah. I mean, I love her as a person now that she's gone completely mad, and her art form is being a celebrity. But I don't really want to go to her show.

So, you said you're not a theater queen…


But everything I know about the band and you seems to be labeled. Heh, there we go, "labeled"… (laughs)

(laughs) Oh, it's very theatrical, for sure. But at high school, I was in the music department, so it was always more about the songwriting for me. But performing is my favorite part of doing this. And I think that in rock and roll, performing is really really important, and not nearly enough people care about it. It's a big trend right now to stare at your feet and look like crap. But if you look at every legendary rock band or artist, their look and their shows are extremely important. Even Nirvana, their anti-look was very specific.

Yeah, I got to see them play New York City.

Oh, you did?!

Yeah, it was three or four days before they taped Unplugged, so they even had the violin player and all come out. And it was at some unusual place, not like Town Hall or a normal venue for that. It was them and The Breeders, and I saw them twice that week.


And he was just hypnotic. I don't even know what the other two guys did the whole show. He seemed to not want to be there, and we were all transfixed.

If you watch early interviews of him, he talks about how completely aware he was of what he was doing. And he knew that was part of his show. Even being an anti-rockstar was a show and it was a look.

Well, he even went on Headbanger's Ball wearing a dress saying 'I thought this was supposed to be a ball?' just to annoy all his homophobic jock fans.

So genius. But yeah, performance and theatrics of it, and just the physicality of the show and knowing when I'm going to… obviously a lot of it's spontaneous, but there are moments when I know what I'm going to do. So there is a big element of theater. But rock and roll always came first for me.


Sykes's picture

Her hair, her hair, her hair

Her hair, her hair, her hair is on fire :O
She don't want no water let her fucking head burn! XD

I am sooo adding him to my list of heroes. There's Ellen DeGeneres, Calvin & Hobbes, and now Justin Tranter as well!
"I don't drink booze cause my heart's explosive.
I gave up food cause the shit's expensive.
I know you want to be me, but baby it ain't easy!"
- Semi Precious Weapons

bleepbleepflashbleep's picture

i love semi precious weapons.

justin tranter is amazing. that's all.
you're something to die for.