Justin Tranter of Semi Precious Weapons: Interview

So, what is it like… I mean, I heard this song a couple years back, this is the first time I'll see you perform live, and you've played "Magnetic Baby" hundreds of times now… or thousands?

Hundreds. Definitely hundreds.

How is it when you hear that first chord and it's game time, how to you make sure you're in that space and present?

It still hasn't gotten old for us. There are certain songs that have gotten old, and we just don't play them. Sometimes people will ask for them, and we'll do it, but the songs people want to hear, we don't get sick of playing at all.

It's also interesting now with the Internet, you get to see what it takes to break a band and how long everything takes. Did you know what you were getting into?

When we didn't get the major label deals, I knew it was going to be a long process. Without the huge, corporate, global money and connections, you just can't… we always laugh because Lady Gaga, her first two shows ever were opening for us. She's even in the Magnetic Baby video. She's the brown-haired girl that Cole's boxing and spitting booze all over her? That's Lady Gaga.

So she opened for us, and she came backstage saying 'I've never seen so many people at a show, this is so amazing.' But because she's on a humongous label and it's dance music, which is much more mainstream-friendly, she blew up in six months. And for us, being a rock band on an indie label, it's a much longer, longer process.

You can't just text her and be all 'Remember us?'

Oh, we still talk all the time! I talked to her yesterday. We opened for her when she did a big New York party, and it went really well. Her fans loved it. But it was New York, so a lot of them knew who we were anyway. But on her current tour, the bands opening are on the same label, and have the same booking agent, it's all incestuous.

I mentioned we were walking over here that I seem to know a lot of Brooklyn bands, and for some reason I know they're Brooklyn bands, and I don't quite know why I know that. I guess they're labeled as such…


So, is there a camaraderie between it? Is it just people debating whether to se Vampire Weekend over here, or Plushgun down the street? Is it all one big community?

For them, it is. For us, it isn't. Most Brooklyn bands really hate us. We don't really fit in the Brooklyn band mold. We're much too theatrical. Much too over the top. Much too filthy. Brooklyn bands are all hipstery and ironic, and there's nothing ironic about what we do. Nothing subtle.

If they prejudge you and assume they know what you do, there is much more going on under the surface than they might initially think.


But they're not going to listen to you to find out…

They're not going to listen to it. We always laugh, too, because we definitely play our instruments a lot better than all those Brooklyn bands. And my vocal range is about two and a half octaves more than most Brooklyn bands.

But they're never going to take the time to care or notice that, because we'll do headlining shows, but a lot of times we'll just play three songs in the middle of some party. Because we're a party band. So they just look at us as a party band, write it off, and don't even think about us, which I'm completely fine with. I don't care.

You're strapped with being the life of the party. That's a horrible burden…

Exactly. I'll take it.

You'll be tarred with that brush for life.

I just did an interview, and the woman was like, you're never worried about how people always look at the Beatles as the more intelligent, more real band, and The Rolling Stones are just the super-sexy party band? I was like, if we're the next Rolling Stones, I'll fucking take it. Are you kidding? She said, that wouldn't worry you?

She's worried you're settling for being The Rolling Stones?! There is something there, though. If you ever listen to Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, who created The Office, they do radio and have a podcast, and one of the things they do is to pretend they're announcing a band at a huge arena, like 'Ladies and gentlemen… " and then the name of the band, and they're always just 'No, that name's never going to work.' But you do have a hot name, you have the logo… that's your lips logo. How did the jewelry factor into everything?

I always worked in jewelry stores as a day job, because my mom is a custom engagement ring designer. So I grew up around it. When I was in Boston, I worked in jewelry stores. When I moved to New York, I worked in like three of them. I ended up managing and was the assistant buyer for a jewelry store in New York called Calypso Bijoux.

When I started the band, we had the name, and had the gun and heart logo, but we didn't have any T-shirts, and only three songs for our first show. Obviously, we had no record to sell, but I wanted to make money. Because of working in a jewelry store and knowing designers, I knew where to go to get a gun and heart charms. Like, those just existed.

So I put the hole through the heart, put them together a certain way, and they sold like crazy at the first show. Like, I made 20, thinking I'd sell three, and sold all 20 of them. And it was our first show, so there was like 40 people there. Half of the people buying a necklace is a really good percentage.

So then I was like, maybe I'll sell it to other stores in New York, so I did an axe and a heart, and a dagger and a heart, just expanded on the idea, so there was a small collection. And working in jewelry, I knew where to go already. So I sold it to a few places in New York and I thought, 'This would be amazing for Urban Outfitters. I just know it.'

But you can't just call Urban Outfitters and talk to a buyer, they'll just put you to voice mail, so I found the board of directors site and e-mailed the board of directors, like 'I know this is really inappropriate, but look at this necklace and tell me what you think.' And the next morning, there was an e-mail from the buyer.

The guy had forwarded it, and she said 'I love it. I need them to cost this much. And I need a thousand of them in a month. If you can do it, we'll consider that a test order and go from there.' So, I had no fucking clue what I was doing, because I'd just been managing and buying, you know?

So I figured out how to make them really cheap and how to make a thousand in a month. And they sold through all one thousand in a weekend in just three stores in New York. So then it blew up and I had an order for 10,000 pieces, and then 15,000 pieces, so then I made it in 14 karat gold and diamond and sold the same weapon and heart idea to Barney's, which was amazing. And then at Barney's, it became a real jewelry line, not just band merch from a band you don't know but it's so cute, you're still going to buy it. Which is really amazing.

You're marketing your band, subliminally, everywhere.

Even on the display cart at Urban, they let me make my own. And it said, 'Inspired by NYC garage-glam band Semi Precious Weapons' with our website on it. Amazing. Then at Barneys, I did diamond Zodiacs, diamond skulls, we have diamond braille now.

And that's yours? (points to cross with diamonds around his neck)

Yes. This says fame in braille. And then it became a whole new thing. It was called "Fetty" at Barney's, not Semi Precious Weapons. It became a whole thing there, and that's how we were able to make our record.

So on your taxes, you make more money as a jeweler than a rock star?

Much more. But I spent a lot of my money on the band. If I didn't have a band, I'd be a very wealthy jewelry designer. But we all went to London, all went to Paris, all made a record with Tony Visconti, which is not fucking cheap. The old guitar player, I paid his rent for a long time. Things like that. So, I don't have the money I should. But I spent it in a good way that I'm very happy about.

And are there already new songs you're playing live?

We have two new songs that we play all the time, in every show. One of them people ask for now, called 'Put a Diamond In It, and Bite Down.' People cheer for it. Especially when we did Texas, a lot of people came to multiple shows. So by their fourth show, they were so excited for it. In California, there are like 10 people that have come to every show…

We'll be seeing them in less than an hour…

Exactly. So it's really fun seeing people responding so well to the new songs, especially that one.

At this point, are you looking to the second album, or does the first one still have legs?

We're still hoping to get on either a really big tour, at which point maybe we can take Magnetic Baby to radio, because you need a big reason to go to radio. It's so fucking expensive. Or if I get a TV show, I'd still try and get this first record. I love the first record, especially "Magnetic Baby" and "Semi Precious Weapons" is a gorgeous song, and "Rock and Roll…" and "Her Hair is On Fire," I think a lot more people need to know those four songs exist before I'm ready to move on.

I keep returning to listen to your CD because it is so much fun, and there's not a lot of fun bands out there.

Thank you. It's a void that needs to be filled. And the bands that are fun, it's such a dancy shtick.

And the shoe gazers, I just don't understand… I seem to favor a lot of British bands, because they seem to have a sense of theater and performance.

For sure.

I don't know what propels them to tour…

Or why people will go. Just listen to the record.

Because I think the crowd feeds off the energy of the band initially, and if it's not there, it's not going to happen. It's almost like how Pink Floyd toured The Wall, and they built a wall and you didn’t' see anything for a good chunk of the show. As an art piece, great, but half the show is behind a wall and we can't even know if they're even playing it?!

Fuck it. I never heard they did that before. That's awful.

I don't think it played many dates, but they had these huge three by four foot bricks that the crew, from the beginning of the show, would just come out every so often and put a brick down. And by the end of Act One, it was just a solid white wall and you didn't see shit until in the show they say 'Tear down the wall.' That's when you finally saw the band again.


So they were beyond shoe-gazing…

That's insane. So funny…

But between the fun, the glam, the performance, the makeup, the labels, the gender, I was like, Jesus, we have to get you in Oasis… this is exactly the stuff I love to promote.

Perfect. I always joke onstage, saying that, you know, 'I'm the only one with gender issues and blahblahblah,' and a really good friend is mine, Jimmy, said 'Can you stop saying that?' I was like, 'Why?' And he said, 'You're the only one without gender issues. You sleep with anybody. You look like whatever gender you want to look like.' And I was like, 'Oh, that's a really good point. I never thought of that.'

It's like when people call us a queer band, and I'm like, 'You can't say that, because they're all straight and I don't use a label. One, it's not fair to the other equal members of this band. We all write together. They play every show. You can't do that. It doesn't need one. It's just a band. It doesn't need a sexuality or gender label.


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.