Interview: Semi Precious Weapons — "If Marilyn Monroe and The Sex Pistols were starring in a Quentin Tarantino film, it'd be our album"
Mon, 21 Jun 2010 07:55:21
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Semi Precious Weapons lock and load their debut album, You Love You, with style, swagger and a whole lot of sexy rock 'n' roll.
They've got the kind of boundless bravado that's characteristic of all unforgettable rock bands, and there's no stopping them once they hit the stage. You Love You bursts at the seams with the kind of dirty, danceable grooves that'd appeal to both AC/DC and Lady Gaga fans. That's the magic of Semi Precious Weapons though. They're one of the last ass-shakin' rock 'n' roll bands out there, and pop culture needs cats like them to keep it in check.
That's exactly what their doing on You Love You (Due out 6/29/10) and on the Monster Ball tour with Gaga!
Semi Precious Weapons singer Justin Tranter sat down for an exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino delving into You Love You, the possibilities of the band collaborating with Lady Gaga and what it means to be a rock band.
You don't sound like anyone else out there, but you really capture a boundless old school rock 'n' roll energy. Would you say that's the case?
Well, thank you so much! I think that's the greatest compliment you could ever give me.
How do these songs typically come together?
It depends on the song. Some of the songs start with me alone in my apartment in New York. I don't actually have that apartment anymore [Laughs]. I play piano, so just starting there and writing with a main lyrical idea, normally. For other songs, the four of us get into a room, and something sparks it—whether it's a riff or a lyric. It's different for each song, but there's typically one thing that everyone gets really excited about. If it's a song I wrote by myself, then I bring it to the band to figure out how it's actually going to go. There's always one thing that really sets it off. With "Statues of Ourselves," it was that one line—"We're going to build statues of ourselves"—that blew the whole thing up. With "Put Diamond in It," I had been wanting to say "Put a Diamond in It" and bite down on that song for awhile. I never even told the band about it, but the minute our bass player Cole started playing that riff, it immediately came to me. It's normally one spark that makes the whole thing happen.
Can it be anything?
It can be! We'll be in the van sometimes, and I'll tell the rest of the band this line I thought of. Then, they start thinking of what that line should sound like for the next week while we're on tour. It's amazing! Whether, it's the whole band or me by myself, it's always one exciting thing that starts a song.
What's the story behind "Look at Me?"
I think that's definitely one of my favorites on the album. We were in my apartment for this one; we weren't in a rehearsal room with our drummer. We were like, "Let's write something subtle because we're not a very subtle group of people, obviously." [Laughs] It was the perfect time of my life of a really amazing friendship-slash-relationship. Normally, all of my relationships and friendships become sort of magical, sexual, weird and awesome. I was at one of those moments when we decided to surrender to writing something subtle. It was the perfect time to do it!
Is this your most intimate song?
It's probably the most intimate I will ever get [Laughs].
Is "Semi Precious Weapons" like your call-to-arms track?
It was actually the first song we ever wrote as a band. When we started playing in New York, the set was originally a bunch of songs that I'd written by myself that we were figuring out for our first couple gigs. We were like, "Let's write a song together and see what happens." It was the magic moment of when this band became Semi Precious Weapons. I've been writing songs since I was a teenager, and I always wanted to say ridiculous shit like that because that's how I talk in my normal life. It never made sense for me to say, "I can't pay my rent but I'm fucking gorgeous" while I'm sitting there at a piano by myself. It just felt weird. When our guitar player started playing that balls-to-the-wall straight-up rock 'n' roll riff, I was like, "Oh, now that there's an actual badass band behind me, I can say something like that and even a frat boy would think it's awesome!" If I'm sitting a piano saying that, it's like, "What the fuck is this campy bullshit?" [Laughs] The song defined what Semi Precious is—which is real rock 'n' roll with bold glamorous lyrics that no one else has the balls to say at this point in the world. I've been evicted. You can watch it on YouTube. I collected cans, and I cashed them in at the grocery store to eat because I got fired from a job. I worked many day jobs in retail. I got fired before we started Semi Precious Weapons. I was like, "Screw it, I'm not going to do a day job. I don't care how broke I am. Fuck it!" I had landlords threatening me—rightfully so because I wasn't paying rent [Laughs]. It's not like they were assholes; they were just doing their job. I talk about walking over bridges on the record a lot because I literally could not afford subways. I was walking over bridges and cashing in cans in five-inch heels and full makeup at 4am coming home from a party. Luckily, I'd get in to the party for free and drink for free so it didn't matter if I had any money, but I couldn't get home on the subway so I'd walk back to Brooklyn every night. These are ridiculous things to say, but people can sense it's not bullshit. It can be fun, but it also can be serious and real at the same time.
If You Love You were a movie what would it be?
I would compare it to if Marilyn Monroe and The Sex Pistols were starring in a Quentin Tarantino film. Tarantino is one of my favorite directors of all time. His movies are so beautiful, and they always have very feminine leads that are very violent. Ever since I was three-years-old, I've always been obsessed with beautiful women that are violent, whether it was Wonder Woman or whoever. I loved bitches who kicked ass like Shira! [Laughs] Marilyn Monroe is one of my biggest influences ever—just the way she dealt with her celebrity. It ended grimly so it's kind of sad to reference her as an inspiration. Before she became self-destructive, the way she dealt with her sex, beauty and the amazing polarizing position she held in the world is really inspiring to me. Then there's The Sex Pistols! I think people should either really love or really hate all good rock 'n' roll. Honestly, The Sex Pistols embody that better than any other band that's ever existed. Those are my three favorite things—Monroe, Sex Pistols and Tarantino.
What albums do you always come back to?
It's really split. It's either straight-up rock 'n' roll albums like AC/DC's Back in Black and Guns N' Roses' Appetite for Destruction, Nirvana's Nevermind and Hole's Miss World or it's endless amounts of female singer-songwriters like Patty Larkin, Patti Griffin, Gillian Welch or Miranda Lambert. I love her! She's a modern country star at the moment, and I think she's a fucking genius. Then there's Dolly Parton and Sinead O'Connor. It's a weird split thing for me of really loud dirty rock 'n' roll or really quiet female singer-songwriters. We're at such a weird place in pop culture now where everything's so divided. You have to make a decision whether you're going to be really fun or really serious. People don't want anything in between right now. If you consider yourself a smart person who loves intelligent music, then you can't like anything that's on the radio. I feel like that's so dumb. Obviously, a lot of what's on the radio fucking sucks [Laughs]. We're at such a weird place where everything's so close-minded. If something indie makes it on mainstream radio, hipsters decide it's no longer awesome. We do like fashion and we believe a live show be exciting, so lots of hipsters think it's a gimmick and we're full of shit. To us, it's so funny, if they only knew. Our drummer has a degree in classical composition and could compose a symphony. However, because he likes to wear cool clothes, people automatically think he's a fucking idiot. It's such an interesting place in the world. We love and understand all different types of music so we have the confidence to say, "Alright fine, fuck it. If you want to think I'm an idiot because I wear five-inch heels and that means there's no way I could be a great songwriter, then fuck you and you just don't get it."
Not everyone got Led Zeppelin when they first came out either, and that seemed to work out…
[Laughs] Exactly! Our fans that love us live and die by it, and it's amazing! They get so mad when people don't like us. All great rock 'n' roll bands have been loved and hated. That means it's working.
How's Monster's Ball with Lady Gaga?
It's insane! We're still on it for like another nine months! It's a fucking dream come true to be able tour the world in arenas. We went from booking our own shows in bars. We've known Gaga for years, and she's always been such a huge fan. She actually used to open for us in New York. Whenever we'd talk to her, she'd be like, "At some point, I'm going to put you on tour with me!" It was so amazing. We were confirmed for two weeks in December, and that two weeks turned into a month and that turned into three months. Now, that three months became eighteen months! It's so exciting. It goes to show the genius of Lady Gaga, wanting to push one more boundary. She's like, "Even my opening act is going to make people wonder why the fuck I did it!" She's such a boundary pushing pop star. It's so funny she has this crazy rock 'n' roll band opening for her. It's a great experience for these kids to get the full spectrum.
You two need to collaborate.
I'm sure at some point it will happen!
Are you down with Semi Precious Weapons? Who else should they collaborate with?
Win tickets to see them with Lady Gaga in your town here!