When Style Meets Music: Justin Tranter of Semi Precious Weapons
I first saw Semi Precious Weapons (SPW) live a few weeks ago at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC. Taking a brief hiatus from their world tour with Lady Gaga, SPW used their downtime to headline their own 4 city American mini-tour (traveling with my friends, Nico Vega). Comprised of Justin Tranter (vocals), Stevy Pyne (guitar), Cole Whittle (bass) and Dan Crean (drums) - it didn't even take 10 seconds before these boys kicked, roared, twirled, gyrated, serenaded, freaked and rocked their ways into my heart. And I wasn't alone. Tranter commands a crowd like Jesus commands a church service on Easter Sunday...like Oprah commands suburban housewives. It's hypnotic and dazzling and loud and glamorous.
Not to be discounted as a member of the SPW team is visual director, Jimmy Knehans - and since this is an installment in the When Style Meets Music series, I find Knehan's contribution to be pretty damn relevant. The visual aesthetics are half the presentation with SPW. They say what they mean and mean what they say, and look how they sound and sound how they look...and mean what they look and sound how they mean and say how they sound. Yeah, it's true. Between the sound and the look and the intention behind it all, this band truly is the perfect marriage of style and music. Here we go - the incomparable - Justin Tranter of Semi Precious Weapons.
Mihal Freinquel: So tell me, who is Justin Tranter?
Justin Tranter: I am a genderless sea creature who has been writing and studying music since I was 12. I love songs, Patty Larkin, Sharon Stone, Mae West and Marilyn Monroe. My choice of shoe upsets people a lot more than my filthy mouth.
MF: Who are the Semi Precious Weapons?
JT: We met in music school. We are music school geeks who found sex, NYC and fashion. Thank God! We play rock 'n' roll - and we think rock 'n' roll should be dangerous, amazing, and attractive.
MF: One cannot talk about SPW without the mention of style, so I must bring up Jimmy Knehans. How does Jimmy fit into the equation?
JT: Most of my friends are my friends because they inspire me. Breedlove, Darian, Tommy, Starlight, GaGa, my mom, my band members and so on. Jimmy Knehans is also one of those friends. But he also stepped up to the plate to be a roadie/hypeman/visual director. All of the visual and fashion ideas that The Precious Empire and SPW has, Jimmy is the one to actually take the time to make it happen. Whether it's a nude leather jacket covered in grommets, or 12 foot champagne bottles with my face on it, Jimmy makes it happen.
MF: And thank the loooord he does! You're visual presentation is insane. How do your music and performance elements fit into the way you dress/your style aesthetic?
JT: I dress the way I feel: Beautiful. I write music that makes me feel amazing. I guess my music and fashion make sense together because it's all just me. Luckily people view a man wearing heels as dangerous. Ha! So that makes the essence of my fashion choices dangerous.
MF: Where do you/the band/Jimmy shop? For stage? For regular life? Oooor are they one in the same?
JT: We dress exactly the same on stage as we do in real life. Cole, Dan and Stevy buy clothes in thrift stores and small shops all over the world as we travel. Jimmy makes all of Stevy's signature "half jackets". And my clothes come from designer friends - Tommy Cole, LaQuan Smith - and then Jimmy Knehans creates all my custom signature pieces. Stuart Wietzman makes all of my custom heels, and my pantyhose come from dance stores and Wolford. Phew...that was a lot.
MF: Worst mainstream style trends of the last decade? Best?
JT: Flats and ironic t-shirts give me my period. Best? I'm really into the early 90's stuff that is coming back.
MF: Word association time! Respond with the first word/phrases that come to mind:
Hipster//Abercrombie kid who found a thrift store
Turtlenecks//I prefer a Dickie
TV//I look great on it
MF: Ha! Abercrombie kid who found a thrift store..there's about to be a widespread tantrum in Billyburg. Anyway...so obviously I have to mention GAGA. Lady, that is. What are 3 things that nobody knows about that tour?
JT: 1) SPW is a crazy rock band, GaGa is a crazy pop star, but we all take music REALLY seriously. 2) Whenever we have free time, which isn't often, we always find the nearest dive bar with the Lady. 3) Glamour is contagious.
MF: It most certainly is! After seeing SPW live, I just kept thinking - you guys are so quintessentially New York City. How has this fair city of ours influenced your style - musically and aesthetically?
JT: Well thank you much. We like to think that we are very NYC. What's very odd is that NYC really doesn't want to claim us. The Brooklyn "intellectual" indie pop craze is owning at the moment. But we actually started the band hoping to bring back the NYC we were obsessed with as kids. Max's Kansas City, The Factory, and so on. But at the moment NYC is convinced that if you have fun, you can be taken seriously. We will change that, but its a hard battle to fight.
MF: It definitely is - but I can think of some musical NYC kids on the come-up who are on that war path with you. So when you're not fighting the battle what do you guys do in your time off? Does time off even exist anymore?
JT: There is sooo much touring - and promo and all of these amazing things...there really isn't time off. And when we do have time off I spend it hanging out with my friends talking about ridiculous artistic ideas, so it ends up not being time off. But when you're literally living your dream, fuck time off.
MF: If you had to wear the same outfit every day for the rest of your life what would it be?
JT: I would wear pantyhose, nude fishnets, 5 inch sparkle heels, and nude leather jacket covered in gromets. Boom! Actually, Jimmy Knehans does wear the same outfit every day - an army green pant/skirt and a tshirt.
MF: Ah yes I saw him running around at the Bowery. If anybody can pull off the pant/skirt it's him. What's your intention when you head on stage?
JT: To make everyone have a really really good time. Including myself.
MF: What's worse...
Too much makeup or not enough?//Not enough.
No sex ever again or no music?//No music.
Uggs or kitten heels?//Uggs.
Fox News or...wait, maybe there's nothing worse than Fox News?//I love Fox News. Its so ridic, its like performance art.
MF: You're interviewing a celeb. What's the first question you ask him/her? Who would you want to interview most?
JT: Mae West - Where you this intelligently dangerous as a teenager?
MF: Final words from the Justin Tranter?
JT: You love You.
Photos by Roger Kisby & Jimmy Knehans
at 12:43 PM