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Semi Precious Weapons’ Justin Tranter on Gaga Before She Was Gaga

Back before Lady Gaga was Lady Gaga, she was opening for Semi Precious Weapons, the best filthy-glamour band in New York. (Okay, maybe the only one: Justin Tranter, the group’s lead feather boa and pink stilleto–wearing diva, is the guy who popularized the term "filthy glamour" in the first place.) Now Semi Precious Weapons are returning the favor, bringing their fabulous, glitter-smeared, disco-rock dance party on the road with Gaga’s Monster Ball tour, which brings them to Madison Square Garden on July 6 and 7. We spoke to Tranter about the band’s new album, You Love You, (due June 22), dancing with J.Lo, and making Quentin Tarantino sticky.

You knew Lady Gaga long before she asked you to open for her on the Monster Ball tour. She even made a cameo in the video for your song "Magnetic Baby." What was she like back then?

Exactly the same, except brunette. We were throwing these huge parties in New York that were attended by 500 to 800 people, and we were looking for people to open for us. Our mutual friend Lady Stardust told us about Gaga, so we checked out her MySpace page and there was a video of her in her panties lighting hairspray on fire. We thought: This is the girl. The first time she opened for us, she got so drunk that she left her keyboard stand, her disco ball, and one Lucite stripper pump behind, so we took them to our loft. She and her mom came to retrieve them, and we’ve been partying together ever since.

What’s been the highlight of the Monster Ball tour so far? I heard you partied with Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino.

Yeah, I thought they’d be sitting in the VIP section, but there they were in the second row, singing every word to every song. Afterward, Quentin got mad at me because I wouldn’t agree to feed him Champagne, but I was nervous! I didn’t know if it would be okay to just open his mouth and pour! I was afraid he’d get sticky.

There’s a song on your new album where you sing, “I can’t pay my rent, but I’m fucking gorgeous.” Is that true, about not being able to pay your rent?

Yeah, I got evicted a year ago. You can watch it on YouTube. I was living with a bunch of artists in this amazing loft in Greenpoint and I hadn’t paid rent in ages, so the landlord forced me out. It’s too bad, because it was an amazing space. It was 1,800 square feet and I had a baby-grand piano and everyone would paint on the walls. There were multiple massive portraits of me, because what else do you want to look at on a Tuesday during brunch but a giant blowup of my face? Other bands would practice there, too, but not the cool Brooklyn bands. MGMT and Grizzly Bear hate me because I’m too attractive. [Laughs.]

You’ve also got great style. Where do you get your stripper shoes?

Well, I used to get them from sex shops in New York. I’d go to this place on Avenue A that’s like 10,000 DVDs and two bras and four pairs of heels. But now [shoe designer] Stuart Weitzman is a fan of the band, so I’ve convinced him to make me ten different pairs of the same ten-inch stilettos. My favorites are nude patent leather. I’m all about bringing back nude, like Sharon Stone in Sliver.



Is it true that your jewelry line, Fetty, helps support your band?


Yeah, I started making necklaces as band merch for our first show. Our logo was a gun and a heart, so I made these gun-and-heart necklaces and my friends flipped out. Urban Outfitters bought it — 3,000 pieces in three weeks! So I started making fourteen-karat-gold ones and diamond zodiacs and diamond Braille necklaces for Barneys. Now you can see them on Kim Kardashian, Taylor Momsen, and Kate Moss.

Kate Moss recently invited you to a Topshop VIP party, and you also went to the Met’s Costume Institute Gala. Which was the best party?

Definitely the Topshop party, because I spent the evening dancing with Kate, Jennifer Lopez, and Marc Anthony. But the best party in New York City right now is Lady Starlight’s night at Royalton on Tuesdays. It’s such a weird scene: You’ll see all these freaky kids in the lobby of a hotel in midtown, and there’s this lady D.J.-ing metal from the eighties. It should be so wrong, but it’s so right.

Between J.Lo, Kate Moss, and Marc Anthony, who’s the best dancer?

I’m the best dancer! I can do the splits.

I’ve heard you say that when you first started out, some label rep told you that you’d never sell records. What would you like to say to that label rep now?

Well, we’re on a different label now, but that was when we did a showcase for Columbia, and a certain head honcho just thought there was no way a man in high heels would ever be on radio. It was sad for me. Rock and roll is supposed to be dangerous. I’m not saying that the whole world needs to be filled with kids who have total gender confusion, but those kids need someone to relate to; they need something their parents will hate. We want to be the most loved and hated band in the world, and Gaga’s opening that door for us.

Hear "Semi Precious Weapons":

Semi Precious Weapons - Semi Precious Weapons

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