As the out gay frontman of glam-rock band Semi Precious Weapons, Justin Tranter has already supported Lady Gaga on tour, released three albums (with a fourth on the way) and even designed his own jewellery line.
I gave the 34-year-old New Yorker a call to find out more about the band’s new album, which is due later this year – and also took the opportunity to ask for his thoughts on Grindr, the gay rights situation in the US and life on the road with Lady Gaga.
First off, tell me a little about your band, Semi Precious Weapons.
“We are a real live rock & roll band. We are all best friends, and we love music more than anything. Oh, and we play exceptionally loud.”
Your new album is out soon, what can fans expect?
“The new album is an honest, no bullshit portrait of who we really are. Which means it’s emotional, brash, groovy, dark, fun, controversial, classic, and unruly.”
You opened for Lady Gaga two years ago, during her Monster’s Ball tour – were you nervous to come on stage before her, especially at a time when she was arguably at the peak of her fame?
“Scientifically, we were too drunk to be nervous. It was a whirlwind experience in which we learned a lot and forgot more.”
As an out gay man, do you feel like your sexuality has made you have to work harder to get where you are today in the music industry?
“One hundred percent. And thank goodness, I love a good challenge. Sometimes I feel bad for my bandmates, though, who are all straight, but have to face the same challenges by association. However, on this new album they are pushing me to be even more honest. We feel the more specific the art, the more universal it becomes.”
How was your experience coming out to your family and friends as a teenager?
“I’m real darn lucky to have an amazing family. No matter how dark things were at public school, whether it be verbal or physical bullying, I always knew I could go home and my family thought I was the coolest. When things got truly unsafe for me at public school my parents transferred me to the Chicago Academy For The Arts. This place was like a dream, where coming out was the norm. I had my battles like everyone, coming out at 14 years old was not common in the 90’s, but I had this awesome family, and beautiful arts high school that made it as easy as possible.”
That’s a great way to look at it! But how do you feel about people in the music industry that choose to stay in the closet?
“I understand why. When you love music so much, you’ll do anything to make it work. I’ve just always loved songwriters that are brutally honest in their song and their lives like Stevie Nicks, so part of me being brutally honest is being out.”
Sam Smith recently said that apps like Tinder and Grindr are “ruining romance”, a comment that was both praised and criticised from people within the gay community. Do you agree with Sam?
“Overall, I’m personally an old school romantic. I love the intimacy of monogamy and the drama of a good old-fashioned break-up. However, I have used Grindr, and even had one of the best dates of my life while on tour in Buffalo NY from it. I think Sam’s talent is off the charts, and it’s amazing that such a mainstream star is out. But romance is a personal state of mind. Anything can be romantic if you want it to be. Fuck, I find staring at the moon on my walk to shop heart-wrenching half the time. And sometimes I’m not only looking for romance. A safely played hook-up or a make-out with a stranger in the corner of a bar has its place in the world, no matter your gender or orientation.”
Have you ever been recognised when using apps like Grindr? I imagine it could be either very sweet, or terrifying, depending on the person!
“O,h the stories I could tell! Surprisingly, whether it’s in a bar or on an app, being recognised for my band doesn’t normally lead to anything more than a nice conversation and a photo op. If we ever meet in person, I’ll tell you a few on video and you could show it to your readers!”
As a gay man living in America, do you feel that the gay marriage movement has made a huge leap forward this year? Only ten years ago, this amount of progress would have seemed impossible.
“Even though I don’t think hetero-normative behavior equals equality, I am so happy to be alive right now, and to be able to watch all this change happening. I’m so grateful for all the LGBTQ artists and activists that paved the way for this change to be happening, and I can’t wait to be alive in another 30 years and see where we are.”
You say that “hetero-normative” behaviour doesn’t equal equality – what do you mean by this exactly?
“Marriage equality is beautiful, and an equal right that must happen. But personally I have no interest in hiding my femininity, getting married, and stopping the fight there. I want to walk down the street and not be afraid a bottle is flying towards my head. I want to be able to play a festival show that’s supposed to be full of open-minded audience members and not read on Twitter ‘sure he sings good but someone get this FAGGOT off the stage’. I want to be exactly who I am and not be unjustly hated for it. Now, if I stepped on your mother’s foot, you have every reason to hate me, and I’ll accept that hate happily. I’m not looking for special treatment.”
Finally, you be coming to London and the rest of the UK to support the album? – I’d love to see you perform at GA-Y.
“Every day we wish we dream of being overseas again. When it happens, it’s gonna be wild and possibly permanent.”