Glam rock alive and well with Semi Precious Weapons

Fri May 28, 2010 10:30pm EDT
 
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By Jason Lipshutz

NEW YORK (Billboard) - In 2006, Semi Precious Weapons played a handful of small New York shows with an upstart singer named Lady Gaga opening for them. As Gaga began dominating the pop charts a few years later, the members of the glam rock band were stuck playing tiny venues and watching their friend's triumphs from afar.

"The first time I heard 'Just Dance' on the radio, we were playing at a bar in Minnesota to a crowd of two people," Semi Precious Weapons lead singer Justin Tranter says. Instead of envying Gaga's quick rise, the group was inspired by her successful skewing of pop music. "Watching her, we felt that the world was finally ready for something different," Tranter adds.

Armed with rock hooks and a pair of high heels, Tranter has been presenting something different to pop fans while his band has opened for Gaga on her Monster Ball tour this year. Now, Semi Precious Weapons will release their boisterous new album, "You Love You," June 22 on Geffen Records during a summer-long run with Gaga across Europe and North America.

After graduating from Boston's Berklee College of Music, Tranter began playing singer-songwriter bars in New York, where he says he "bored myself and everybody else to tears." In 2006, he decided to draw upon his love of Guns 'N Roses and Hole and started penning "filthy glamour" rock tunes with fellow Berklee graduates Cole Whittle, Dan Crean and Aaron Lee Tasjan, who was later replaced by Stevy Pyne.

Semi Precious Weapons earned a New York following and searched for a major label until Geffen chairman Ron Fair invited the band to Los Angeles last October. Within a week, the act had committed to Interscope/Geffen and was recording with producer Jack Joseph Puig (Beck, Green Day).

Gaga, who's listed as executive producer on "You Love You," brought along Semi Precious Weapons on her Monster Ball run in November after trying to pair with the band on previous tours. Although the group's guitar-rock aesthetic doesn't resemble Gaga's forward-thinking pop, the band's stage theatrics -- featuring 12-foot bottles of champagne and Tranter's gender-bending outfits -- make the tour a logical union.

In promoting the band, the label is emphasizing the "lifestyle marketing" connected with Tranter's line of jewelry, according to Interscope Geffen A&M Records marketing director Matthew LaMotte. Since designing necklaces in his Brooklyn apartment to sell at the first Semi Precious Weapons shows, Tranter has created his own company, Fetty, and has had his items featured in Urban Outfitters and Barneys.

Although album cut "Semi Precious Weapons" has received spins on alternative rock outlets like Sirius XM's Alt-Nation channel, LaMotte says Geffen plans to take the band "as mainstream as possible" thanks to the Monster Ball tour. Tranter says he enjoyed a headlining run in April, but he equally loves catering to Gaga's pop fans while promoting his band's head-banging new album.

"Getting 12,000 people to chant your friend's name every night is a magical experience," Tranter says.

(please visit our entertainment blog via www.reuters.com or on blogs.reuters.com/fanfare/)