Though tragic vehicular accidents, Lady Gaga’s vomit-inducing performance and Jay-Z & Kanye West’s joint showcase stole most headlines at this year’s insane South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas last week, many hard-working artists were simply trying to make an impression on the array of music lovers crowding the streets of the Lone Star state capital.
Following the completion of their opening act duties for pop heavyweights Gaga and Ke$ha, leaving one record label to sign with another, and the release of alternative rock-sounding “Aviation High” in early 2013, glam rockers Semi Precious Weapons are currently readying the anticipated release of a brand new album, Aviation, next month, four long years after their sophomore effort.
For SXSW 2014, Semi Precious Weapons descended onto Austin for only one performance at Rusty’s last Wednesday night, March 12. Performing only tracks from their upcoming release including “Look to the Stars“, “Free Booze” and “Scream to the Sky“, the band put on a show-stopping, energetic performance which attracted the attention of the full venue even when Mother Monster herself paid a unexpected visit to enjoy the entertaining set. The next day, the band was found relaxing at the Four Seasons, participating in radio interviews and discussing the experience the night before.
“The energy was f***ing great,” Tranter, lead singer of Semi Precious Weapons, says. “We played [the Rusty’s] stage two years ago. It was awesome then and last night it was even better.”
This year’s SXSW festival was not the first visit to Austin for Semi Precious Weapons, the “Sticky With Champagne” crooners have performed at the buzzed-about showcase twice before and were last in the Texas capital to headline the city’s Keep Austin Weird Festival.
“We love Austin,” Tranter says. “I prefer Austin when it’s not South by Southwest. We came and played the Keep Austin Weird festival a year and a half ago and that was amazing. We kept it weird.”
While many may know the band from their opening gig on Lady Gaga‘s highly successful Monster Ball Tour and through the music of their glam rock experiment, You Love You, the boys’ new material carries a slightly new alternative-rock sound compared to the raw yet eccentric style of their past releases. The release of “Aviation High” in early 2013 clearly marked a change for the band and it is coming with successful results.
“After being on tour with Gaga, we just felt different. We had seen and experienced so many things,” the band says. “We just sat down and tried to use all of our influences and the music we love. We tried not to have any rules about what the album was going to be. It’s definitely different from our older stuff, but it is the evolution of what we are.”
Following the conclusion of The Monster Ball Tour, Semi Precious Weapons found themselves supporting another powerful female pop act… Ke$ha, on her Warrior tour in support of her second full-length release. The band was able to showcase the new material they had been working on while introducing their image to a new type of crowd. Plans for their own headlining tour are currently in the works.
“We are hoping to do a full tour in the fall because in the summer we are doing all these amazing radio festivals and concerts,” Tranter says. “We would love to do a headlining tour just to be able to do the full show and the lighting and theatrics of the whole thing. But opening is great, it’s a different art form.”
Before their upcoming third album, Aviation, hits shelves on April 22 through producer Tricky Stewart’s label, RedZone Entertainment, the band released a teaser EP in January to tide over their devoted followers. Featuring the lead single along with the secret party anthem “Drink” and Tranter‘s favorite song to perform live, “Never Going Home“, the EP was a good taste of what listeners could expect from a project that knows no boundaries.
“Four of the songs are already out,” Tranter says of the recently released Aviation EP. “Some people were already singing along to those four songs, which was great. It was super cool to see. I enjoy performing ‘Never Going Home‘ the most, but my favorite song from the album is ‘Healed‘.”
Though Semi Precious Weapons performed a majority of their new album during their SXSW show, all but two tracks, they were clear about keeping focus on the current single, “Aviation High“, believing in its potential now that it has gone to radio. When asked about the possible choices for a follow up single, the band kept it at a simple “we are not sure”.
“To get ‘Aviation High‘ really happening, it is probably going to take until the fall. Once you first hit radio, it is a long, long process that we are happy to be a part of finally,” the band says. “We won’t focus on another single at radio for a long time.”
Promotion for the current single has been in effect since early 2013 when a music video was released featuring a tamer fashion style for the band. Set in the middle of a desert with the interior of modern homes, Semi Precious Weapons were showing a reinvention from their previous work. Gone was the usual grudgy, underground setting.
When “Aviation High” hit radio, the band decided to film another music video to support the track. Featuring a picture perfect, middle class family keeping their secrets of dysfunction from the rest of the household, Semi Precious Weapons took the back seat on the project, allowing the song and story to truly make a statement.
“The first video, we made with about twelve cents and we love it so much, but because we are going to radio with the song a year later we needed to have another piece of visual content with higher quality so it could make its way to MTV2 and the channels we want,” the band says. “We wanted to put more focus on ‘Aviation High‘ and do something that was more expensive.”
What fans immediately noticed from the band’s new visuals was the change in Tranter‘s extravagant, gender-bending outfits he wore in every Semi Precious Weapons production and during every performance. Though the trademark six-inch heels are still intact, the band has instead slipped into sharp, sophisticated black suits.
“The time came,” Tranter admits. “I took male nudity almost as far as Iggy [Pop] for many years and it was just time to put some f***ing pants on.”
The band may have gone through a transformation, in more ways than one, but they assure the essence of Semi Precious Weapons is still present. They proved it with an energetic SXSW performance and new music that digs its roots into the rock and roll genre while still evoking a mainstream, radio-ready sound.
“The energy of the show is the same. The sound has changed,” the band says. “Things get boring if you just do the same thing all the time. It was all about putting the focus on the songs for this album, to let the song dictate the sound. Before, there were all these rules of straight up rock and roll and this time we just wanted the songs to live in whatever world they needed to live in for that moment.”
Semi Precious Weapons claim to have written over a hundred songs for their new album and have also been keeping busy by working on other projects for artists in the process of dealing with exhausting record label troubles.
“We’ve been working with these girl from New York called The Rich White Ladies and we produced and wrote an EP with them, it’s pretty awesome,” the band says. “Adam [Lambert] came to the house and wrote with us a couple of times. He is working on his new album. I wrote with Jeffree Star for his album. We are writing a lot for other people.”
Since leaving Interscope Records, which ultimately was not the right fit for the band, signing with Epic Records only to endure the typical label woes, and finally feeling as if they were home with RedZone Entertainment, Semi Precious Weapons are ready to present a new era of music with Aviation.
“While we were dealing with all this label drama to get our own music out, it’s been kind of nice to write for other people,” the band says. “We were signed to Epic and they didn’t want to put anything out, they didn’t want to let us go, the typical drama. We’re through it now.”