Justin Tranter, when not co-writing hit songs, is a dedicated social activist
As one of the most successful pop-music songwriters of the past five years, Justin Tranter has little time to perform live. Then again, when you’ve co-written such hits as Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” DNCE’s “Cake by the Ocean,” Julia Michaels’ “Issues, Imagine Dragons’ “Believer” and Janelle Monae’s “You Make Me Feel,” not having time to perform live is perfectly understandable.
But the Los Angeles-based Tranter is happy to make an exception for Thursday’s “OUT to End Gun Violence” show at the Music Box, which is being billed as a San Diego Pride and Comic-Con Kickoff benefit for The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The lineup also features former San Diego IndieFest producers Danielle LoPresti and Alicia Champion, East of Eli — which features “Super Girl” TV co-star Chyler Leigh, Orlando Pulse nightclub massacre survivor DJ Infinite and guitarist-singer Joe Barksdale, whose day job is playing offensive tackle for the Los Angeles Chargers.
“I’m a songwriter, not a public figure, so my platform isn’t as big,” said Tranter, who has also co-written songs recorded by Maroon 5, Selena Gomez, Linkin Park, Kesha, Shakira, John Legend and Halsey.
“But if you are given a platform of any kind, it is your job to pay that privilege forward and use it for good. So even though my platform is smaller, I take a lot of pride and responsibility to make sure I’m using it responsibly.”
Tranter, 38, is the former leader of the band Semi Precious Weapons, which toured as the opening act for Lady Gaga’s “Monster’s Ball” tour from 2009 to 2011. He is on the national board of directors for the nonprofit GLAAD, one of the most visible advocacy organizations for the LGBTQ community.
By his estimate, Tranter performs no more than four times a year. He does so only to raise funds for nonprofit organizations whose causes he wholeheartedly supports.
“I haven’t been affiliated with the Brady Center before, but I closely work with Everytown For Gun Safety, another anti-gun violence organization,” Tranter said. “I started a musicians’ council for Everytown to get other musicians on board who are ready and passionate to use our platforms to try and make positive change.”
Tranter was invited to perform at tonight’s Brady Center benefit show here by longtime friend Champion. The two met in 2000 when both were new students at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Champion and Lo Presti, her musical partner and wife, moved to Oakland after the 2016 edition of San Diego IndieFest.
“Alicia and Danielle are two of my favorite people,” Tranter said. “When they invited me to do this benefit show at the Music Box, there’s no way I would have said no.”
Semi Precious Weapons performed at two editions of IndieFest and Tranter jammed with Champion and LoPresti at their home studio in San Diego.
“We played a lot together at Berklee, but never wrote anything together,” Champion, 36, recalled.
“Justin introduced me to Patty Griffin and her song ‘Tony’ (which chronicles the suicide of a gay high school student). Justin was one of the first people who showed me I could make activist music in a really commercial-sounding format. That was a big moment for me, listening to that song ‘Tony’ in Justin’s home studio in Boston.”
Champion has written a number of stirring, socially conscious songs. The newest is “The Freshmen ’18,” her rewrite of the band The Verve Pipe’s 1996 song about teen pregnancy and abortion, which features Champion’s heartfelt new lyrics about mass shootings at high schools.
“This issue around gun violence has been growing exponentially since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999,” she said.
“But after the Parkland High School shooting in February, we knew we had to step up our efforts. I was playing the original Verve Pipe version and Danielle suggested I write new lyrics that reflect our current times of gun violence (against) youth. I finished it around early April. Since we cant make money from this song, I thought maybe we could use it for a bigger purpose, by helping a nonprofit raise money and engaging more people.
“From that song came the idea of this concert — and Justin has been very vocal about his feelings on gun issues. He responded immediately when I asked him if he’d participate. I’m thrilled he is.”
Like Tranter, Champion hopes music can help bridge differences between people with opposing views.
“I am not afraid of Republicans being in my audience; I hope they are there,” Tranter said. “And I’m not afraid of homophobes. I hope that, by me showing love, intelligence and strength — and not backing down — we can have a conversation, whether it’s through music or after the show.
“When people say musicians shouldn’t express opinions, well, that argument is completely out the door, because they elected a (former) game show host as president. You don’t get to do that and then tell musicians and actors that they don’t get to express their opinions.”
San Diego Pride and Comic-Con benefit concert for The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, July 12
Where: The Music Box, 1337 India St., downtown.
Tickets: $20-$120, plus service fees; must be 21 or older to attend.
Phone: (619) 795-1337
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