Taylor Momsen may only be 20 years old but the singer at the helm of rock outfit The Pretty Reckless is already somewhat of a veteran of the entertainment industry; she’s has been working since she was two, first as a model before getting her debut acting gig a year later. And while it was cult teen TV show Gossip Girl that threw Taylor into the spotlight in 2007, the project closest to her heart is The Pretty Reckless, the rock group that finally allowed Taylor to be herself – stripper shoes, leather and all.
Since releasing their debut album, Light Me Up, in 2010 The Pretty Reckless has gone from strength to strength – performing, quite literally, hundreds of concerts in the subsequent years and garnering a loyal fan base obsessed with their every move. Tabloids may be quick to dispel Taylor as another crossover from the acting world, but we’d hazard a guess that they haven’t listened to her Joan Jett-esque rasp or the thrashing riffs and anthemic chorus of new single ‘Heaven Knows’.
We catch up with the gutsy, straight-talking singer on a brief trip to London, where she’s polite and warm (sorry, diva rumours dispelled) despite being on death’s door with laryngitis, to talk sexuality, tabloid bullshit and why hopefully The Pretty Reckless’ music can inspire more than the need for another shot of vodka.
YOUR NEW ALBUM, GOING TO HELL, DROPS IN MARCH, FOUR YEARS AFTER YOUR DEBUT RECORD. HOW HAS THE BAND AND SOUND DEVELOPED IN THAT TIME?
We toured for two and a half years on our first record, so the band became a very tight unit. The songwriting has definitely matured as I was 15 when I made the first record and now I’m 20, so topics definitely change. I think the record is very stripped down, two guitars, bass, drums, and that really allows the songs to be at the forefront and you get to hear all the players honestly as they sound. It’s much more of a band record.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM GOING TO HELL, WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF THE LYRICAL INSPIRATIONS?
Going around the world and seeing what’s going on first hand definitely opened up my eyes and changed my perspective on things. The goal was honest and quality songwriting, finding the things I wanted to say and getting them across as honestly as possible. Inspiration can come from anywhere, so when you’re writing it’s really about opening yourself up to it and waiting for it to come to you, you can’t push it or else it will sound trying, that’s the magic of it, it comes out of nowhere and when it does you feel lucky.
ROCK MUSIC OFTEN DRAWS ON DARKER ELEMENTS OF LIFE, WHY DO YOU THINK THE DARK SIDE OF REALITY IS SUCH A RICH SOURCE OF INSPIRATION?
I don’t really see it as dark, I see it as real, and the fact is reality right now is pretty scary. Popular music seems to be really focussing on escaping, and everyone just wants to have a “good time” kind of shit, but I want to give people something to listen to that allows them to escape into a different world, something that really connects with them deep down, not just going to the club or focussing on escaping the fears of reality, I want to make something that helps them through that fear, not escape it.
DO YOU THINK PEOPLE NEED AN ESCAPE FROM DAILY LIFE?
There’s escape and then there’s hiding from your fears. I feel like rock, when done well, can empower a person, from Pink Floyd to Rage Against the Machine, it makes you feel stronger, like you can really take on life instead of the (dare I say it) the “YOLO” mentality; how the fuck do we know if we only live once? And if we do, shouldn’t we take it seriously? Fun is important but it’s not entirely fulfilling, I want people to feel it deep down, not just inspire them to do another shot of vodka, but to inspire them to live a deep fulfilling life on their own terms, be unique and make your own statement
YOU RELEASED THE ALBUM ARTWORK A FEW DAYS AGO, AND MADE HEADLINES AROUND THE WEB. WHY DO YOU THINK PEOPLE ARE STILL SO SHOCKED BY A NAKED WOMAN?
That’s just tabloid bullshit to get views. I was trying to make a classic photo like the album covers I love, like ‘Wish You Were Here’ or Clapton’s ‘E.C. Was Here’. I honestly never thought about the nudity thing, I was trying to express that when we leave this world, you don’t take nothing with you but our soul…think..(to of course quote John Lennon).
DO YOU THINK THERE’S TOO MUCH DEBATE AROUND WOMEN’S SEXUALITY IN MUSIC?
I think there’s not enough debate about the kind of proper education that leads to compassion and peace. We should be talking about violence, we all are sexual. Sexuality is ubiquitous and beautiful, we shouldn’t be violent, that’s the real ugly thing in the world, whether it’s towards each other or nature, peace and love should be the goal, that’s why The Beatles were so important, that was their message.
YOU GAINED WORLDWIDE FAME WHEN STARRING IN GOSSIP GIRL, IS IT MORE LIBERATING CONCENTRATING ON A PROJECT THAT ALLOWS YOU TO BE COMPLETELY YOURSELF?
Of course, liberating is an understatement though I’m very grateful of all the experiences I’ve had.
IN PREVIOUS INTERVIEWS YOU DON’T GIVE TOO MUCH AWAY, IS IT A WORRY THAT THE PRESS ARE ALWAYS TRYING TO GET A STORY?
I just don’t want that to be the focus, celebrity is a strange thing, I want to be known for creating something people love, not for who I’m dating or what I had for breakfast today.
YOU’VE ALSO SPOKEN OF YOUR LOVE FOR STRIPPER SHOES, WHEN DID THAT BEGIN?
(Laughs) That was years ago to me now, I was a kid and expressing typical confused teenage sexuality, but it is really fun being that tall in heels.
HOW IMPORTANT IS FASHION IN ROCK?
I think the visual you portray can really help complete the vision of the music, whether it’s no image or a detailed one, I think fashion and rock have always gone together, it’s another expression of freedom.
ONE OF YOUR EARLIEST GIGS WAS THE WHITE STRIPES, HOW MUCH OF A FORMATIVE EXPERIENCE WAS THAT?
It blew my mind! They were so loud and raw. The songs were just so good, it definitely made an impact on me.
WHAT’S YOUR MAIN GOAL FOR THE PRETTY RECKLESS THIS YEAR?
To tour the shit out of ‘Going to Hell’ around the world and get it out to as many people as possible and of course to become the best band we can possibly be. Then, go right back in the studio, I’ve already written enough new songs to start the next record. But first, playing as many shows as we can…I can’t wait.
Going To hell by The Pretty Reckless is released March 17