The limits of control
Hello, upper east siders! Spotted: Little J releasing a record with her band, The Pretty Reckless. The biggest surprise? It’s actually good. Xoxo.
IN A CORNER booth at Remedy Diner on New York City’s Lower East Side, the same place we met six months ago for her NYLON Japan cover story, Taylor Momsen sips from a steaming skim latte, her long, center-parted blond hair shrouding most of her face. The first time, we shared cheese fries while she talked candidly about her acting career and bubbled over with excitement when the conversation turned toward her band, the Pretty Reckless, and their forthcoming record, which was still very much “in the works”. Now the as-yet-untitled album is set to come out this summer, and it’s the reason that we’re meeting again in the same booth, at the same diner, with another order of cheese fries.
This time, Momsen, Who says she has “absolutely” fulfilled the hopes she had for the album, is joined by her guitarist, Ben Phillips (bassist Mark Damon and drummer Jamie Perkins are absent). “She was completely in charge from one end to the other”, says Phillips, who co-wrote the record with her. “She’s very diligent - one might use the word pedantic at points. We could spend 18 hours editing a track. She truly doesn’t know the meaning of downtime”. At this, Momsen smirks contentedly.
Lots of thing - big and small - have changed since our last meeting: In addition to finishing the recording, Momsen just shot her first music video and assembled a permanent band that will accompany her on this summer’s Warped Tour. Also new are her “fucking cool John Lennon sunglasses”, behind which her heavily lined and shadowed lids are barely visible. She says they were her dad’s and that she likes them a lot, and I believe her because she opts to wear them for the entirety of our conversation.
“(The album is about) sex and drugs and religion and politics and arguments”, explains Momsen, dipping a fry in ketchup and popping it into her mouth. “But whatever I felt when I was writing it isn’t what I need people to get out of it, exactly. Whatever they want to take from it is what the songs are about. My intention doesn’t really matter”: Momsen cities Oasis, the Beatles, and Audioslave as longtime musical influences but adds that her producer introduces her to Marilyn Manson during the recording process. After announcing this, she chants a string of lyrics from Manson’s “This Is The New Shit” and falls back into the booth, giggling.
On the album’s first single, “You Make Me Wanna Die”, Momsen’s voice growls over dense guitars (“Take me, I’m alive / Never was a girl with a wicked mind”) but switches to a haunting purr for the bridge: “I can see your eyes / Your eyes”. “This is he first time ever that I’ve been able to choose the people I’m working with”, she says. “When you’re an actress, you’re chosen for a role. It’s hard to find people who can reflect your vision and make it come to life”. For Momsen, it was essential that she be able to pick her producers and have creative control of her videos. “Otherwise I wouldn’t do it”, she explains. “I’d rather put it out myself than have people (at a label) dictate what my songs are going to sound like. Fuck that: I’m the artist”.
It’s been a painstaking process for Momsen, but she says the long hours were nothing new and ultimately satisfying. “It just feels like a success to finish it”, she says. “Past that, it’s all really kind of bullshit. If you’re in this for record sales and fame, then you don’t really like music”. So how did Momsen celebrate once the album was finished? “Those are things”, she answers coyly, “that I don’t say in magazines”.