Taylor Momsen talked to “Pollstar” about the band’s upcoming album in addition to her views on fame and sexuality in the music industry. The 20-year-old describes the LP, “Going To Hell,” as much more adult compared to the debut she wrote when she was 15.
The world was introduced to Momsen as an actress and model when she was just a toddler. She got her big break when she was 7 years old as Cindy Lou Who in 2000’s “Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas” and seven years later she took on her best-known role as Jenny Humphrey in the CW teen drama “Gossip Girl.”
Momsen launched The Pretty Reckless in 2009, while continuing to play Little J on “Gossip Girl.” When her role switched from the main cast to a guest star she was able to devote attention to her true passion of music.
The hard rock band features Momsen on lead vocals and guitar along with guitarist/backing vocalist Ben Phillips, bassist Mark Damon and drummer Jamie Perkins.
Since releasing its full-length debut in 2010, Light Me Up, Pretty Reckless have done their own headline tours in addition to supporting Evanescence, Guns N’ Roses and Marilyn Manson. The band’s sophomore album, Going To Hell, is due out in early 2014.
Pollstar caught up with Momsen last week before the band was set to take the stage in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Looking through your Wikipedia page I came across an item that said reality star Heidi Montag recorded a song a few years ago that you wrote when you were 8 years old. Is that true? How long have you been writing music?
I have been writing music since I could write. I started working as a child [and] I moved around a lot so my notebook kind of became my best friend.
Although you initially began acting and modeling, did you know early on that you wanted to pursue a career in music?
Yes, without a doubt. But you gotta pay the rent and I had to wait until I wrote a record’s worth of material that I wanted people to hear. You know, I didn’t want to put out my 8- year-old songs.
So, a little bit more history – is Pretty Reckless your first band or had you been in groups before that?
Not bands that anyone would know or anything, but I definitely jammed and played with bands before. And I’ve worked in recording studios with different producers, just trying to find the right fit and the right people to play with. I met Kato (Khandwala) who produced “Light Me Up” and the new record. He introduced me to Ben (Phillips), and Ben introduced me to the rest of the band. We just kind of all clicked immediately. And that’s very lucky and hard to find in this industry – people who you’re musically compatible with – especially when there [was] so little rock at the time, and still is.
The recording studio you were using to record Going To Hell was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. How did that affect the recording process?
It was pretty devastating. I don’t think anyone was expecting it to be as bad as it was. We were recording at a studio called Water Music in Hoboken, N.J., which is actually in a flood zone, which is why it’s called Water Music. … Now we call it Underwater Music. [laughs] It would flood in even bad rainstorms but we had taken Studio B, and that room never flooded. So everyone else in the studio was moving gear into our room, preparing for it. And they were like, “This room never floods, it’s fine.” So they moved everything into our room – and it [got] eight feet of sludge and water damage. It took … out millions of dollars of equipment and recordings and guitars, which was pretty devastating to say the least. I think the biggest thing was it took so much time to find a new studio and rebuild our arsenal of gear and re-record everything. But we [did] actually write the song “Going to Hell” after all that so …
I read that song was inspired by that whole experience. Is that right?
In one way, sure. Also … we had more time to write because we had to rebuild everything and that took months. We were looking for one more song and a good line to sum up the record in a simple, distinct way, and “Going to Hell” seemed fitting.
Where did you end up recording?
We [recorded] at a studio called The Barber Shop and ended up finishing the record, the last song that was recorded. … We ended up back at Water Music after they rebuilt and got their stuff back up and running. So we started at Water and ended at Water.
This is your sophomore album. So how does Going To Hell compare to your debut?
I think the first thing is it’s a lot heavier. The second thing is it’s a lot more, I guess I could use the word adult. I wrote the first record when I was 15, I’m 20 now so it’s definitely evolved. … This record is very much more a band record than Light Me Up because after touring for two-and-a half years, we really developed a sound. This record is much more stripped down; there are not a lot of bells and whistles production-wise. … Just very raw, very honest and pretty much exactly what we sound like. … There was no, “How are we going to take this from the studio and go play this live?” … So that’s exciting.
You describe Going To Hell as very much a band record. So, for the writing process, was it something where all of you contributed?
Well, Ben and I write the songs. … We went into writing this record with the idea of no boundaries, don’t follow any trends. Whatever comes out, comes out. Just write good songs and have that be the goal.
Do you still take a notebook with you on your own to jot down ideas and then bring it to Ben? Or do you write together?
Oh yeah, I carry a notebook with me at all times. As any writer will tell you, you’re constantly writing and thinking and looking for ideas. I always say that if I knew where inspiration came from I’d move there. That’s my joke. We write separately and then together and then some stuff is just me, some stuff is a combination of me and Ben.
With the new album being called “Going To Hell,” what appeals to you about the darker side of rock ’n’ roll?
Dark is a perspective so I wouldn’t necessarily call this a dark record just because I called it Going To Hell. I mean, first of all, we used religion as a metaphor. It is not meant to be taken literally. You can if you want to but … I grew up Catholic so religion is just in my vernacular of metaphors. So I wouldn’t necessarily call this a dark record. I would use the word “thoughtful.” It’s a very thoughtful record and it’s meant to be listened to like old school records where you [would] sit down in your room with the lights off and a pair of headphones and listen to it from [beginning] to end, over and over. There’re not three-minute pop songs. It’s really a piece of work and music and it’s meant to be a record. They’re not written as singles as the current music industry is doing it. … The more you listen to it the more you’ll discover different things and different meanings inside the songs.
I don’t know if you’ve caught this in the news at all during the past few days. I was wondering what’s your take on Sinead O’Connor’s open letter to Miley Cyrus. Not so much that she specifically was talking to Miley but just the topic in general.
I am so out of the loop as far as what’s going on right now. On tour you’re living in such a bubble that I wake up every morning and go, “Where the f**k are we?” So I really don’t have anything to say on that because I don’t know what’s going on.
Basically Sinead was warning Miley about the music industry exploiting young female singers by making money off of them. I know you haven’t shied away from nudity. For example, your recent promo poster for the tour.
Are you talking about sexuality right now? That promo poster was not, first of all, meant to be sexual. I tweeted it not even thinking about it. I mean, I guess it is [laughs] but it comes out of a series of [photographs]. It was taken from our cover shoot. So when the other sequence of photos comes out I think it will make a lot more sense in context of the record. But it’s you know, it’s a promo poster. I think sexuality and music have always gone hand-in-hand since the beginning of time but I don’t think there’s a need to overly exploit … It can be a marketing tool but I think the music has to come first.
So you don’t feel like the industry has pressured you to act a certain way or take photos like this?
Anything I do is very … it has an artistic, thoughtful meaning behind it but … people don’t necessarily take it in the right way when it gets put out and put through the tabloids … Everything I do has an artistic meaning behind it, even if it has sexuality in it.
Do you view the fame from your acting career as more of a blessing or a curse, as far as the band goes?
I think it’s a combination. It’s helped in a lot of ways in that people were really familiar with me – so, that doesn’t hurt anything. But certainly coming off of a super pop-culture television show and saying, “Hey, I have this rock band” [laughs] and having people take you seriously as a 15-year-old girl … was definitely something to overcome. But I think the music speaks for itself and … I think people see me more as a musician now than an actress. I mean, I haven’t acted in over four years. It was a day job for me. I had to pay my rent.
So are there any plans to do acting down the road? Or is it just music from here on out?
Music is certainly the focus and will always be the focus, but never say never. If the right role came around and really spoke to me in some outrageous way then possibly, but at the moment it’s not something I’m pursuing.
How is the tour going so far?
So far it’s been great. … The show has been really ravishing and rapt. We’re finally getting into a groove. It’s a good set, a mix of old material from Light Me Up [including] “Hit Me Like A Man” and couple of songs, obviously, from Going To Hell. We released the song “Follow Me Down” so we’re playing that and a couple other new songs that haven’t been released yet. It’s a really fun time.
How are fans reacting to the new music?
Everything that I’ve heard from meeting fans on tour, and anything that I’ve read, which has been somewhat limited, has been great. Great reactions. We can’t do this without our fans and the support of our fanbase. Anytime they’re excited, we’re excited.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Just check it out. Come to a show if you want to have a loud, ruckus-y, let-go-of everything [time]. Rock ’n’ roll is the ultimate freedom; I think it defines freedom. So, come to a show with all your boundaries down and rock out for a night and lose your mind. And prepare to be deaf and lose your voice – but that’s [how] it’s supposed to be.