Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Concert preview: Q&A with The Pretty Reckless’ Taylor Momsen!

Q&A » Singer/guitarist discusses rock band’s upcoming show at The Complex.
By Eric Walden

Taylor Momsen, lead singer and rhythm guitarist for The Pretty Reckless, called from a tour stop in Portland, Oregon, to discuss her band’s second full-length album, "Going to Hell," and their Oct. 16 show at The Complex in Salt Lake City. Momsen also touched on her days as an actress on the TV show "Gossip Girl," her old-school rock inspirations, and learning how to put on a "proper rock n’ roll show" out on the road.

What was it that made you decide to transition from acting to music?

I didn’t really transition — I was always a musician, but the world didn’t know about it. It was something I was working on privately. When I finally got the right band and wrote a record’s worth of material that I actually wanted people to hear, I quit [acting] and didn’t look back. I haven’t acted in almost six years now.

So this has been something you’ve been wanting to do for a while?

Oh yes, since I was a child — since I was a very young child. I’ve been writing and playing music for most of my life.

Who were some of the musicians and bands you grew up listening to?

The band that made me want to be a musician was The Beatles — the first band I ever heard. I grew up on my dad’s record collection, so all the greats — Zeppelin, The Who, [Bob] Dylan and AC/DC … I can just keep listing bands. So I grew up around that kind of stuff and had rock n’ roll instilled in me at a very young age. I fell in love.

What were some of your favorite songs?

Every Beatles song — you can start there. Strawberry Fields was one of my favorites. It was one of the first songs I remember falling in love with as a child.

I feel like there’s some Shirley Manson [Garbage singer] in your vocal style; do you consciously emulate anyone in your music?

If you hear it, then I guess, sure. … Emulate isn’t the right word, because you’re always trying to create something new. Obviously you draw from the people you listen to, but I draw more from men than women. I draw way more from Robert Plant and Chris Cornell and John Lennon stylistically, I think, than women. But again, it’s your own voice, so it’s not emulation, it’s just learning different things and taking different things from the music you listen to, I guess.

Going back to drawing more from men than women — why is that? Is that just a function of having listened more to male-fronted bands?

Yeah, there weren’t a lot of female-fronted bands then. There’s no women Beatles, you know? And they were my favorite, so … You know, I grew up wanting to be Robert Plant. And so I think it just kind of naturally happened that way. I mean, there’s definitely women I respect, from Janis Joplin to Sheryl Crow to Shirley Manson. But I will say this: they’re lower on [the list of] what I listen to on a daily basis.

I read recently that The Pretty Reckless is only the second female-fronted band to have two singles go No. 1 on the rock radio charts. Given the dearth of female-fronted rock bands, is that an accomplishment that means anything to you?

Well, I mean, having a No. 1 in general, I guess is an accomplishment of something. It’s pretty crazy because I didn’t even know if this record was going to come out — we switched record labels. I think the biggest thing is the songs are the accomplishment. Finishing the art is the accomplishment. And if you’re lucky enough to have it put out, and people hear it, and have it actually done your way, that’s another accomplishment. And then, I guess, to have it go No. 1, just means more people have heard it, so yeah, that’s exciting.

Tell me about the process of making "Going to Hell."

"Torturous," I guess, would be the first word that comes to mind. We went through a lot to make this record. There was a lot of pain behind it, between … I could go into … Between Hurricane Sandy wiping out the studio — which, I wrote the song "Going to Hell" on the blackout of New York … during the hurricane — our producer’s wife passing at the very end, and the song "[Messed] Up World" was written after that. So there was a lot of stuff that played into making this record, and I think you can definitely hear that in the songs.

Were you going for something specific thematically?

No, you don’t write like that. I don’t write in the studio, first of all, I write by myself. And then once I come into the studio, I have every idea in my head ready to get knocked out and I know exactly what we’re going to be doing. So there’s no theme as you’re writing. … You’re documenting a time in your life, essentially, and where you’re at at that moment — or at least where I was at — and different things actually start to come together or develop as you’re writing, because you’re writing about a certain time period, and where I’m at at the moment, but it’s not intentional.

Given the struggles you had to go through to get the record made, are you happy with how it turned out?

Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, if I wasn’t happy with it I wouldn’t have put it out. There would be no "Going to Hell" if I wasn’t happy with it. It’s definitely our accomplishment.

What had changed with you and the band in the time between writing "Light Me Up" and "Going to Hell"?

Well … I got better. I got older, I got better, I toured the world, we’ve been around the world multiple times now as a band. We became a really tight unit, the four of us. We kept that in mind with the production of "Going to Hell" — very raw and basic, just two guitars, bass, drums and vocals. Whereas "Light Me Up" had a lot of bells and whistles, shadow-production things on it. Which we learned by touring, because we recorded "Light Me Up" before we were a touring band, and then we went on the road, and — we don’t play with tracks, I refuse to, I refuse to play with tracks — then we had to take this really produced record and figure out how to strip it down to a four-piece band. Basically, the only thing to do, the way you do that is turn up the guitars, which actually makes everything heavier. So I think we kept that in mind.

Tell me a little bit about your bandmates and your relationship with them.

Well, they’re my best friends on the planet. They’re family. … The shows on this tour, we’ve playing a lot of festivals, with kind of 30-minute, punch-you-in-the-face sets, and you’re off. We’ve developed a show on this tour in which I think everyone gets to shine, which is really exciting — everyone’s got their moment.

It sounds like touring has been an important experience for you. Do you have any crazy tour experiences? Have you picked anything up from the bands you’ve toured with?

Well, I mean, I have a billion crazy stories, but none I want in print. [Laughs] We have a rule: what goes on the road, stays on the road. And we’re lucky enough to not have it documented. But, of course you learn stuff opening for different acts — how everyone kind of runs their crew, how they tour — everyone kind of does it a little different, and it’s interesting to see that. You take some things, you leave some things … you know, you work it out and see what works best for you. We have a really great crew, and our crew is like family too, so … We all live together on a bus, so you’ve gotta not totally hate each other. [Laughs] … If we all hate each other, that would really suck.

Is there a band you’ve toured with that’s been your favorite for any particular reason?

They’ve all been great. I mean … we just got to open for Soundgarden, and they’re one of my favorite bands. And it was just us and Soundgarden — direct support — and that was 90,000 people and just one of the coolest moments of my life. And they’re amazing and I got to watch them play a [expletive] awesome show. I watched them play the best show I’ve ever been to.

So is it true you’re already working on another album?

Yeah, you’re always writing. It never ends. You’re always creating. It’s a never-ending process. But we haven’t actually started recording anything, because we’re on tour. We don’t record on the road, but I’ve got lots of songs in my head.

Anything that’s at a point you could demo it for an audience out on tour?

Ummmm … probably not, no. I mean, there’s full songs, but I don’t want to release that kind of thing until the full product has come together. It’s a record and not just, "Here’s a song." The track listing on our records is very important because it tells a story. And so I don’t want to just randomly throw things out there. We are working on an acoustic record of "Going to Hell," which is kind of an inside look as to how the songs originally started, because we wrote everything on acoustic guitar before the band was brought in. You kind of get to see the writer demo version of everything.

You’ll be coming to Salt Lake City soon; have you had any interesting or memorable experiences here in the past?

I’m sure, but I would have to check with the rest of the band, because I am so spacing. The crowds are always great and the shows are always a blast. Ummmm … I’m trying to think. I’m so terrible. I’m the person who’s always goes, "Where are we? What city are we in? What time is it? What the [expletive] is going on?" I’m the wrong person to ask, but I’m sure there’s been many memorable experiences that’ve happened. … You’d have to ask the rest of the band — they’re the ones who know what the [expletive]’s going on.

Now that you’ve had some success with your first two albums, do you find people referring to you more as "Taylor Momsen, budding rock star" rather than "Taylor Momsen, ex-Gossip Girl actress?"

[Laughs] The only time that gets brought up at all is in interviews. That’s just the only time that it’s even referenced in my life. It’s like a joke, or like my childhood, at this point. The people at the shows, half of them don’t even know I had an acting background. They bought the record and they just want to see a rock n’ roll show.

For the fans who show up to see you play at The Complex on Oct. 16, what can they expect?

A very loud, proper rock n’ roll show that hopefully will leave you deaf, mute and blind. That’s proper rock n’ roll right there.


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