by Jon Steely
I'm waking up -- very much alone -- after a night involving complimentary Jameson drinks at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, a former Miss Universe contestant and several listens to Bob Dylan's sprawling masterpiece "Brownsville Girl." My head is exploding and I'm craving coconut water to battle dehydration. I check my cell phone and find a message from Taylor Momsen, badass frontwoman for the alternative rock band The Pretty Reckless. She'd like to do another interview -- a follow-up to my "15 Minutes With Taylor Momsen" article from earlier this year.
I didn't think a second interview with Taylor was going to happen. We'd exchanged messages for months, trying to arrange it, and we didn't connect the last time The Pretty Reckless roared through LA. Another interview seemed unlikely, and I assumed it was my fault. I figured I must have sent Taylor a well-intentioned, but crazy-sounding message that made the no-holds barred "Going To Hell" singer tiptoe away in her go-go boots or stripper shoes or whatever she wears on her feet these days. When something goes wrong, I blame myself. Oftentimes, I'm right.
Then, out of nowhere, Taylor was ready to talk again.
I like Taylor Momsen, and I'm always interested in chatting with her. At 21, the charismatic lead singer/songwriter for The Pretty Reckless is the only recording artist I've seen emerge from her social media/bottle service generation to embody the spirit of classic rock in all its thrusting glory. Maybe there are others? I don't know, and I won't bother to research. You don't find good rock music; it finds you, grabs you by the loins and demands to be heard.
In 90 minutes, I'll be interviewing Taylor Momsen.
I reflect on my previous night's Jameson intake, and decide my life needs balance. I run on my treadmill for 45 minutes, while watching the music video of The Pretty Reckless' latest hit "Messed Up World." After repeated views, the chorus ("sex and love and guns, light a cigarette") sticks in my head, alongside Dylan's "Brownsville Girl" and rushes of assorted neuroses. I get off the treadmill, and run into another issue: I've misplaced my list of interview questions for Taylor, and there's no time to prepare another.
Taylor Momsen is sitting on her tour bus, awaiting sound check for tonight's The Pretty Reckless concert, supporting their fierce, chart-topping album "Going To Hell." As we begin our conversation, my shirt is soaked in treadmill/Jameson sweat, my head is throbbing and I don't know the next word coming out of my mouth. Scrambling, I tell Taylor she's a multitalented person who could've chosen many avenues of artistic expression. I ask why she specifically picked rock and roll?
"I fell in love with the Beatles at a really early age," Momsen begins. "From there, it was into Led Zeppelin, The Who and Pink Floyd. The power of rock and roll represents freedom. It has a power to it that other music doesn't. I was attracted to that the first time I heard it. It's raw. It's real. You can actually say what you think. There are no boundaries, and I'm not one for boundaries."
I ask Taylor who introduced her to rock and roll?
"My dad had a giant vinyl collection," Taylor shares. "So, I grew up on his classic rock records. The Beatles, The Who, Dylan, Pink Floyd, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin. He gave me a music lesson every Sunday. He'd sit me down with a new record."
"Rock and roll was the way you and your dad related to each other," I say, touched by the thought of a daughter pleasing her father by becoming a rock star.
"Entirely, yeah," Taylor says. "Absolutely."
Now, the interview is coming alive. It's raw. It's real. Just like rock and roll. Who needs a list of questions? I vow to never come to an interview prepared again, and then realize I'm getting carried away.
"My parents are very supportive," Momsen continues. "They're really happy with everything we've done. My dad loves it. It's cool to have him looking forward to something that I worked so hard at. We just played with Aerosmith and Cheap Trick. My dad gets so excited. It blows his mind."
As I talk with Taylor, the catchy hook to The Pretty Reckless song "Messed Up World" seeps into my brain and I hear her singing "sex and love and guns, light a cigarette." In a bizarre reality, Taylor's singing distracts me from what she's saying in our interview. I don't know if Taylor would consider this a compliment or an insult, so I don't tell her it's happening. Instead, I ask if there's anything about her that would surprise her fans?
"Probably how much time I spend writing and creating and doing nothing else," she answers. "Unless I'm working and doing interviews, it's art and creativity constantly, 24-hours a day. And I spend a lot of time alone. I'm very much a loner. I have to stay inside my own head to create and to write. When we're not on tour and I'm home by myself, I barely use my cell phone. I'm alone all the time. It would surprise people how almost shy and introverted I am."
I don't like loneliness. I've had enough of it. Taylor seems to embrace it, and I ask her why?
"You need isolation to write," she says. "You need to live inside your own head to create. And writing a song is so great. It takes a lot of work and you torture yourself for it, like any artist does. You completely drive yourself insane doing it, but it's the best feeling on the planet when it's finished. There's no better feeling than when you finish something good. But you have to suffer through all the hardship of getting to that good point. You have to find the right inspiration, and you never know where that's going to come from. It takes hours and hours, and you can't be distracted by the outside world or outside people. So, you're not going to see me at the club. I need my own space and to get back inside my own head and shut myself off from the world. That's when I feel most together."
Taylor Momsen loves being an artist. For her, the finished product is worth the torture needed to produce the art. I used to feel this way, but now I'm not so sure. Writing has barely paid my rent, given me painful bouts of finger arthritis and insomnia, taken me to the fringes of mental illness and impaired my ability to connect with people. So, why do I keep doing it? Probably because I never learned to play guitar.
I don't know what to ask Taylor next. I picture the beautiful girls frolicking on the beach in her "Messed Up World" video and think about the lyrics to "You." I feel the groove of "My Medicine" and recall the chorus of "Make Me Wanna Die." Then, something hits.
"What are you afraid of?" I ask.
"Failure, I guess, just like anybody else," Taylor says. "Right now, we have two number one songs ("Heaven Knows" and "Messed Up World"), so that's success. But if you can't do it again, you're a failure. I think I'm afraid of not being able to continue and grow as an artist. The next song has to be better than the last song. The next record has to be better than the last record. So, I think my greatest fear is not being able to do it anymore, for whatever reason. You never know where inspiration is going to come from. So, that's the most terrifying part. You have to wait for it. You can't force it. That's my biggest fear. If I woke up one morning and couldn't do this, I wouldn't know what else to do with myself. My life would be over. Waiting for the inspiration and not knowing if it's going to come. That's fear, because it might not. And it has to be inspired. It can't be forced."
I ask Taylor if she focuses so intensely on her art as a way to avoid dealing with unresolved issues within herself? (Yes. I'm projecting. So what?)
"Sure," she says with a laugh. "Of course. I repress shit. Doesn't everyone? But, at the same time, I think writing is cathartic and it's how I work through my shit. It's why writing is so difficult, and why you have to be alone to do it. Writing forces you to expand your brain and explore things about yourself and your personal feelings. You're suddenly aware of everything, which can make it torturous and daunting."
Taylor goes off to her sound check with The Pretty Reckless, and I return to exactly the kind of isolation she's been discussing. There will be no former Miss Universe in my life tonight, or maybe ever again. No free drinks or trendy people. I'll eat Alaskan pink salmon out of the can over my kitchen sink. I'll continue writing on my ex-girlfriend's MacBook. I'll pace the floor as "Brownsville Girl" plays and snicker when Dylan quips, "the only thing we knew for sure about Henry Porter was that his name wasn't Henry Porter." I'll think about how Taylor Momsen embraces isolation to create art, and conclude that I'd probably take a flame torch to my best material in exchange for a random act of kindness from a stranger. Well, a desirable stranger.