“Most of the time, everything’s going horribly wrong. So to have a show where everything runs smoothly, that’s awesome. I expect the worst, and if everything goes better than the worst, then you’re psyched. It’s rock n’ roll man, you never know what to expect from the crowd, the sound, anything,” When talking to the stunningly beautiful nineteen year old Taylor Momsen, one would think she is far older than her years. She has a perspective on the entertainment industry that only comes from years of experience, hard work and an understanding of the headache that also comes with it. Exhaustive touring, performances that are amazing and the disappointments; she is a seasoned pro when it comes to show business and the intense dedication required to hone your craft.
The child star, who was born in St Louis, Missouri and raised Catholic, signed to Ford models at the age of two. She has been widely outspoken about her resentment being put to work at such a young age by her parents, “No 2-year-old wants to be working, but I had no choice. My whole life, I was in and out of school. I didn’t have friends.” Despite that she went from strength to strength in her career, with a breakout acting role at the young age of seven in Dr. Suess’ How The Grinch Stole Chistmas, (for which she also recorded a song for the soundtrack), followed by the lead in Hansel and Gretel and roles with other top directors including Gus Van Sant. She became widely known for her role as Jenny Humphrey on the TV show Gossip Girl, which she filmed for four seasons. Rumor has it that she was “kicked off” the show for her erratic behavior, although according to Taylor she just wanted to focus on her music.
“Music was always the goal and always my focus. Acting was a day job, to pay the rent.” When the headstrong blond beauty from Gossip Girl started to make tongues wag about her wild behavior a lot of people thought she was on her way to becoming another casualty of the industry. “I was put into acting really young, literally at 2 years old. I didn’t exactly choose that…” Outspoken and untamed, she refused to bow down to the business like a good little girl and instead flaunted it all and focused on her career as a musician – where she could finally push the boundaries of her art and ideology. Some may think that for a seventeen year old it is a bit crazy to perform on stage with only duct tape on your breasts, talk openly about female masterbation and her pre-disposition for porn, but for Taylor, who started modeling at the age of two, and shot her first commercial at the age of three, it was pretty obvious that she didn’t care what anyone thought about her. She just wanted to be her creative and “reckless” self.
“I kind of grew up in recording studios. I was in my first recording studio when I was very very little… I started writing for myself probably since I was around 9, 10 years old.” She recorded her first song at the age of five, and after years of modeling and acting gigs realized it was her true calling. Initially a lot of people didn’t take her band, The Pretty Reckless, very seriously – although it wasn’t long before she proved them wrong. Shedding her petty girl image for rock n’ roll black raccoon liner, lingerie and leather, the band released two demo singles, “He Loves You” and “Zombie” gaining them some serious traction with fans. The band’s first single was featured prominently in the film Kick-Ass, making it onto the soundtrack and gaining them a spot on the Warped Tour. Their first EP, The Pretty Reckless, got the attention of a variety of major music publications, including Rolling Stone. In the fall of 2010 the band released their first album, Light Me Up, with Interscope Records, debuting on the charts in the UK at Number 6.
Since then it has been back-to-back touring with her band, as well as opening for some serious headliners, including Marilyn Manson on his Hey Cruel World…Tour. “We’ve been really fortunate to get a lot of really cool tours and perform with a lot of really great bands, from Guns n’ Roses to Evanescence to all the festivals. We played with System of a Down and everyone. But Manson was one of my favorites.” Her antics on stage topped off with her controversial music videos, including “Under the Water” featuring her nude, have only added to her “reckless” reputation, and growing fan base.
Despite her rebellious image, she is seriously dedicated when it comes to music, “Music’s awesome. It’s a language in itself that can translate from any language. Music is its own language. That’s amazing. It speaks without speaking.” The avid Beatles fan who says she would, “probably be an alcoholic” if she wasn’t a musician, pushes herself to write her own material – although she likes to leave the meaning of her songs open to interpretation, “Songwriting’s a very tortuous long process where you kind of sit inside your head and kill yourself for something… Sometimes you finish the song and you don’t even realize what you’re saying until it’s complete. Maybe a year later, you’re listening back and go, ‘Oh, this is what I was really saying’ as opposed to what I thought I was saying at the time. I like to leave songs open to interpretation for people. Whatever it means to me…it’s irrelevant. It’s just how it touches other people and how they interpret it and what it means to them… It’s what makes music so worldly.”
2012 saw career highs including the release of her second EP, Hit Me Like a Man, her tour with Marilyn Manson, and lows, such as when their New York studio was destroyed following the events of Hurricane Sandy, “Our studio, all its gear, all our guitars, destroyed…” In December they released their new single “Kill Me”, which was featured at the end of the final episode of Gossip Girl, creating a fitting closure for her controversial relationship with the TV show. 2013 is set to be a big year for The Pretty Reckless, with the new album set to release in the spring. It is clear that Momsen, with her husky voice and strong lyricism, is optimistic about the future, “There will definitely be a world tour and I’m putting a film together about the record, a documentary…and hopefully some other things around that!” You can expect the unexpected when it comes to Taylor, and fortunately for her fans, we will certainly be seeing and hearing a lot more about her in the years to come.
Check out the full interview with Taylor Momsen for The Music Issue 6:
Indira Cesarine: How did you get started with music?
TM: I kind of grew up in recording studios. I was in my first recording studio when I was very very litte. I grew up just around music all the time. My dad had a massive record collection so I grew up on the classics, you know. Actual vinyl. It’s been a big part of my life since before I was born. I started writing songs when I was young and as I got older, I decided to take it more seriously. And it never left.
IC: You’re known also as an actress, from the show Gossip Girl, as well as a slew of film roles – Why did you transition your focus from acting to music?
TM: Music was always the goal and always my focus. Acting was a day job, to pay the rent. It helped just to have a career in the entertainment industry in general. It’s all connected in some way or another. I was put into acting really young, literally at two years old. I didn’t exactly choose that. It just became my day job and something I did. It helped me get into the industry and introduced me to the music industry and the right people to work with.
IC: What were you doing at two? Baby commercials?
TM: (laughs) Yeah. Well I started in modeling when I was two, and then transitioned into doing commercials. My first commercial was for Shake n’ Bake when I was three, and went from there.
IC: You can handle the pressure of the entertainment industry, I can imagine, if you started that young!
TM: I think pressure’s just created, though. The pressure’s in the creating. It’s not in the actual job itself. Writing a record is the hardest thing. That’s the pressure. It’s creating something out of nothing.
IC: How did you come up with the performance name “The Pretty Reckless”?
TM: Well it was supposed to be “The Reckless”, because we are reckless. We couldn’t get that, so we had to add a word, so we added “Pretty”. I consider the band still just “The Reckless”, and hopefully eventually, we’ll get back to actually just calling it that.
IC: Pretty Reckless is cool too, though. But “The Reckless” seems more to the point.
TM: Yeah. We were going for “The Beatles”, “The Reckless” (laughs). With the Internet nowadays, the trade marking issues are kind of a problem. “The Pretty Beatles” isn’t as good as “The Beatles”.
IC: When did you really start performing professionally as a musician?
TM: Probably around fourteen. But I’ve been working in recording studios and writing for myself probably since I was around 9, 10.
IC: What do you consider your breakthrough moment as a musician?
TM: Probably finishing the first record. Actually having it mastered and done and in my hands. That was totally the first accomplishment.
IC: You toured with Marilyn Manson. How was that?
TM: It was awesome. He’s the real deal. We’ve been really fortunate to get a lot of really cool tours and perform with a lot of really great bands, from Guns n’ Roses to Evanescence to all the festivals. We played with System of a Down and everyone. But Manson was one of my favorites, so it was a really awesome tour.
IC: Do you have a favorite city to perform in?
TM: It’s hard to pick one. Overseas is a lot of fun. Anywhere in Europe is always crazy and awesome. Paris and London. I don’t like planes, so anytime I can stay in the US, I love that. Overseas is different. You have to fly to get there.
IC: Why don’t you like planes?
TM: Think about it for two seconds! Hurdling a steel tube through the air? Doesn’t sound safe.
IC: Yeah, that’s true. How many amazing, talented —
TM: Stop! Stop! Don’t even want to think about it!
IC: Well a lot of musicians spend their time on buses.
TM: Well you can’t take a bus to France!
IC: Well you can take a boat to France, but that would take about a month.
TM: Believe me, I’ve tried. And you can’t take a boat to Japan!
IC: Do you have a favorite band or musician?
TM: The Beatles. Hands down.
IC: Who would you consider the most inspirational person in the music industry?
TM: The Beatles. (laughs)
IC: What inspires your songwriting, aside from the Beatles?
TM: Always a hard question to answer. Song writing’s a very tortuous long process where you kind of sit inside your head and kill yourself for something. If I knew where inspiration came from, I’d move there. My life, wherever…you get lucky. So whatever kind of mental space I’m in that time, I guess, is kind of where something will come from. I generally tend to write at night. You have to be lucky. You have to be at the right space at the right time at the right moment. There is no answer.
IC: Obviously, your work comes from within, and it’s personal.
TM: Yeah, but even when I writing about it, I don’t even know what I’m writing about until it’s done. I think that’s a very common thing. When you’re writing something and then you finish the song and you don’t even realize what you’re saying until it’s complete. Maybe a year later, you’re listening back and go, ‘Oh, this is what I was really saying’ as opposed to what I thought I was saying at the time. And I also like to leave songs open to interpretation for people. Whatever it means to me…irrelevant. It’s just how it touches other people and how they interpret it and what it means to them. It’s what makes music so worldly.
IC: If you weren’t in music, what do you think you’d end up doing?
TM: Probably be an alcoholic. I would be trying to get into music and be an alcoholic failing at it.
IC: Do you have an incredibly difficult performance that you had to get through?
TM: Not really. It’s kind of all the same thing. You learn to roll with the punches. There’s always shit that you learn to live with.
IC: You’ve never had a moment where everything’s gone horribly wrong?
TM: Well that’s most of the time. Most of the time, everything’s going horribly wrong. So to have a show where everything runs smoothly, that’s awesome. I expect the worst, and if everything goes better than the worst, then I’m psyched. It’s rock n’ roll man, you never know what to expect from the crowd, the sound, anything.
IC: How did you come up with your look?
TM: I didn’t really come up with anything. I’m a blonde, so I gravitate toward this dark eye makeup and blonde eyelashes…it’s just something I’ve done for a long time. I didn’t really wake up one morning and say, ‘I’m gonnna do this.’ It kind of just developed. I wear what I feel comfortable in that day. It’s always evolving, but I’m very in control of it. I like to be the one driving the direction. I want to look like how I feel. So however I feel that day is how I dress.
IC: Do you have a favorite designer?
TM: I tend to not wear a lot of designers. I love thrift store shopping and finding special gems that you can rework and turn into something original. But I love the classics; I love Chanel. Well I don’t actually think I own anything Chanel except for Chanel No. 5 perfume, I got that from my mom, but I appreciate the art of it. I appreciate fashion for the art of it, if it’s taken seriously, and I think Chanel has really done that. From the beginnings of it until now. I also love Marchesa, but it’s not something I think I’d wear every day. Every dress that they wear is a work of art.
IC: Do you have a favorite artist?
TM: I love Andy Warhol. Love Picasso. The list goes on and on of great artists. I’m influenced a lot by the sixties. Pop art and Andy Warhol and the Factory was a big inspiration on the first record Light Me Up.
IC: Oh that’s so cool, because that was the inspiration for our shoot.
TM: Yeah, that’s why I was excited about the shoot.
IC: Do you have a motto or words of wisdom that you live by?
TM: No. Not really.
IC: What it is about music in particular that you love?
TM: It’s awesome. Music’s awesome. It’s a language in itself that can translate from any language. Music is its own language. That’s amazing. It speaks without speaking.
IC: Do you have a favorite song that you’ve ever produced of yours?
TM: Hard to pick a favorite. I’m really excited about this new record. I’m gonna say everything off the new record that no one’s heard yet. (laughs)
IC: When’s the new album coming out?
TM: Hopefully spring. Still working on the details. We’ve finished the record itself, now it’s in the next stage of putting it all together.
IC: What other projects should we look out for you this year?
TM: Nothing definitive to talk about yet, but I’m trying to put a film together about the record, a documentary. Definitely a full tour around the world again as soon as we start. We’re in limbo at the moment because we’ve just finished it. As soon as it starts, it tends to just go. It’ll definitely be a world tour and a film and hopefully some other things around that.
IC: How do you feel about being a female rock star?
TM: I feel like this is such a sexist question (laughs). If you were a man, you wouldn’t get that question. But I wish I was Robert Plant. I’m over here as woman going, ‘I wish I was Robert Plant.’ But doesn’t everybody wish they were Robert Plant? Man or woman? I don’t really like to think of music as dividing it into the sexes. It’s just Robert Plant. Man or woman, you should want to be Robert Plant.
IC: What is your Top 10 play list right now?
TM: The new Soundgarden record, King Animal. I tend to stick to the classics. Simon and Garfunkel, “Sound of Silence”. Neil Young “Cinnamon Girl”, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, obviously. I’m a Lennon guy…girl. Rage, I heard they’re doing a new record. Nirvanna. Garbage.