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Interview: Taylor Momsen Of The Pretty Reckless

Sonia Gumuchian |
October 8, 2014 | 9:25 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter


The Pretty Reckless has been on a winning streak lately, as their singles "Messed up World" and "Heaven Knows" have been topping the charts, and not to mention a year-long world tour promoting their new album "Going to Hell."

The band's four members include Taylor Momsen, Ben Philips, Mark Damon, and Jaime Perkins. With an upcoming show Oct. 10 at the Wiltern, fans can expect to see a show nothing short of dazzling.

NT had the chance to catch up with lead singer and songwriter, Taylor Momsen. Check out Momsen's thoughts on her upcoming tour, song writing processes, and the state of rock 'n' roll today. 

NT: Tell us a bit about how the tour is going. 

TM: The shows have been incredible. The fans are amazing. This tour in particular has been a lot of fun cause we just got done with the summer festivals which are outside during the day; We're excited to be back headling inside and playing at night with lights. We're playing a lot of new material, from "Going to Hell," that we get to switch up every night because we don't really have set lists.

NT: Oh that's wonderful - changing things up, I see.

TM: We don't play with the tracks or anything or even a quick check so we can call it out as whatever we feel like playing that night. It keeps it fun, for sure.

It has been brutal start to the tour cause i got really sick.

NT: Ebola?

TM: My god, don't even joke about that! It starts as a fever and I still have a fever. But other than that, the show's been great. 

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NT: So, favorite places to perform? I take it not the outdoor venues?

TM: Well, I love the outdoor venues and the festivals are fun cause you get to play to such a massive who may not know who you are. They're there because they love music and want to check out everything. They're totally fun and we have a great time at them but headlining is your own show and you're in control so it's nice to be back on our own terms.

NT: Any funny or memorable stories while on tour? Anything that pops into your head right now?

TM: Well, we have a rule that what goes on the road stays on the road [laughs]. It's our tour rule.

NT: So you've been touring all over the world, most recently in the UK. Do you find differences in fans from different countries?

TM: Fans are so awesome everywhere. There is a slight difference I guess. But in general, especially if it's your own show, they're so excited to be there. They're there because they know the songs, or they've connected to it in some way. That's the highest compliment you can get as a songwriter to know that something that you've slaved over in your bedroom has been something people have not only heard but really connected it in a real way.

When you go overseas, it tends to be a little bit crazier like South America is insane. We've been to China and Korea and some of those shows have been really nuts. 

NT: Are their tastes different than your those of your fans here in the US?

TM: Not really. That's kind of the cool part- there really is no generic audience for us. The fans really range from age to gender. They don't just know the one song that's on the radio- they've really listened to the whole record and they know all the words to songs, and that's what so amazing about the shows. 

For example, we can play a show in China and they can barely say hello in English but they can sing every single word to the songs- it's amazing.

NT: I recently heard your "Champagne Supernova" cover. Any more covers to come? 

TM: We have lots- recently for fun we did a cover of "Daughter" by Pearl Jam. We've done "7 Nation Army," Muse, a couple different Oasis mash ups and System of a Down's "Aerials." Which is awesome cause we got to play that with John Dolmayan, the drummer of System of a Down.

NT: Are there any artists you want to collaborate with in the future? Anyone on your bucket list?

TM: We just to play with Soundgarden in Quebec at a show with 90,000 people in the audience. We were a direct support for Soundgarden and that was certainly a high point. (Laughs) That was definitely a check off my bucket list. They are one of my favorites- we got to play an awesome show and then I got to watch the most amazing shit happening on stage ever. Mind blowingly awesome. 

NT: Is there anyone who has influenced your performing style?

TM: I mean, not specifically, but I started writing songs because of the Beatles. I grew up wanting to be Robert Plant. Also, John Lennon, Chris Cornell, Jim Morrison. But then again, you do your own thing. There is no real imitation involved, it's more about the people you grew up loving seep into your brain at some point.

NT: You've been doing music quite a while now. Describe any changes you find in yourself as an artist since your last CD.

TM: Well, I got better. [Laughs]. I got older.

When we recorded "Light Me Up," we had not toured as a band yet. We made the record first then went on tours for two and a half years. Because we don't play with tracks or anything, we had to figure out how to take this really produced record and strip it down to a four piece band because I refuse to play with tracks because it's stupid and not proper rock and roll. 

I want the freedom to change at any moment. So we learned that when you take everything out of the song there is nothing left to do but turn up the guitar so it naturally got heavier. We definitely kept that in mind while recording "Going to Hell." Production wise, it's very minimal- two guitars, bass drums and vocals. 

Taylor Momsen
Taylor Momsen
NT: You already sort of answered my question, but how is "Going to Hell" different from "Light me Up"?

TM: It's heavier, fuller. It delves into a lot of grander topics than "Light Me Up" did.

Hopefully the next record will be even better than "Going to Hell." If you're not growing as an artist, I don't know what you're doing.

NT: Your messages in "Going to Hell" are pretty clear, but in your own words, what are you trying to say?

TM: Well, it's complex. it's not a simple "here's the message." It's a year of my life put into music. I think the more you listen to it, the more you'll discover different meanings inside them.

Personally, I don't like to talk about what things are about because it wrecks it for the listener. Because you can have an image in your head and whatever the song means to you is what the song's about. It's not about me, it's about the listener. 

NT: Interesting. I usually like to know what the artist says about my favorite songs, but you're right. Keeping it ambiguous is better for the listener.

TM: For me, when I hear artists that i love give me details about what they were writing about- like, I don't want to know that the song is about your kid. However you relate to the song, that's what it's about. There are also metaphors and multiple meanings so to simplify it in a quote would instead take a book for me to explain it all. Which maybe one day, I'll write.

NT: Can you speak about the dynamic between the members of the band? What is your song writing process like?

TM: Ben and I are the two songwriters of the band. Usually we go away and isolate ourselves from the rest of the world because I require isolation in order to write. I mean, you're always writing but the real meat of the material comes when you're alone in your own head. 

We start on acoustic guitar always, and work with the song that's playable from front to back. If it's good then we move it to the next step which is bringing in the band seeing where the song is going to go. We don't write in the studio or anything- they're pretty much done and we see them come to life in the studio. 

As far as the band dynamic goes, they're my best fucking friends on the planet. They are stellar musicians and I'm the luckiest girl in the world and it works so well.

NT: How did you meet?

TM: I met Ben through our producer Kato. He's essentially the fifth member of the band, he just doesn't tour with us. At the time, Ben, Mark, and Jaime were in a band together while Ben and I started writing together. I loved his band so went "Guess what, I'm your new lead singer. Change the name and I'm writing the songs."

Six years later, two record, 2 EPS- here we are. I essentially stole their band.

NT: I obviously love your #1 hit singles, but also every other single song off your CD, so what consideration goes into choosing what songs get released? Clearly you picked the right ones, because they're doing really well. But why these two?

TM: For me, I make the art. If the song isn't good enough, it's not going on the record- it gets scrapped immediately I don't release anything I'm not entirely proud of. As far as the singles getting picked, I have some importance in that but I love every song on the record equally so I leave that up to the business side of things. Then I get back involved with the creative process with writing the treatments for the music videos and directing them. 

NT: You said you write the treatments and direct your music videos?

TM: Yeah, I did. Pretty much for all the videos. I wrote the treatment for the "Heaven Knows" video with John J and took two days in Miami. A lot of fucking work (laughs). That's probably my favorite video.

And "Fucked Up World"--which is the latest video we did, was very 60's inspired and had a sarcastic take on pop culture today. (Laughs) It's a fucked up world, what are you gonna do? Throw your hands in the air.

NT: Are you mad about the censoring there? I mean, 'messed up' doesn't really have the same zing as 'fucked,' you know?

TM: It doesn't exactly have the same impact, and that's something I normally would not do. I normally would tell everyone to fuck off [laughs] - don't touch my songs, don't change them.  

But essentially, it has the same meaning and everything else that's being said throughout the verse is so aggressive that it has the same sentiment. 

NT: Compared to your older music videos, did you want to go a different direction with your newer ones?

TM: Not really a different direction, I think. Just the more you do it, I got better at it. I grew as an artist and in the very beginning. I've never made music videos before and hopefully you get better at them over time. And I think we did.

NT: So, you're performing at the Wiltern this Friday! Excited to come back to LA?

TM: Of course! I love LA. I'm from New York and every time I get to LA I go, "Why the fuck don't I live here?" It's beautiful, food's great, everyone's nice, the shows are always awesome and I'm psyched to fucking play. After about a week in LA, I go- it's a little too nice for me- I miss the dirt of New York. I miss being able to spit on the street and not feel like I have to clean it up. 

NT: What can fans expect from your show on Friday? Any teasers you want to give us?

TM: A extraordinarily loud, rock 'n' roll show- proper old school rock 'n' roll. You should leave the show deaf, mute, and blind like any proper rock band. Scream your fuckin' balls off and have a good fuckin' time. 

NT: I love that - "Scream your fuckin' balls off." I'm going to frame that and put it on my wall.

TM: It's a good time. It's a really fun show. 

NT: I can't wait to see a legit Rock show. I feel like the music scene is changing so much- I just don't hear rock playing on the radios anymore.

TM: In the 60s, guitar took over and the 80s came in where rock tried to cater to pop where songwriters are writing songs for bands and immediately it makes no sense to me. And in came a resurgence of grunge in the 90's shortly before the 2000's where pop came back. It feels like the 80's again where bands are working with songwriters and they're not actually working on their craft.

I think it's a transitional period for rock and roll right now. But rock never dies-- it's just resting at the moment. Hopefully it'll be a part of its resurgence cause it's fuckin' awesome. 

Rock 'n' roll is freedom. It's the freedom to fucking say whatever you want and there's nothing better than that.

NT: Any plans after your tour is finished?

TM: There's another single so we're making another music video and touring touring touring. I've got half of the new record written already so I'm dying to get back into that studio. Constant creativity, constant work. it's the never ending cycle: tour, record, singles. 

Catch the Pretty Reckless playing at The Wiltern Oct. 10 - THIS FRIDAY here. (OFFERCODE IS "NEONTOMMY")

Download their latest album "Going to Hell" here.

Reach Staff Reporter Sonia Gumuchian here. Follow her on Twitter here.   



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