Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, Taylor Momsen always seemed to be the type of girl destined for super-stardom. At 2-years-old, Momsen signed to a modeling agency. A year later she began acting professionally, appearing in commercials as well as hit films such as “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” As a result, she spent much of her time in NYC and, at 13, relocated to Manhattan. In 2007, she was cast as lead in the CW show “Gossip Girl,” a move which helped further fuel her quickly skyrocketing career and established her as a leading lady. However, music has always been her true passion.
She began humming melodies before she could talk and writing songs at the age of 5 after falling in love with The Beatles. At 9, her father took her to see a White Stripes show, a moment that changed her forever as she realized there was a place for her in rock ‘n’ roll. Inspired by iconic bands such as Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, Audioslave, Soundgarden, Oasis and Nirvana, Momsen honed her skills as a singer, songwriter and guitarist. Along the way, she hooked up with noted rock producer Kato Khandwala (Blondie, Drowning Pool, Paramore, Breaking Benjamin) who introduced her to guitarist Ben Phillips. This talented core worked tirelessly until they developed a truly unique sound catering to the strengths of Taylor’s astonishing voice. The results of countless hours of musical exploration and experimentation culminated on their amazing debut album, “Light Me Up,” which was released in February 2011. Celebrity fronted rock bands of the past were often treated as little more than a novelty act but once you hear The Pretty Reckless, you will know Taylor Momsen is a rock star! Her powerful voice, sultry delivery and rock ‘n’ roll swagger transcend her years and make her a force to be reckoned with! The Pretty Reckless bring a high-energy performance to the stage totally embodying the spirit of their debut record. It is this amazing live show that earned them opening slots for Evanescense, rock legends Guns N’ Roses and Marilyn Manson. Endorsements like that don’t come easy, especially for bands relatively new to the scene. 2012 looks to be the biggest year for the band yet.
Despite how she is often portrayed in the tabloids as a rock ‘n’ roll wild child, Taylor Momsen remains grounded, very candid and unmistakably genuine about her music career. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with her to discuss her musical roots, her growth as an artist, the approach to a sophomore album and what the future holds for The Pretty Reckless!
I was curious to learn about your first memories of music in your life?
It was so far back that I don’t even remember! [laughs] Music first came into my life the day my mother brought me home from the hospital! The first music that I was exposed to was the Beatles. I literally came home from the hospital and my parents started playing the Beatles! I grew up with that.
Would you cite the Beatles as your biggest influence as an artist and songwriter?
Yeah, definitely the Beatles! [laughs]
What made you decide to pursue music as your full-time career?
I have always been pursuing it. I have been writing since a very early age, as long as I can remember. It was then that I started to develop my music, my writing and determining what I wanted to do with it. I started recording when I was young, kinda trying to figure things out, trying to discover my voice, my sound, my place and exactly what it was I wanted to say. When I finally had a records worth of material that I wanted people to hear, I decided that it was time.
Was it difficult to find that talented pool of collaborators on your first album to make it the success it has become?
It was definitely surprisingly hard in this industry to find the right people when it comes to creating music. In any type of art form, you have to find people who work well together and have the same ambitions and goals. Particularly in rock, it was difficult to find people who had the same general taste in music as me. When I finally met Kato [Khandwala], who produced the record, it was a very happy day!
When you look back at your musical work so far, how do you feel you evolved as an artist and what have you learned about yourself in the process?
I think that I now have a higher standard of what good is. I have seen a lot of good bands, toured with a lot of good bands and played with a bunch of great bands at different festivals. My standard has been competing with that. My standard of competition and of what good is has really gone up. We have been touring quite a bit since the release of the first record. We have opened for Evanescence, Guns N’ Roses and we have a tour with Marilyn Manson coming up in May, which I am very excited to do! At all the festivals, we have played with The Foo Fighters and some of the greatest bands of all-time who are out there playing. We are headed to Austrailia on Wednesday [February 22, 2012] to play Soundwave. Marilyn Manson is going to be there! No motherfuckin’ doubt! I am so excited! [laughs] So yeah, I think being around great musicians really raises your opinion of what is good.
You mentioned Guns N’ Roses and Marilyn Mason. Axl Rose and Marilyn Manson are arguably two of rocks greatest frontmen. What do you take away from studying guys like these and their performances?
Everything. Absolutely everything! I steal everything I can! You constantly learn from watching other people and especially when it comes to performers of that caliber. It was been awesome to have the opportunity to tour with them and watch them night after night. You learn so much and it’s great!
I recently read you are pretty immersed in your work these days. Where do you find yourself pulling inspiration from as a singer/writer?
If I knew, I would move there! [laughs] To be honest, it can come from anything and that is what makes it tedious and even torcherous at times but when you finally have something, the 10 seconds of true inspiration and clarity, it is the best feeling in the world! It is totally worth it!
Are you always writing? What is your process like these days?
I am definitely writing as it comes but I am always trying to write something. You know, you write a lot of bad songs before your write a good one. I just have to do it and not stop. We have been doing it! We have an EP coming out with new material In March of 2012. It has some live songs and some new songs on there to give people a taste of where the next record is going. We start recording the second record when we get back from touring with Marilyn Manson. So, it has been kinda non-stop here for a while!
What can we expect sonically from this new material? Do you find yourself heading in any particular direction?
Umm… ROCK! [laughs] It is definitely rock! I don’t like to talk about the new music too much because I want it to speak for itself and have people discover it for themselves. I feel that if I talk about it too much, it ruins the impact but it is new and it is definitely moving in a direction although I am not exactly sure what that is — but it’s fuckin’ rock though! I can definitely tell ya that! [laughs]
Awesome! When we talked last time, you cited one of the biggest challenges of making “Light Me Up” was a busy schedule with television, modeling, etc. and not settling on lesser songs due to time or money. Are you approaching the new material and the upcoming album any differently?
Not necessarily a different plan but it is nice to be able to have my only focus be music. It definitely makes the schedule a little less grueling. The biggest thing is I get to make the record all at once, which is really exciting. It is a first for me because like you said, with the last record, I was doing so many different things at the same time, the recording process of the record took place over a really long time. This time, I get to go into the studio and record it all at once and I find that very exciting!
The Pretty Reckless is about to launch the My Medicine Tour. What can fans expect from you this time around?
We are going to be playing new songs since the new music will be coming out. And I don’t know… if you haven’t seen the show, you should come out and see us! [laughs] It’s developing, it’s still developing, ya know? I think the more you do it, the better you get. I am really excited. If you are coming to see us, you are going to see a really good rock ‘n’ roll show and I think you will have a really great time. Hopefully, you will feel like you saw something crazy that night and want to go tell your friends the next day! [laughs]
What is life like with The Pretty Reckless when you are on the road? Is it pretty crazy or are you all business, all of the time?
It’s a mix! It’s definitely business but I am not going to say that we don’t have a really good time! [laughs]
What’s the best piece of career advice someone has given you along the way you can pass on?
I don’t know. I am not usually one to ask for advice. I like to make my own mistakes. There have really been so many things but I think mostly it is to be out there doing it. By being out there and touring with these other bands, you are constantly learning new things. I think the biggest thing is to do it slowly and grow naturally. Don’t try to force something.
Obviously you are a beautiful woman with a lot of eyes on you. That being said, the band’s music speaks for itself. Is it difficult to have the spotlight shined so brightly on you?
I don’t know, it’s all part of it, man. I am kinda used to it, so I don’t tend to think about it like that. I like what I do and I think about everything that surrounds it as just something that I have to roll with. I am busy makin’ this shit! [laughs] So, I am not listening to anything else, ya know what I’m sayin! [laughs]
Are there are any misconceptions about yourself which you can dispel?
I am sure there are a billion of them but I don’t know what they are or how to address them. [laughs] What people think is never actually the truth. You never truly know a person from the Internet. Headlines don’t tell the truth. They don’t give you the whole story, so I am sure there are a lot of misconceptions about me.
You are pretty active on Twitter and Facebook. Do you think social media has played a big role in the growth of the band?
It’s been amazing. You can’t do it without the fans. Twitter is such a great outlet and it really puts you in touch with the fans directly. You can get them new information and reach out and talk to them and I think that is really cool. It makes it easy. It gives you a connection to the fans which the bands that came before us never had. It has been essential.
As with any fan of rock music, I am sure you are familiar with “Spinal Tap.” You have played a ton of shows at this point, so we want to know if you have ever had a Spinal Tap moment where something totally unexpected has happened to you?
[laughs] I have had every Spinal Tap moment, it’s not even funny! I have definitely been lost backstage – multiple times! I am sure that has happened, umm … WAY more than it should! [laughs] That is the biggest one for me! I am always like, “Where is the stage?! How do I get to the stage?!” and I am thinking to myself, I am in “Spinal Tap” right now! [laughs]
What does the future hold for you musically?
Hopefully, it is just record after record. That is what I want to do. I just want to keep making music, keep doing new things, keep putting things out and keep touring for as long as it lasts or as long as I can do it! [laughs] I want to be making music for the rest of my life, so hopefully it will be the same cycle over and over with new material!
Is there anything you want to tell fans of The Pretty Reckless before I let you go?
Yeah! New EP, new tour, new video — we just released a new video yesterday for “You” and we will have another one coming out in a couple of weeks, so stay tuned!
What’s the next video to be released?
I will tell you when it comes out! [laughs]
That’s fair! [laughs] The video for “You” is great and we have had a ton of people checking it out. Good work, Taylor! We will be out spreading the word!
For the latest updates and ticket info for The Pretty Reckless, visit the band’s official site at www.theprettyreckless.com. Find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/theprettyreckless and follow Taylor Momsen on Twitter at www.twitter.com/#!/taylormomsen.
Tour Dates with Marilyn Manson:
April 27 – Providence, RI – Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel
April 28 – Hampton Beach, NH – Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom
April 29 – Huntington, NY – Paramount Theater
May 2 – Montclair, NJ – Wellmont Theater
May 4 – Atlantic City, NJ – House of Blues
May 8 – West Des Moines, IA – Val Air Ballroom
May 13 – Houston, TX – House of Blues
May 15 – Oklahoma City, OK – Diamond Ballroom
May 16 – Kansas City, MO – Uptown Theatre
May 19 – Milwaukee, WI – Eagles Ballroom