It seems that every few months in the rock media, someone poses the question, “Is Rock ‘N Roll Dead?” Well, not if The Pretty Reckless have anything to say about it. The band has spent the better part of a decade carving out their place on the ever-changing rock landscape. Not only have they made their presence known to both critics and fans alike, they have set their fair share of records for the history books. Formed in 2009, The Pretty Reckless released their debut album, 2010 ‘Light Me Up’ captured the attention of music fans around the globe and was soon followed by their sophomore record, ‘Going to Hell.’ In 2016, they have returned stronger and more focused than ever before with their highly anticipated new album, ‘Who You Selling For.’ Written by frontwoman Taylor Momsen and guitarist Ben Phillips, ‘Who You Selling For?,’ was produced by longtime collaborator Kato Khandwala. Building on their band members’ magnificent chemistry, the new album instantly sinks it’s claws deep into the listener and once again delivers the soulful lyrical content and bluesy undertones on which they built their rock-solid foundation. ‘Who You Selling For’ is proof-positive that rock ’n’ roll is very much alive and well in America! Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with The Pretty Reckless frontwoman, Taylor Momsen, to discuss the creative process for ‘Who You Selling For,’ their evolution as musicians, and what the future may hold for this band on the rise.
What can you tell us about the process of finding your creative voice as a musician early on in life?
That’s an interesting question. I think it happened very organically. I have been singing since as far back as I can remember. As a kid, I would hum and not realize I was humming, and people would tell me to I had to stop! [laughs] I started writing songs at a really young age without even realizing they were songs. They started as journals and I would just put melodies to them. It is just something I’ve always done. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten better! [laughs] You write a lot of bad songs before you write good ones! It takes time, and time is everything. It all comes down to time, experience, and thought to grow and develop as an artist. We have been a band for almost 10 years now and I think we have definitely raised the standard not only to ourselves personally but collectively. This new record, “Who You Selling For?,” is definitely our proudest accomplishment to date.
Even with ten years under your belt, The Pretty Reckless is still pretty young in the grand scheme of things. What do you think the key to longevity is for a band in this day and age?
That’s a complicated question because I think it depends on where you’re coming from. We are in a modern paradigm where everything is so quick and accessible. It’s the age of singles and it’s almost like we are in the 1950s again. Our band is sitting over here making records that are capturing a moment in time and really meant to be listened to from front to back to take you on to journey. For us, we don’t record anything that we don’t love. Well, at least we try not to! [laughs] We look at everything and say, “Am I going to hate myself in 5, 10, 15 or 20 years from now for this, or is this quality enough to release into the world?” That’s how we look at it. We try to look into the future and see if we are going to be satisfied further down the line. That’s how we do it. Like I said, it’s time, it’s effort and it’s a 24/7 commitment of constantly pushing yourself, questioning yourself and trying to better yourself. That’s really all you can do.
When you went into the process of making “Who You Selling For,” did you have any goals or aspirations for the album from a creative standpoint?
This is always kind of been our motto but I think we went a little further down this path this time around with “Try not to try.” Our goal was to really capture the human element and the performance of the players, whether it be Jamie playing drums, a guitar solo, a riff, a bass line or a vocal. Whatever it is, we really tried capture a moment in time, even if it includes an imperfection, because that imperfection adds a human element to the music that I think has been lacking for awhile in the modern age of music. Today, everything is done with computers, fixed and appears pristine, but do you lose a bit of the human element which is the soul of music, which is what I love. We really try to leave things untouched. There are no overdubs and it is very much a band in a room jamming. For this album, we brought in outside musicians for the first time, which was a lot of fun for us. The keyboard player, Andy Burton, was a delight. Warren Haynes, who is featured on “Back To The River,” is one of our favorites and he was absolutely amazing on that song and elevated it to a whole new level. We also brought in background singers for the first time. That was super fun for me because I got to work with three legends! There were Janice Pendarvis (David Bowie), who has worked with everyone! Jenny Douglas-Foote (P!nk) and Sophia Ramos (Rod Stewart). It was a very organic, honest experience in the studio, to let the songs come and take us where they were going to take us that day.
What can you tell us about the song writing process for the band these days. What’s changed and what has stayed the same for the years?
It has pretty much stayed the same because the process is that there is no process. [laughs] The only thing that has remained consistent is that Ben [Phillips] and I both require solitude and isolation in order to really focus on writing and get our minds around our own thoughts. We basically need time to reflect and think because when you’re surrounded by people on tour, everything is so chaotic that you aren’t in the right mental state. I think when we get off the road and start the writing process of any record, we isolate ourselves from the world and try to open our minds as wide as possible and hope for anything and everything to inspire us! Inspiration can come from anywhere. I read, I watch television, I watch movies, I paint, I sculpt, I swim, I run, people watch and think. You have to just live life for a minute for real in order for anything to spark an idea. The only common thing with any song or process, per se, is that everything starts with an idea. The idea can be really, really simple, or the idea can be the entire song in 5 minutes. You never know! That’s what makes the process kind of very torturous because you don’t know if the idea is going to come and you’re creating something from nothing. At the same time, it also makes it the most elated and powerfully rewarding thing in the world. When you finish a really good song, there is no greater feeling!
You’ve been working with the other guys in The Pretty Reckless for ages. What do you feel you bring out in each other creatively?
We’ll push each other really, really hard. We are our own harshest critics by far! Every day it’s a conversation of “We suck, we suck, we suck…” back and forth between all of us. [laughs] By constantly beating yourself up, hypothetically, it pushes you to be better. We’ll do it to each other and we all do it to ourselves and I think that’s what makes us a good unit and band. I also think it’s one of the reasons we have worked for so long. We have been together for almost 10 years now, which is crazy. Despite the harsh language that is thrown around on a daily basis, we are still the best of friends! [laughs]
When you look back at the past decade as a front-woman and a band member, how do you feel you have most evolved along the way?
I think the biggest factor is time. When we did the first record, I was 14 or 15 years old. I’m not a teenager anymore and I think that’s the biggest thing. [laughs] My voice hadn’t even changed yet on ‘Light Me Up.’ [laughs] I think we’ve all evolved individually as people. I think we’ve all grown and settled into our own skin a little bit more, and grown collectively as a band. We are comfortable yet always uncomfortable and constantly pushing ourselves. It’s a long complicated answer but I think we’ve made some mistakes along the way and we have learned from those mistakes, yet we keep pushing forward. The goal is to always keep moving forward, pushing ourselves and bettering ourselves. If you’re not doing that, you’re either standing still or regressing and I’m not interested in doing either of those!
So much can be said, both good and bad, about the current state of the music industry. On a positive note, what excites you the most about being a working artist?
Playing shows! It’s the best job! To call the job is almost unfair! [laughs] We get to go up and crank amps, Jamie gets to play the drums and I get to scream into a microphone every night for an audience. It’s fantastic and so much fun! The job is the touring part of it, from the travel to the time zone changes and being exhausted. That’s the job, but playing every night is an absolute pleasure and something we would do for free. [laughs]
Do you find yourself approaching touring any differently than you did early on in your career?
I think we’re a little bit more chilled out. That’s the biggest thing. Everyone is kind of relaxed. Everyone is older, so we’ve all become a little bit more mellow. We still put pressure on ourselves to do the best we can every night, obviously, but we remain very focused on the show and bringing the best we can every night. Then we move onto the next town!
While this new album is still very fresh, have you given thought to where the band may be headed sonically in the future?
That’s also a tough question. Sonically, I think the songs dictate where they are going to go. We write everything on an acoustic guitar, and once we have a song we can play front to back acoustically and it’s good, then Ben and I will present that to the rest of the band and we will see where it goes. You have a song like “Wild City,” for example. The song was very much inspired by New York City, so the song itself dictated how the band was going to play it and how it was going to be put wanted on record. In the future, I don’t know where it’s going to take us but hopefully it will just keep getting better! That’s the goal!
What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey as an artist so far?
The best lesson you can take from my journey? Drink lots of water and work really hard! [laughs] That’s the only thing you can do! Work really hard, drink lots of water and show up! If you don’t show up nothing’s ever going to happen! [laughs]
Well, you guys are headed out on tour now and we’re looking forward to you showing up. What can The Pretty Reckless this time around?
It’s still The Pretty Reckless. We are still a loud, raucous, rock’n roll band that’s a lot of fun. The set list is ever evolving since we are just beginning. We are slowly adding more and more material to the set. I wanted to let the record sit out there for a little bit because we worked so hard on it, I wanted to give people time to wrap their heads around it before we have a billion YouTube videos of it up! [laughs] So, we are slowly adding new material. It’s a lot of fun, and if you have a chance you should definitely come check out a show!
We definitely will! The band has yet to disappoint, so we can’t wait to catch up with you on the road! Thanks for your time today and we wish you continued success!
Thanks, Jason! See you soon!
For all the latest news and tour dates on The Pretty Reckless, visit the band’s official website at www.theprettyreckless.com. Connect with the band via social media on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.