It’s been nearly three years since Taylor Momsen surprised everyone by leaving her role on Gossip Girl to concentrate on the full-time job of becoming a goddamn rock star. Three years later and it’s mission accomplished for the 20-year-old St. Louis native, whose rock band, The Pretty Reckless, are gearing up to release their second album, Going to Hell, this March. We recently caught up with Momsen right before the new year to talk about the current state of rock and roll, her feelings about the internet, and why performing music in front of people is basically the greatest job on earth.
Do write anything besides songs?
I started writing when I was younger and it my journal became my companion, and my notebook became my best friend. I was travelling so much that I didn’t have a very normal childhood with like, friends down the street, so I think that’s where it started. But I definitely went from a journal, to songs, to making up stories, and I’m also writing a screenplay right now. It’s like a never ending outlet. Writing inspires writing. So whether you’re writing a story and that inspires a song, or you’re writing about something you did that day and it inspires a story, writing anything inspires writing something that’s hopefully good. And I paint and sculpt and draw.
What kind of painting, drawing and sculpting do you do?
I don’t really have a name for it. It’s more about just keeping my hand moving on the page. I don’t paint for anyone else, just for me. Right now I have a big canvas that I started before tour, not thinking I was going to leave, and now I’m looking at it going, I don’t know what the fuck I was thinking. Painting is more of a personal hobby for me to keep my brain moving and creating, but I don’t really have a style.
Do particular moods affect the way you write?
There’s not a particular mood, but there is a particular mindset when everything in the universe kind of clicks and it’s different every time. It’s kind of magical when it happens. You’re waiting for that moment where it’s quick and you go, Oh that works. Whether it’s nighttime and I’m in a bad mood, or daytime and I’m in a good mood, I’m waiting for all the stars to align and try to come up with something.
I think David Lynch said that you can’t write when you’re sad; that writing is better when you’re happy.
I don’t necessarily agree with that. I don’t think it’s that specific. It’s hard to talk about writing because it comes about differently every song, every line. The only common thread is that you’re waiting to be inspired by something and have everything magically align. You’re waiting for that moment. And it’s different every time it happens.
In the past you’ve said you’re not a fan of the Internet. Is that still true?
I don’t hate the Internet, I just don’t know how to work it very well. I don’t really care about it all. I don’t really care about living my life on, essentially, a fake life. I mean, the Internet is not real. You close a computer and it no longer exists. So I don’t like to live my life on the Internet by any means, but I also don’t know how to work it, either. I don’t know if it’s just ignorance or if it’s me choosing to not keep up with the trends or caring to keep up. I guess I don’t really care. I’d rather be painting or something.
I think not having a Twitter account, or a Facebook page, is kind of cool.
I think as an artist and as a band, the internet is a really helpful as a promotional tool. I have a Twitter account but it’s for updating the fans and keeping them informed of what we’re doing as a band, but it’s not about my personal life. I don’t live my life on the internet on a day-to-day basis.
As a songwriter and a guitarist, I’m curious as to what holds more weight to you: music or lyrics?
Music, probably, but it has to all be equally good. If any side of the song is lagging then it’s not as good as it can be, so I think they’re both important. But music is what’s going to capture someone first, and the lyrics are what you discover after you’ve heard the song a couple of times. I feel like the lyrics are the hidden gem of a song. It’s not the first thing that you notice when you hear a song for the first time, but it gives you something to delve into after you understand the music. And then you’re like, What is she actually saying there? And then you look it up and you have a whole other side of things to discover in the song.
And when you write, do you like to write about issues, either political or social, that affect you? Or do you mainly write about your own experiences?
It depends on the song. Every song is very personal to me in a lot of aspects, but at the end of the day it’s all just words. I think this record is different from the first one. The first record was obviously a little more personal, lyrically, if you listen to it, and this record – I mean, we toured the world for two years and it definitely put my life into a whole new perspective – is reflecting the experiences of the last few years. They’re equally as personal, it just might not be as obvious.
What’s it been like touring the world?
It’s been great. I always like to say that it’s a really, really long commute to work. It’s a 20-hour plane ride to play for an hour. Playing shows is amazing and you can’t ask for anything better than that, but the travel is not my favorite part by any means. It’s a very interesting, very vagabond lifestyle but I love what I do and you kind of learn to roll with the punches and look forward to the show that night. It’s really the coolest fucking job in the whole world.
Do you remember the first time you performed in front of a crowd?
Yeah, I remember my first show. It was on E! News and it was in front of a lot of people. It was at The Annex in New York City, which is a small little club, and I had a bunch of friends there and a bunch of people I didn’t know, so I didn’t know what to expect. But it was ages ago at this point.
This is definitely a clichéd observation, but with the new album, it sounds a lot harder and way more aggressive than the previous album. Was that intentional?
I don’t think it was intentional, I think it was just where we were going as a band; our sound was just naturally going in that direction. I think the goal with this record was to write better songs than the last record. And we’ve stripped it down a lot. When we made the first record, we hadn’t played it live yet for an audience. We wrote the songs in the studio and recorded the songs in the studio and then we went out and toured. Whereas this time around, we’ve been touring for two years and really developed a sound as a band because we don’t play with tracks live. It’s really stripped down – just two guitars, bass, drums – and with this record we really wanted to capture that. What we learned is that by taking everything out of the music, all those little production bells and whistles, it actually makes the music heavier. This record captures what we sound like as a live band more than Light Me Up did. It still has elements of a record and not just a live show and it just got heavier naturally.
And I think you’ve mentioned in past interviews that rock n’ roll, in the digital age, is kind of lacking.
Capturing the element of human emotion on tape is, I think, one of the hardest things to do, but it’s also something that gives me a soul. I mean, it’s fine to use a computer as a tool for your benefit to enhance your art, but as soon as you have a computer making the art for you, it’s no longer art. You can’t let technology overtake what you’re creating; you should only use it to try to enhance and create something new and original that lasts. Another thing it comes down to is whether a song is good or not.
So when should we expect the new album to be released?
Well, “Heaven Knows” just came out in the U.S., but it’s coming out worldwide in January. I keep getting confused about the release dates because there are so many territories we’re covering, but “Heaven Knows” (which is our next single) should be out worldwide in January, and we’re making a video for that. And in terms of the new record, it’s coming out in Marc, finally. It gets boring without having a new record out. As soon as you play any song live you’re essentially releasing it live via Youtube, and a shitty cellphone recording is not exactly the way you want people to view the music you’ve been working on for years for the first time.