Taylor Momsen, lead singer with The Pretty Reckless, chats with Kevin Cooper about her love for classic rock, the UK’s fondness for warm beer, their latest album Who You Selling For and their forthcoming tour of the UK
Taylor Momsen is an American singer, songwriter, former actress and model, but is now best known for being the lead singer and front woman of the rock band, The Pretty Reckless.
In March 2009, she revealed that The Pretty Reckless had signed a record deal with Interscope, and the band played their first tour when they opened for The Veronicas on their Revenge Is Sweeter Tour. After the tour, Momsen began working with guitarist Ben Phillips, who later joined the band and with whom she now co-writes.
The band’s debut album Light Me Up was released in 2010 in the UK where it debuted at number six. They released their first single Make Me Wanna Die and their second single Miss Nothing later that year, which was followed by third single, Just Tonight. Songs from this debut album have been in the movie Kick-Ass as well as shows like The Vampire Diaries and Gossip Girl. Their fourth single, Kill Me, was the last song to be featured in the Gossip Girl series finale.
Other albums include Going To Hell which was released in 2014 and sold over 35,000 copies in its first week, and latest album, Who You Selling For which has recently been released.
Whilst getting ready to tour this album in the New Year, Taylor took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what she had to say.
Hi Taylor, how are you?
I’m doing well Kevin how are you?
I’m very well thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
Not at all, thank you for wanting to speak to me. I very much appreciate it.
And just how is life treating you?
Life at the moment is good (laughter). I really can’t complain. It’s been a very good year and also an exciting year for me. It’s had its ups and downs but there have been more of the ups so all in all it’s been a good year (laughter).
The new album, Who You Selling For, I have been playing now for a few days and I have to say that I think that it is an excellent piece of work.
Thank you so much.
The question is, are you happy with it?
To be honest with you I have to say that I am extremely happy with it. I think that everyone in the band would agree that it is our proudest accomplishment to date. However, it is still just a stepping stone to where we are going to go.
As you well know, favourite tracks on an album change like the weather, but for now at least, I really do like Prisoner and Take Me Down.
Thank you that’s sweet of you to say that.
What can you tell me about the stories behind those two tracks?
Well as you will no doubt know, Take Me Down is based upon the legend of Robert Johnson going down to the crossroads and selling his soul to the Lord in exchange for rock and roll, which in my case is very personal to me. I gave everything up for music. In fact not just me but everyone in the band did. If you love something that much then in order to attempt to achieve your goals you have to give everything up for it, and I literally do mean everything. Even if that does actually mean your soul. So that is where that song stems from. Prisoner is a blues tune that we had floating around for a while and we finally conquered that one and it is certainly a fun song to play live (laughter).
Now please don’t take this the wrong way but to me, Wild City sounds like it has come straight off a 70’s Blaxploitation movie.
Wow, that is such an interesting take on it. Actually, now that I think about it I can see exactly what you mean because Wild City certainly does have a certain funk feel to it. Wild City stems from the fact that I now live in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I have lived there pretty much all of my life and when I was growing up I essentially felt alone in New York. New York is a very strange place to live because even if you are surrounded by people you are always alone. So that is where that song stems from; it’s all about being young and alone in New York City. However, now you have told me that, the next time that we play it live I will be thinking of Shaft or perhaps Superfly (laughter).
A lot of your fans are already saying that it is your best piece of work to date. Would you go along with that?
I am very proud of our entire catalogue but I certainly would agree with them that this is the most mature record that we have made. It is the first record that I have made when I am not a teenager (laughter). We have all grown individually as artists and musicians separately, and we have grown together; we are all older and have been doing this for almost a decade now. It most definitely is our most mature record and I think that it is our proudest accomplishment to date for sure.
You will be touring the UK in January. Will you be glad to get back out on the road?
I am so excited to be coming back to the UK. We have just wrapped up a North American tour where we were getting our feet wet a little bit, playing shows and slowly adding some new material. We wanted to get the record out there for a little while before the audiences heard this raucous, stripped down, four piece band version of the record (laughter). We all put blood sweat and tears into the songs so we may as well let the record sit out there for a little bit (laughter). We can’t wait to play the news songs over there in the UK; it’s going to be a blast.
The tour kicks off here in Nottingham at Rock City on Thursday 19th January, just what can we expect?
You can expect a very loud, raucous rock and roll show that is a lot of fun if you allow yourself to have it (laughter). And I really do hope that everyone who comes to the show takes the experience for what it is. A lot of them now stand all night watching the show through their cameras and cell phones which is fine but at the same time as a fan of music, in order to see something that you love, don’t you want to be in the moment (laughter). Take a picture, put your camera or phone down and experience the event (laughter). There are a billion clips on YouTube if you look for them, you don’t have to take them yourself (laughter). I just hope that people enjoy the experience, whether they are YouTubing it, videotaping it or living in the moment. I just hope that they have a great time.
I personally find it amazing that people would rather watch you through their camera or cell phone rather than watching the gig itself.
What can I say, it is a strange world that we are living in right now (laughter). I don’t necessarily understand it but at the same time it exists so you take it with a grain of salt and if they are having a good time videotaping it then by all means videotape it (laughter). Whatever takes your fancy (laughter).
Is Rock City a ‘must play’ venue for you?
Absolutely, I think that there are so many venues that are ‘must plays’ and Rock City is most certainly one of them. We are extremely pleased and are looking forward to playing there next year.
Do you enjoy the time that you spend here in the UK?
I do, I really love the UK. I have actually discussed moving there many, many times.
Do the UK audiences appreciate your music and what it is that you are trying to do?
The UK has been very generous to us and also very accepting of us. Our first record was very well received over there and so every time that we have the pleasure of being able to tour the UK it is a blast for us. Whilst it is not our home it always feels like a second home to us. The audiences are so welcoming, I love the people, I love the environment, and I simply love everything about the UK. You guys win, you have all the best fans (laughter). You have already won, what do you want (laughter).
We also have warm beer (laughter).
You do, you really do have warm beer. It is very hard to find ice and I don’t know why. The next time that we are over there I really must find myself some ice (laughter). Perhaps we will have to put ice on our rider (laughter). I don’t know why but you guys really do like your warm drinks but I’m down with it, I like it.
Singer, actress, model, and writer. If you had to put your occupation on your passport which would it be?
That’s easy, it would be writer. I’m not an actress, I only acted as a child because I got pushed into it at a very young age by my parents. However, as soon as I reached an age when I could make my own decisions I quit that. Acting was not and is not a passion of mine, it was just something that I did. The music, writing and self-expression is what I am all about, and that is why I say writer. Writing is the thing that I do the most and is the thing that keeps me sane, it is the thing that is my identity. Singing and song writing are the two things that I do. I simply wouldn’t know who I was if I didn’t do that.
What was the last piece of music or song that made you cry?
Oh, that’s an interesting question. I will have to think about that because I haven’t cried in a while now. Thinking about it that would have been Don’t Think Twice by Bob Dylan, that song always makes me cry (laughter). It is just so fantastic and so emotional it always cuts deep for me.
What was the first record that you bought?
Well I get asked this question quite a lot and I have to be honest with you, I lie because I honestly can’t remember (laughter). I didn’t actually buy a lot of records. I grew up listening to my dad’s vinyl collection. So the first band that I heard was The Beatles and after that I grew up on classic rock. My dad already had everything that I wanted to listen to so he would make me cassette mix-tapes from his vinyl collection. I was reared on classic rock and I couldn’t get away from that even if I wanted to. Luckily I didn’t want to and I fell in love with Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, AC/DC, it was ingrained into me at a very early age. My dad would play me all of these records because I wasn’t allowed to touch his record player. The record player, when I was a child was strictly off limits (laughter).
Who did you first see performing live in concert?
The first real band that I saw was The White Stripes when I was seven years old. My dad took me along to see them. It was fantastic. I was shell shocked at just how much noise two people could make (laughter). That was certainly a turning point on me as a future musician. I certainly wanted to do that for the rest of my life (laughter). By then I was already writing songs and it was the experience of seeing them performing live that confirmed to me what it was that I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Looking back at when you formed the band, are you currently in a better place than you could have envisaged?
I think that you are always in a better place than you assumed that you were going to be and a worse place than you want to be, if that makes sense (laughter). We have had a lot of success and have been very fortunate with the reception of our music; the fans have been fantastic and so supportive. At the same time as a writer and as an artist, you are always striving for something better. So you are always happy whilst at the same time you are always unhappy (laughter).
Without wanting to offend anyone, what is the best Christmas gift that you have ever received?
I had grown up playing my dad’s old classical guitar so I would have to say that would be when my parents bought me my very first electric guitar. That was just the most perfect gift that I could have gotten.
What is your favourite Christmas song?
That’s a tough one and funnily enough I was discussing this only the other day. I think that I would have to say either Father Christmas by The Kinks or Happy Christmas (War Is Over) by John Lennon. They are very opposing songs musically but at the same time they are both fantastic.
What would be your perfect Christmas?
A day off where I don’t have to wake up, and I can just sleep through the whole day (laughter). Other than that perhaps smell some pine and drink a little cider (laughter).
Will you be home for Christmas?
I believe so but I am not absolutely sure yet (laughter). It’s the life of a musician, it changes daily.
On that note Taylor, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me. It’s been great and I look forward to seeing you at Rock City. You have a great Christmas.
No, thank you so much Kevin. I have really enjoyed my last interview of the year so thank you so much. Make sure that you come backstage and have a beer with us. Bye for now.