The Pretty Reckless: Where songs take Taylor Momsen
The Pretty Reckless formed in 2009 and a year later released its full-length debut, Light Me Up, an album that yielded hits such as “Make Me Wanna Die.” Earlier this year, the band, which has toured with Evanescence, Marilyn Manson and Guns N’ Roses in addition to doing headline runs in both the U.S. and abroad, released the hard-rocking Going to Hell. Lead singer/Gossip Girl star, Taylor Momsen recently phoned to talk about the album and its controversial cover art, for which she posed nude.
Talk about how you first became interested in music.
I grew up with my dad’s record collection. The Beatles were his favorite band. They’re the reason why I wanted to be in a band and the reason I started writing songs and the reason I picked up a guitar . . . everything. Then, it was Led Zeppelin, the Who, AC/DC, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan and Neil Young. And I got into the ’90s stuff with Soundgarden and Nirvana and Alice in Chains. Oasis, the Doors . . . I could just keep listing bands. It’s always been in my blood.
Not many women on your list.
Some, but there’s not a lot of women in rock ‘n’ roll. There are amazing women vocalists, from Janis Joplin to Sheryl Crow. I used to play with Joan Jett and she is cool as shit. But I find myself more influenced by male artists.
Talk about your approach on Going to Hell. What were you going for sonically?
Musically, it starts with the songs. If you can play the song with an acoustic all the way through and it works, you bring in the band. If not, you drop it and move on. With the production, we tried to keep it minimal because we don’t tour with backing tracks. I refuse to. You can switch the set list to whatever you want. We kept that in mind when making this record so the transition from record to live show wasn’t so drastic. It’s two guitars, vocals, bass and drums, pretty much.
I like the album cover. You said Pink Floyd inspired it. Is that the case?
A lot of things inspired it. The Pink Floyd poster from when they released their back catalog is one of my favorites. They took a shot of these beautiful women sitting naked by the pool with the album covers on their backs. I thought that would be a good idea. The cross was hand painted on me. I wanted it to be a beautiful iconic image that was memorable and tasteful and explained how this record is so honest and bare. I wanted to represent that in imagery. There are subtleties to it. For the vinyl version, you can see that I’m reaching down to hell and my arm is getting scorched. It was a long photo shoot that took about 20 hours. I wanted it to be perfect. It was very specific but I’m happy about it.
Have you gotten flack for it? Have people been offended?
Not really offended. I don’t care about that shit. There are some people who think I am just trying to shock. That’s not true. I was trying to create a beautiful iconic photograph like all the record covers I love.
I think there was a Roger Waters’ solo album with a naked woman on the cover.
Of course. I hate bringing up the sexism but if a man puts a naked woman on the album cover, no one thinks twice about it. If it’s me, there’s an issue. I always say that if you think I’m doing anything more controversial than Robert Plant, you are insane. You can see Robert Plant’s dick when he performs. It’s awesome. Rock ’n’ roll represents freedom and you can do whatever you want and say whatever you want and express yourself however that comes out. Sex is a part of life and a part of nature.
You recorded the album and then Hurricane Sandy wiped everything out?
It really sucked. It wiped out the whole studio and all our gear. We had a great vibe going. It was at a studio in Hoboken. I love that studio and we recorded there before. It took out the whole place. I was in Manhattan at the time and there was a power surge and there was a blackout. That’s when I wrote the title track “Going to Hell.” We had to rebuild and get everyone’s spirits back up. Everyone was really bummed about it. Losing guitars is really painful. They’re irreplaceable. We salvaged what we could and then our producer’s wife passed away suddenly. I still can’t even talk about it. She was so close to all of us and was like a mother to the band. The record is dedicated to her. For the last song, we ended up back at the studio in Hoboken and I wrote the song “Fucked up World” about her passing.
What kind of issues did you have with the label?
We didn’t even know if this record was going to come out. We just made it for ourselves. We developed a sound on this record. We’re now on Razor & Tie in North America and Universal in Canada and Cooking Vinyl worldwide. It gets a little confusing.
The record debuted in the top ten so it’s obviously connecting with your fans.
Yeah. It’s great. The biggest accomplishment is creating it. The second greatest biggest accomplishment is getting it heard. To have an album out there is an accomplishment and to have it debut means people are hearing it and that’s great.
Did Queen directly inspire “Heaven Knows”?
Not a direct influence. I love Queen. Originally, it was an interlude on the album. It wasn’t a full song. It was just a chorus. I sang a line and the kids sang a line. I sang a second line and the kids sang a second line and that was it. As I continued to write for the record, it developed into what it is now.
Ben Phillips shares songwriting credits on several songs. Talk about what it’s like working with him.
He’s great. We have a very kismet songwriting partnership. We were the first to meet in the band. I was looking for a band and looking for musicians. I wanted to make it real. I heard their band and loved it and met Ben and we started writing together and it really clicked. I said, “Guess what? I’m taking your band and singing.” It worked really well. We have the same musical tastes and a good creative partnership, which is lucky to find and fucking rare, let me tell you.
Have you started writing new songs yet?
I have the next record written already. I don’t know when we can start recording or working on it because we’re on tour for so long. We’re now going with the third single. It’s hard for me to write on tour. The meat of the material happens when I’m at home along. I need isolation and to be inside my own head to really think and write. Real shit happens when you’re by yourself. I’m super ready to get back in the studio even though I’m having a blast on tour.
Upcoming 2014 Tour Dates
Burlington, VT – Higher Ground
Portland, ME – The Asylum
Hampton Beach, NH – Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom
New York, NY – Best Buy Theater