Interview: Taylor Momsen

The Pretty Reckless’ sound has been called generic, but it hardly seems fair to quickly dismiss the band on this basis alone; considering how rock bands have been all borrowing off each other since the beginning of time.

How many contemporary bands are truly without the influence of the Gods of ACDC and Led Zeppelin? With The Pretty Reckless, most people aren’t likely to be expecting from them any major contributions to breakthroughs in the genre or unprecedented artistry. Rather, it’s something much more simple: the pure, infectious energy the band emanates in their shows.

The band also cannot be faulted for their ability to write incredibly catchy and memorable tunes, which is perhaps why this November a full house of black eyeliner donning Glaswegian teens were seen screaming the lyrics to their favourite hits: ‘Heaven Knows’ and ‘Makes Me Wanna Die’. If you ever wondered whether Taylor Momsen could ever fully shake her Jenny Humphrey persona, the confused and occasionally callous girl you have a onscreen love-hate relationship with, you’d perhaps be surprised to see how she comes alive onstage. Appearing in her glittery drapery of gold and black, Momsen shakes her long shaggy blonde hair; enrapturing everyone with her sultry vocal tones.

It’s clear who the star is here, but if The Pretty Reckless want to be taken seriously in the leagues of rock music and not viewed simply as the Taylor Momsen celebrity band, perhaps they still have quite a bit to go in terms of their team dynamics. Let the spotlight shine on the other equally talented members sometimes.

Before the gig, qmunicate’s Karen Cheung met with Taylor Momsen to talk about The Beatles and not liking the word ‘feminist.’

You guys have been in Glasgow before! How does it feel being back, and what was your last show like?

It was great – all those shows were great. Last time we were here – I think we were with Fall Out Boy. Every time we get to tour over here the shows are always exciting and the crowds are rambunctious which makes for a fun show.

Do you think there’s any difference between shows over here or in the UK as compared to back in the States?

Well, every time we’re overseas, because we’re not from there, there’s definitely an elevated excitement level. You don’t come here all the time so people are naturally more excited to see you. They’re a little crazy here, I would say.

You mentioned in previous interviews that you’re a big Beatles fan and that the band sort of bonded over Beatles – who are your favourite Beatles respectively and what are your favourite albums?

That’s a near impossible question to answer – John – I’ll go with John – he is my favourite Beatle. I can’t pick a favourite record, it depends on the week. I always say The Beatles anthology, because then I get everything, that’s kind of a way to cheat the question.

You’ve emphasized the importance of rock ‘n’ roll – to you what is the definition of ‘proper’ rock ‘n’ roll, as opposed to whatever variations that’s surfaced these days?

Um, live – that’s the start of it. People actually playing instruments – not computers. It’s freedom, bands that can just do that, there’s no tricks behind it. (BP: “Bands that are better than us.”) No tracks – just people actually playing instruments onstage, you put a mic up to them and they sound good. Bands like Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, ACDC, The Beatles obviously, Soundgarden.

You guys opened for Soundgarden, didn’t you?

Yeah, it’s like my favourite gig ever, it was super awesome, there were like 90,000 people with Soundgarden in Quebec, it was fucking dope.

How was it like sharing a stage with Marilyn Manson and Amy Lee?

We played here with Evanescence – it was this venue, actually. Amy’s a super sweetheart, Manson is a good friend, he’s super awesome. We’ve been pretty fortunate with opening gigs and getting good bands – it’s different from headlining, because it’s their show, not your show, and you’re part of their tour but it’s not your tour It’s interesting to see how everyone runs their camps and their crew, because everyone does it a little differently and it’s always interesting to see.

You do some controversial stuff sometimes – for example in the video of ‘Heaven Knows’ you take off your clothes and you’re naked. Do you feel like there’s any sexualisation of rock when it comes to girls in this genre?

What I was doing was more of trying to oppose the oversexualised – that’s why it’s one shot and it’s not the whole video. Everything right now is just a bit over the top. I’m always trying to create this art – sex and music goes hand in hand. I mean with men, like in Led Zeppelin, you can even see [Robert Plant’s] dick. It’s a marriage. I’m trying to oppose the way sexuality is viewed today.

So more of like if it’s not viewed in a sexualized way it doesn’t have to be? It doesn’t have to be something you comment on all the time even if it’s there?

Exactly.

Do you identify as a feminist?

I won’t use the word feminist – I believe in equal opportunity for everyone. I think feminist is too specific of a term, it shouldn’t be weighed to any side. Equality is everyone, no matter sex, race, or bank account, or age, or anything – everything should be equal. That’s how I view it.

I would say that does sort of mean you’re a feminist, though to you the term doesn’t represent all that you want it to represent, perhaps.

Well feminism is simply talking about women though, and I think the term feminism itself is already segregating women. It creates a divide just be having the term feminism, there’s no male-ism. Words mean what you want them to mean, and if you put a negative connotation or a positive connotation on a word either way – it sort of defeats the purpose – you can’t say feminism and mean equality. It’s two opposing concepts – you have to say equality. It’s segregating women instead of saying we’re all equal, and that’s how it should be.

Do you have any favourite female-fronted bands or girl bands?

I grew up mostly listening to men, but there are some great female artists – Janis Joplin, Sheryl Crow, I just played with Joan Jett recently and she’s awesome. Blondie’s Debbie Harry – she’s great, she’s a good friend, Garbage is cool, but realistically I don’t really emulate women. I kind of lean more towards the male-fronted bands, just because it’s what I gravitated towards and grew up with as a kid.

Where do you see yourself or the band in ten years’ time?

Hopefully still doing this – hopefully we’ll have more records, and they’ll all be better than the last one. We’ll still be touring, and still trucking along in this never-ending cycle of rock ‘n’ roll.

In a previous interview you said you wrote your first song when you were around five, and that you saw the White Stripes as a kid. Do you remember what your earliest music-related memory is?

Well, probably the first band I ever heard was The Beatles, because I grew up on my dad’s vinyl collection, so he was always playing great records in the house. I was born in St. Louis, so first show I ever saw was on Blueberry Hill, which was Chuck Berry’s bar, when I was a little kid – it was some local band, and I was allowed in. I was just three so they weren’t too worried about me drinking [laughs]. So probably that and my dad’s collection and I’d buy cassettes at this store called Vintage Vinyl, it’s still there in St. Louis. But the first proper rock show I saw was the White Stripes when I was like 7 or 8. They were so fucking loud and they blew my mind, and Jack White’s amazing.

Do you have any dream band formations with any musicians, dead or alive?

I like our band [laughs]. Hypothetically – well there’s so many great people, and they’re great in those bands, like Matt Cameron – they do their own thing, and there’s a reason they sound like that, it’s because they have those players in those band. This dream team band thing – they tried to do that with Clapton and a bunch of them – the supergroups – they’re cool but – well yeah Cream worked, but it sort of has to just form naturally. You can’t manufacture it like that. Every time you try to manufacture music, it sucks. It has to be organic, otherwise it’s just not real.

Any musicians you look up to that you really want to share the stage with though?

Well, Soundgarden – that was a bucket list gig for all of us. I think we’d all love to open for ACDC, Pearl Jam would be fucking cool, The Who would be amazing. I’m thinking of the bands which are still kind of a possibility, maybe – there’s a couple, sure.

Do you think your Catholic upbringing influenced any of your musical beliefs in any way?

When I was younger, sure, because I was raised Catholic – but then I got older and started thinking for myself, so I’m not really much of a religious person, I’m a more spiritual person. But it definitely comes up in writing because it’s in my vernacular, so I use metaphors like heaven and hell and that sort of thing, but I won’t say that it affects me on a daily basis.

Most memorable show you’ve played so far?

Opening for Soundgarden – that was definitely one of the highlights – I mean we just did a bunch of festivals over here, we did Download, Isle of Wight, Rock Im Park in Germany, and we did summer festivals in the States too, Rock on the Range and so on.

Do you have a preference – playing for festivals or smaller cozier crowds?

I wouldn’t say a preference – I will say that after doing a run of festival shows and playing outside in the daytime, songs like Going to Hell doesn’t really feel like they exactly fit, but they’re fun, cause you’re playing to fucking 90,000 people. It’s a catch-22, it’s a different vibe. But after doing all these festivals we’re all really excited to be back headlining and having it to be our show.

I was standing outside just now, and there seems to be a hell lotta hardcore fans.

Yeah it sold out, so it should be fucking awesome. I mean for festivals, you’re not playing to necessarily your people, you’ve got a set time and you throw your shit onstage and hope it works, there’s no sound check or anything, whereas you’re in a more controlled environment when it comes to your own tour and there’s fucking lights, so that’s cool.

Last question: how has it been touring with these guys? Nothing More and Heaven’s Basement?

I haven’t really got to know Nothing More very well yet – we’re only on Day Four of the tour – but Heaven’s Basement are like my best friends. But fuck that guy Sid, he sucks dicks. [laughs] He can’t play, they’re just terrible. No, we’re kidding – they’re our best friends, and we love those guys. That’s how we show our affection towards one another.

[Karen Cheung – @karenklcheung]

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