The Pretty Reckless was formed in 2009 by Taylor Momsen (lead vocals & rhythm guitar) and Ben Phillips (lead guitar) and have been exploding in the rock n’ roll world. After the release of their 2014 album Going To Hell which spent 29 weeks on the Billboard Rock Charts, The Pretty Reckless have once again shown their domination with the recent success of their long awaited third full length studio album Who You Selling For released October 2016. With their first single Take Me Down spending 27 weeks on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Chart peaking at #1 and Oh My God currently holding the #4 position in its’ 14th week on the charts where at one point it peaked at #2 surpassing singles by Green Day, Twenty One Pilots and even Metallica according to Billboard.com. The Pretty Reckless is one of only seven acts to send at least four straight titles to the top of the Mainstream Rock Song Charts and also holds the record for the most Number Ones by a female fronted group on the Chart. Momsen and Phillips along with Mark Damon (bass) and Jamie Perkins (drums) are a force that has become a musical odyssey.
Screamer Magazine was able to sit down and chat with Momsen about the new album, touring and more. When asked about the inspiration behind the new album and what is different about this record in comparison to their previous albums, Momsen said “this record really shows the evolution of the band and is our proudest accomplishment to date. We’re all older and we’ve all grown and it just ended up becoming basically a classic rock record, unintentionally but it just went into that direction. Hopefully, there is something for everyone on it because it is kind of eclectic.” Momsen goes into detail about how they decided on the name of the album Who You Selling For which is one of the songs on the album. “When we were narrowing down the ideas for the title, the song Who You Selling For just sort of stuck out and it posed a question to the audience letting them interpret what they want the music to mean as opposed to us telling them. Because honestly it’s a strange question and it has a different answer and a different meaning for me everyday.” Momsen adds with a chuckle “today I’m selling for Screamer.”
Take Me Down was the first single on the album and undoubtedly their most successful single to date. Momsen tells us the inspiration behind the song and her mindset when writing. “It came from an extremely personal level and I wanted to be essentially honest in putting everything up front. I gave everything up for music, for rock n’ roll, for the love of it just like Robert Johnson did in the movie Crossroads. He literally gave up everything for rock n’ roll and I have always been obsessed with the movie. I was watching that movie a lot at the time when I was writing the song so somewhere between those few things is how that song came about.”
The Pretty Reckless is consistently transcending as a band and as individuals which shines through in each of their records. A juxtaposition of heart, soul and the desire for progression is the driving force behind their achievements. “We play all the time even between tours which keeps us tighter as musicians and as a unit” Taylor confesses. “Growing together and growing separately and our goals are longevity and quality so we are trying to beat ourselves every time we make a record.”
Momsen is wise beyond her years and began her career in the entertainment industry as an actress at the age of 2 along with modeling but eventually became known for her roles as Cindy Lou Who in Dr. Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas and as Jenny Humphrey in Gossip Girl in which she quit to pursue her career in music. Making such a divergent career transition is not always an easy one and often people may pigeon hole an entertainer making it difficult for them to make the change but for Momsen, it was always about the music and it came naturally. “I didn’t really think about and finally decided I needed to be out on that stage singing because I had been singing in my bedroom for way too long. It was exciting and the energy I felt, the adrenaline rush I got which 10 years later still hasn’t gone away.” Looking back, Momsen came into her own when she decided to take the stage which is when she finally became true to herself and who she wanted to be. Luckily for music fans, she took that leap of faith as she proves to be one of the most promising up and coming female rock musicians around. While only 23, Momsen is seemingly an old soul lyrically and emotionally as she exerts such intense emotion and tenderness. Momsen reveals “I have been working for 21 years so it’s a combination of a lot of things that inspire me stemming from personal experience, inner emotions, stories you’ve heard, it comes from everywhere, there are so many places to draw from and then in becomes about honing and realizing what you want the focus to be on.” Momsen tells us how music has always been her passion and that she was always writing music. For those who have followed her career, Momsen is seen singing Where Are You Christmas in Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch That Stole Christmas. While Momsen says she was put into acting at such a young age, when she finally became old enough to make her own choices, she knew it was time to follow her dream and pursue her career in music. “I wanted to be sure I had an album worth putting out before I decided to really put myself out there musically” Taylor admits.
Performing in film and on television in comparison to being on stage performing music is a separate experience all on its’ own. Connecting with fans on a screen as opposed to connecting with fans on an individual level can be challenging for some but Momsen confesses “When you are on stage you go into a trance and become one with the music. You feed off of the audience and their energy so to compare acting to performing music on stage, there really aren’t many similarities. When you are in a film or a television show you are playing a character but when you are on stage playing your music you are just you. It’s personal and it’s letting out your true self.”
As a self taught singer and guitar player, Momsen’s first inspiration to do music came from The Beatles. “They are my favorite band of all time and I grew up on my Dad’s record collection so I was raised on a lot of really great music, authentic music starting at a really young age. The Beatles, The Who, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and The Doors were very influential to me early on and as I got older I got into the 90’s era with bands like Soundgarden, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, I could go on and on but that is where my love for music began and what made me want to ultimately become an artist.
For The Pretty Reckless, there isn’t a specific process they have when it comes to writing and recording. Since Momsen and Phillips are the main songwriters, Momsen says “writing can be torturous in many ways yet so rewarding. I try to write from where I am coming from and not necessarily what I think will sell or what people want to hear or expect. Once you write a song and you release it, the song is no longer your own, it belongs to everyone else. You can’t really force the writing process, you just have to wait for an idea and hope it’s a good one. Both Ben and I have the need to be isolated from people in order to write. To be alone with our thoughts and since it is such an intense process, it is important for us to have that time to ourselves with the peace and quiet which opens up our creative minds in a more effective way as opposed to doing it collectively. The biggest challenge is trying to write when you are touring all the time because you don’t get the opportunity to have the space to write being surrounded by people 24/7 so the majority if not all of our songs are written once we are done touring and have that personal time again.” Touring does become tiresome and it is incredibly taxing on an artist to be traveling to new destinations every day and having to put in 150% for every show. Momsen credits caffeine but also refers back to the adrenaline rush she gets when she steps on the stage. “The whole band does. The sound of the crowd, the energy just fuels us and keeps us going. We love to play music and to be able to walk out there and scream into a microphone and hear the fans who have listened to us since the beginning as well as new fans cheering and singing along to our music because they care about the songs just makes it the best job in the world and it makes it all worthwhile. All the tiredness just fades away at that moment” Momsen concludes.
As Momsen had mentioned earlier during the interview, longevity is extremely important to the band and because of that, they have made a conscientious effort to create a family bond. Being on the road and as a band begins to experience success, the awareness of what it takes to keep a band from succumbing to ego problems or even creative differences becomes more and more vital. Many bands will go through their share of new members in an effort to find the perfect fit and in some cases such as Metallica, they take extra measures like seeking professional help to mediate between personalities in the band and because of that, Metallica continues to hold strong all of these years later despite the turmoil they once went through. The Pretty Reckless seem to have that same value when it comes to how well connected they must remain and the work it takes to keep the band in a good place. Momsen shares how much they love music and playing music together. “It was an instant bond both musically and personally with all of the members. We are literally like a family. The moment we finish touring we may take a day or two to rest and then next thing I know I am on the phone with Ben or Mark or Jamie to see if they want to hang out. We are a very tight knit group” according to Momsen.
Initially, The Pretty Reckless was going to be known as The Reckless but due to trademark issues, Momsen said they just decided to add an extra word and in all actuality The Pretty Reckless is a much more fitting name. “The band came together and I was a singer/songwriter who was looking more into being in a band as opposed to being a solo artist. I wanted to be like The Beatles not Elvis who did his music alone. That is when I met Ben who was in a band with Mark and Jamie. Ben and I one day just decided to start writing music together and it clicked. In a weird way, it just happened and was very kismet. I ended up going in and singing and taking over their band and that is how it went down.”
As time goes on, women are becoming more and more equal to the men in the music industry. Not that there haven’t always been strong and esteemed women in the industry but there has been a definitive increase in the respect level received outside of the sex symbol status quo between Women in Rock and women in other genres of music. When pressed on the issue, Momsen replied, “I really don’t see gender, I just base my opinion on if the music is good. I know there is a divide but I try my best not to draw that line.”
Who You Selling For is the band’s first album since Going To Hell was released in 2014 and there has been speculation that the meaning behind the album had to do with the guilt Catholic Schools put on kids and we wanted to set the record straight. Momsen assured us that the album has no bearing or hidden meaning about religion but it is more of a generally rebellious record. “Heaven and Hell is a common subject especially in rock music. So when you think of songs like Highway To Hell a lot of people try to put a label on the song or take things too literally, but the album is more of a metaphor between good and evil. I was raised Catholic but it has nothing to do with that and maybe people just thought it did.”
As we wrap up our interview, Momsen shares how happy she is that they are able to headline shows and play longer sets than during previous tours. “Now that we have three full length albums, we finally have enough of a repertoire to play which is awesome and we really enjoy it. Our first tour when we opened for Guns N’ Roses we were playing like three covers because we only had a few EPs out and we didn’t want to end up as a cover band but now we have the music so it is a lot more fun and enjoyable to go out there and the show has become really developed.” As they tour and sell out shows, Momsen shares that the fact they are opening for Soundgarden is something she can cross off her bucket list as a dream tour. Fans can look forward to hearing their new hit singles like Take Me Down and Oh My God but will also be able to feel the nostalgia of The Pretty Reckless’s older music.
With so much passion and limitless talent, The Pretty Reckless is on their way to a timeless career. With the critical acclaim the band is already receiving there is no end in sight to what they can do and we truly look forward to seeing them move up even further and remain for years to come.