Taylor Momsen On Making Chart History & The Pretty Reckless’ New LP
The Pretty Reckless made history in October when “Take Me Down” landed at number one on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Chart. They became the first act to reach the top with their first four singles (“Heaven Knows,” “Messed Up World” and “Follow Me Down”) and beat The Pretenders’ long-standing record for the most number ones by a female-fronted rock band. To put things into perspective, front woman Taylor Momsen is the only female artist in the chart’s top 30. So this is a big deal.
I recently spoke with the groundbreaking singer on the phone about that achievement and life on the road. (The band is about to wind up a 31-date North American promo tour). Taylor also opened up about the band’s new LP Who You Selling For, saying: “We really wanted to make a record that was as organic and honest as possible and really capture that human element that I think is lacking in a lot of music today.” Other topics of conversation included the importance of music videos and the difficulty of picking singles. Get to know rock pioneer a little better below.
The new album is doing so well. “Take Me Down” just became your 4th number one on the rock chart. It did, yeah.
How do you process something like that? It’s very strange. It’s exciting because it means that more people are hearing our music. I’m not really sure how to feel. It’s a very strange feeling. But exciting.
You also have the most number ones of any female-fronted rock band. It’s great, but also very strange.
You beat a long standing record by The Pretenders. Who are your female rock icons? Honestly, I look up to men more than I do women. I grew up loving The Beatles because John Lennon is my idol. I grew up on classic rock. So The Beatles, The Who, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, The Allman Brothers and then in the ’90s, bands like Soundgarden. It’s more men. As far as women go, Janis Joplin was amazing. Joan Jett’s really cool. I played with her and she’s awesome. There are a lot of people, but my influence is kind of male-based.
I read that the album was inspired by the isolation of touring. Can you elaborate on that? Touring is kind of this never-ending cycle of the same thing every day. Set up, sound check, press, get ready, play, leave, try to find food somewhere, sleep, do the same thing the next day. It becomes very much like a isolating bubble where the outside world kind of disappears.
And that forces you to focus on the music? Absolutely. I think it forces you to really hone your show and everything about playing in every city comes with a different challenge. The sole focus is being as good as you possibly can be every night. There is nothing else. The music is all you have. The music is everything.
You’ve toured with huge acts like Evanescence and Marilyn Manson. What’s the craziest tour you’ve been part of? They’re very different. Your own shows are more stressful. You jump on the tour. It’s not your show, so you have less pressure. It’s someone else’s and you’re just the opening band. That’s different, but I enjoy both. Any time time you get to go on a stage and scream into a microphone it’s the best job on the planet. I don’t if there’s a craziest. Everyone’s just different. Everyone runs their camp a little differently.
Crazy isn’t the right word, I think it’s just everyone has a different way they run their show and they run their crew and they run their day. It’s adapting to their lifestyle, or how they run it, is the biggest thing. I don’t know if crazy’s the right thing. I think any touring musician has a common respect. I think it’s a very strange lifestyle. We’ve done it, and you wonder who else has done it, and there’s a mutual, “We get it, we’re on the road, it’s cool.”
Who You Selling Far sounds more raw than the previous records. Was that a conscious decision? It’s been the motto for all our records, but we really tried to implement it on this record — trying not to try. For this record, we really wanted to make a record that was as organic and honest as possible and really capture that human element that I think is lacking in a lot of music today. Everything can be fixed in the studio, everything’s going to be lined up and made perfect, and perfection is not necessarily what makes music good. I think it’s the imperfections and hearing the human vibe to music that is what connects with people. We really wanted to capture that.
This time we brought in outside musicians for the first time so we could actually set up in a room and jam where the song was going to take us. We brought in Andy Burton who plays keys. We brought in back-up singers Janice Pendarvis, Jenny Douglas-Foote and Sophia Ramos. They’re on “Wild City” and “Take Me Down.” I got to sing with them which was really fun.
I think the best example would be “The Devil’s Back.” Originally it was going to be a two and a half minute song. We were all jamming and playing live, and the vibe was so good, and it felt so good, that we just said keep going, and now it’s one of the longest songs on the record.
Have you come to terms with the election result yet? I don’t want to get too into it. Because it is what it is now. I’ll just say that I voted, and I didn’t vote for [Trump]. So we’ll see where this takes us.
Do you have a favorite song on the album? That’s an impossible question. It’s all of them. I write them all, so they’re all my children. They all come from my head, they all come from my experiences. To pick just one is unfair. I know we’re in an age of singles where it’s almost like the ’50s again where it’s just the singles, the song comes and goes very quickly. I love the album, personally, because I think that it captures the moment in time in an artist’s life.
A record can really do that. They’re really meant to be listened to from front to back. The track listing is really important. It, hopefully, will take you on some sort of journey. To pick just one song out of that piece is like losing a limb. You have to listen to the whole thing.
How do you decide on a single then? It’s difficult to choose because if it was up to me I’d make them all singles, just put them all out. That comes down to between management and the label.
Have you picked the next one? We have. I know what the next one’s going to be, but I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say what it is yet. I’m excited about the next one though. I’ll just say that.
Fair enough! How important is the visual aspect to you? Videos seem to be getting worse these days. There’s no money behind them. No one’s putting budgets behind videos anymore. The visual aspect is really important to us. I think that we’ve grown. I think that we’ve made a few mistakes. We started young. I was a teenager. I think we’ve grown, and it’s been a learning curve for us, learning how to make videos. Absolutely, I think that the goal of a music video is to try to visualize the song in some way that will connect with people.
That’s a very difficult thing to do because sometimes it can take away from the song and make it too literal or make it too defined in some way. Songs aren’t that simple. There’s multiple layers to them. That’s why with “Take Me Down” we wanted to make a very relaxed, cool, studio video to let the song speak for itself but still give us a visual to go along with it.
Thank you for your time. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much, man.