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Taylor Momsen: I grew up wanting to be Robert Plant and wanting to fuck Jimmy Page

Taylor Momsen
Taylor Momsen
Photo by Danny Hastings

Taylor Momsen has a particularly unique set of life experiences. She starred as Jenny Humphrey in Gossip Girl and Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, was featured in this month's Maxim, and toured with Marilyn Manson -- all before her 21st birthday.

These days, Momsen is focused on her main passion -- music. The Pretty Reckless, the hard-rock band she's been fronting since 2009, are currently on tour for their second album, Going to Hell, set to be released early next year. They put out the titular lead single last month. Their sound is a straight-forward throwback, using the tried-and-true formula of loud, hard, and fast that's gotten crazy kids fired up for half a century. They stop in Minnesota for a gig at the Varsity next Wednesday, October 23. (See photos and read the review here.)

Gimme Noise caught up with the multi-talented rock star over the phone during a stop in Scottsdale to talk about the future of rock, Jimmy Page's sex appeal, and Hannah Montana.

Gimme Noise: Your most recent single, "Going to Hell," is super heavy even compared to earlier stuff from the Pretty Reckless. How has your sound developed over the course of being in this band?

Part of that is the result of just touring in the band for two and a half years. This record is very much a band record, as opposed to Light Me Up, which has a lot of bells and whistles, production-wise. This record is very heavy and stripped-down to what we sound like as a band. It's been a lot of fun playing these songs live since there was no problem figuring out how to get from the studio to the stage -- it's just what we sound like. That's definitely reflected on the album.

I got a lot of vibes of teenage angst and rebellion on your last album, Light Me Up, and I don't mean that in a bad way -- that's part of what makes rock music great. How is Going to Hell different?

I would say this record is a lot more adult, just because I was 15 when I wrote the first record and I'm 20 now, so it's just taking in more of the world, taking all those experiences and playing with them in songs, essentially.... This record in the writing process definitely captured the idea of no boundaries, really not writing for anyone or following any specific trend and going in with an open mind and saying 'whatever you come out with, you come out with.' It's very honest, and I think we accomplished that.

You were still playing Jenny Humphrey in Gossip Girl when the Pretty Reckless started in 2009. Was it hard switching gears from playing a wealthy Manhattan teenager to fronting a hard-rock band?

Well no, because I'm still Taylor [laughs]. So switching gears wasn't really an issue, though I will say it's nice to just be able to focus solely on the band and music and not have to work a bunch of different day jobs, essentially. I think the hardest thing about doing those two things at the same time was I didn't sleep very much at all.

Do you find time to sleep now? Touring isn't exactly a low-key job either.

Well the road is certainly not for everyone. It's a weird lifestyle. You sleep when you can. Pretty much when I have any off time, I go crash out.

Have you had any crazy shit happen on this tour?

There's always crazy shit that happens on tour, none of which I should say or should be printed [laughs].

Fair.

It comes with the territory of touring in a rock band. We have a rule of what goes on tour, stays on tour.

 

If music goes in cycles, do you see the Pretty Reckless or any of your contemporaries bringing it back to rock 'n' roll?

I feel like it's starting in a slower way. I've been really involved with making this record so I'm actually kind of out of the loop with what's new. I don't really think it can be forecast; I think it just has to happen. Definitely at least acoustic guitar stuff has started to come back a little bit, and there are some [guitar-heavy] British bands, but it hasn't gotten completely plugged in yet.

You wrote a song, "Blackout," when you were eight years old that ended up getting performed by Heidi Montag.

Yeah, I started very young. Writing was my best friend. I traveled and was working at a very young age, and kind of lived this gypsy lifestyle where my notebook was my best friend.

Did you write mostly music when you were younger or did you write other things too?

I started writing lyrics and melodies before I learned to play an instrument. I was always writing songs, and then I started on piano and then switched to guitar, which was more plugged in. You know, learn a power chord, write a song.

What was the band, record, or song that got you started on rock music when you were younger and started writing?

The Beatles. When I grew up my dad had a big vinyl collection, and the first time I heard "Strawberry Fields" it changed my life. Then I got into everything else; that opened the door to all of it -- all the rock and roll that existed and I could get my hands on.

I know the Beatles did everything, but what got you into the harder-edged stuff you do now with Pretty Reckless?

Led Zeppelin was probably the first hard rock I got into. Like I always say, I grew up wanting to be Robert Plant and wanting to fuck Jimmy Page [laughs].

Don't we all? I really feel bad asking this, but I feel like I have to because of recent news: You were third in line for the role of Hannah Montana. What do you think your career would have been like if you'd gotten that role? Do you think you would be anywhere close to whatever the hell Miley Cyrus is doing right now?

Nah, no man. I am who I am. I'm a different person [than Miley Cyrus], so I would still be Taylor. Gossip Girl, Hannah Montana -- they're all just day jobs. I'd still be playing in a rock band and doing what I'm doing.

Pretty Reckless. With Heaven's Basement and Louna. $15-$25. 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, October 23, at the Varsity Theater. Tickets here.


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