Interview: Taylor Momsen of The Pretty Reckless
Mon, 17 Mar 2014 14:34:52
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"Going to Hell really is a record that's meant to be listened to over and over from front to back," says Taylor Momsen of The Pretty Reckless. "There's a story in there."
The story at the heart of Going to Hell [iTunes link] is just as captivating as the album's arena-size hooks are. It's a rock record in the most classic sense without ever sounding like "classic rock". There are moments of seductive sexy slithering ecstasy—quite literally—and then there's incalculable rage and cathartic pondering. It's as vivid as it is vicious, and it's a ride well worth taking. Acoustic guitars climax on gnashing amped up riffs just before spiraling through a narrative that's worthy of its own rock opera. This is everything a timeless rock album should be and so much more. Go to Hell with Momsen and you might never be the same.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Taylor Momsen of The Pretty Reckless talks Going to Hell, parallels between writing and sex, Stanley Kubrick movies, and so much more.
Was the attention to detail really important while making Going to Hell? How much of it was pre-conceived?
When we started writing for this record, we had been touring Light Me Up for two-and-a-half years. We got off the road. We were all tired. I personally can't write on the road. You're never alone. You're on a bus with ten people, and you never have enough time to think inside your own head. You're in touring world. It's another side of things. Ben [Phillips] and I went away. We shut our phones off, tried to decompress, and get back into the vibe of creating something new. We were thinking about what we'd just done and reflecting on all of that. We started writing songs. As the songs came, common themes started to develop. It wasn't intentional, but they naturally do as a writer. That's what I love about records that aren't just compilations of singles. It captures a moment in time. It captures however long it took to make that record. You can really delve into someone's life and mindset if you understand that.
With how honest you are, it's easy for listeners to attach themselves to that emotion. Your lyrics are personal, but they're also open for interpretation...
That's entirely the goal. I obviously have my own meaning for everything, and every song is personal to me because I wrote it [Laughs]. They're from my perspective and talk about my life. At the same time, I don't like to explain songs because I want the listener to hear them with open ears and an open mind. Whatever it means to you as a listener, that's what the song is about. If I watch an interview with someone I love and they say, "Well, this song is about my daughter", I'm like, "That's not what it meant to me when I heard it! Now, every time I listen to this I'm going to picture your daughter!" [Laughs] It ruins it for me. If you can relate to it and connect to it in some way, that's what the song is about. If you want to get to know me, it's all right there in the music.
When did you first read Lolita?
I read part of the book when I was younger. I had seen the film. When I got back, I needed a new book to read and I needed to delve into some good writing so I picked up a copy of Lolita. It's brilliant. That became an influence. I'm obsessed with Stanley Kubrick. I'm obsessed with The Shining, and I have a whole room dedicated to it. There are a lot of influences. When I'm home, I paint, I sculpt, I watch TV, I listen to records, I read, I think, and I try to open my mind and let anything and everything come in and see what comes out of me. I really soul search to write something that's honest I'll want to play ten years from now. It can actually have legs and last. The more you listen to it, the more you discover new things inside of it. I want to write the song. The goal is to make something good and quality.
How different of a mindset is painting versus making music?
I think art leads to more art. I try to do artistic things. From painting to charcoals to sculpting, art encourages art. I don't consider myself a great painter by any means, and I don't take it as seriously as I take writing. I'm currently writing a screenplay. Writing encourages more writing. It's keeping your mind open to anything that can inspire you. Whether it's a sculpture that happened to come out of you that day, a painting, a lyric, or a fucking E-chord, you never know where it's going to come from. You do all of it and wait for something good to come to your mind. I always say writing is the most torturous process there is. You sit there just going, "I suck! I suck!" You're just depressed and miserable. Writing is a lot like sex. It's a lot of work and you have fucking twenty seconds of the most blissful amazing feeling you can possibly have when you know you've written something good. You go, "That was good. Thank the fucking lord!" Then, it's over and you're like, "Fuck, now I have to do it again" [Laughs]. It's the best feeling, and it's my favorite thing. It's certainly not easy though. It takes a lot of work, torture, and soul searching.
How did "Waiting for a Friend" come about?
The record really tells a story. If you go through it from track to track, it follows a couple of common themes and stories that go with it. It was one of the last songs we recorded for the album. "Fucked Up World" was the last song we recorded for the record. I write everything on acoustic together. How it comes to life is pretty obvious once a song's done. I live by the motto if you can play a song from front to back on acoustic guitar then it's a good song [Laughs]. To sum up everything with "Waiting for a Friend", I don't have the answer, but I'm waiting.
How did the "Heaven Knows" video come about?
I actually co-directed the video. It came from me. We shot that video over the course of two days in Miami. It's pretty self-explanatory. I was trying to create a visual to go along with the song that has meaning. There's a lot of metaphor in the video. It's all right there. I'm still recovering from laryingitis because I started to get sick at that shoot. It was two sixteen-hour days with the fog machine going and me co-directing, talking loud over music and directing kids [Laughs]. I started to lose my voice. I put it all into the video and we ended up having to cancel a tour, which was a really big bummer. I've never lost my voice to the point where I couldn't sing or talk. It sucked, but I'm proud of the video.
Have you started writing more music?
I have more than another record's material written! I'm always writing, and I have half the new record done. Nothing is record, but it's all in my head.
What's your favorite song from The Pretty Reckless?