DFW Music News

Q&A: Taylor Momsen Talks The Pretty Reckless, Her Gossip Girl Fans' Perceptions of Her and Why Courtney Love Comparisons Are Lazy

In yet another case of art imitating life, Taylor Momsen seems to be drawing inspiration from the trouble-making character she plays on The CW's Gossip Girl. In real life, Momsen has displayed quite the wild streak lately. Recent reports have shown her diva-like attitude on the set of the teen drama drawing the ire of both Gossip Girl crewmembers and Project Runway's Tim Gunn (a guest star the show last fall). No surprise, then, that she's currently riding an extended hiatus from the show.

Oh, and she's also been dropped from her modeling agency, relieved of her duties as the face of Madonna's new fashion line, and appears to have a penchant for nudity (or almost nudity) on stage.

Needless to say, with all this free time, the stars have aligned for the budding singer to dive head first into her music career as lead singer of The Pretty Reckless. Her band's 2010 debut album, Light Me Up, draws heavily from '90s grunge -- enough so, certainly, to surprise those expecting a throwaway pop record.

In advance of her band's Saturday night performance at the House of Blues, we recently caught up with the rebellious singer, actor and model during a short break from her US tour.

You've been writing music for a long time now. Do you find your inspiration comes from a different place nowadays?
Yes and no. Inspiration is such a broad word. The topics of what I write now and what I wrote when I was five are very different. I've always written about my life and my life experiences, but the content is very different. I was a pretty morbid kid. I wrote songs about my dead dog and things like "You make me wanna die" was a main theme. [Laughs.]

What are some of the main themes on the Pretty Reckless record?
It's a very broad record in some ways, but also very specific. It covers a lot of bases and topics of life. If I had to sum it up, it's about life. It's written about stuff I know, so it's my life experiences. It's things I observe. But it's a very honest, personal record in that way. I think it's very personal, but I think the topics are so broad. I hope everyone can find something to relate to in every song.

You've said you are influenced by the likes of Chris Cornell, Jack White and The Who. How'd you get into these acts?
My dad was a big rock 'n' roll fan, so I grew up listening to classic rock like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. I grew up listening to vinyl records -- that's what I knew. And, as I got older, I got into other bands like Oasis, Rage Against the Machine and System of a Down. But the classics -- The Who, the Beatles, Dylan -- I got influenced and introduced to them by my father. They're called classic for a reason, ya know.

You must consider yourself lucky. Not everyone has parents with good music taste.
I absolutely do.

You're usually compared to Courtney Love. And your on-record response is that you'd prefer to be compared to Kurt Cobain and other male artists. Why is that?
It's not that I don't like the comparison; I just don't think it's a very accurate one. I think the comparison is based on the fact that there aren't many blonde, female-fronted rock bands. Musically, The Pretty Reckless and Hole are so on opposite ends of the spectrum. I don't respond to that comparison because it's based on image. And I wasn't influenced by any Hole records. But Courtney Love is cool so I don't take it as an insult.

You seem be actively distancing yourself from the wholesome image that some of your peers try to cling to as long as they can. Why?
Well, there's two things that happen. The first one is, "Oh, she was so cute in The Grinch. What happened?" Well, I grew up. I was five years old when I did The Grinch. Are you the same as you were when you were five? The second one is Gossip Girl fans who know me as Jenny Humphrey and think that everything that happened to Jenny also happened to me. I was playing a character, so people don't see me as myself very often. Until now. I'm putting myself out there and not hiding behind Jenny Humphrey. But they didn't see Taylor. They just saw Jenny. And now it seems like a giant shock. But, y'know, I've worn eye makeup forever and I love heels and I wear dresses and I've just been like that for a very long time and people just didn't see it. So my friends and family don't understand the reaction, but people familiar with the character get the shock of having them think I'm so different from the character they knew me as.

What do you feel most comfortable wearing on stage?
I like wearing platform heels. Honestly, I love heels. They have grips on the bottom so they were meant for dancing.

Wow, I didn't know there were rubber grips on the bottom of those things.
Yeah, they're meant for dancers. You don't see dancers wearing expensive designer shoes -- they're just not functional. Everything has a purpose with my look. But I also have a very expensive style and it's not for everyone. But I like it.

You've been in show business for most of your life. Have you ever imagined life not being in the spotlight?
I wouldn't say I've been in the spotlight my whole life, I'd say I've been working my whole life. I think that's what's affected me. I have a very strong work ethic. I'm a workaholic. That's the side people don't see. It's not just luck -- it's a lot of work. I work 24 hours a day and I have since I was two. Nothing has exactly been easy.

Do you ever get to take a vacation?
Not really. Touring is a lot of fun. Sometimes things happen accidentally. Like, I got stranded in Germany. So we drove to Amsterdam for the week.

What is your status with acting right now? I know you're on hiatus from Gossip Girl.
The focus right now is definitely on the new record. We're going to be touring everywhere this year. We're doing an American tour, then we're going to Australia, Japan, the U.K. and Berlin. I can't even think of all the places we're going. It's kind of overwhelming.

Do you think the Gossip Girl image is going to help or hurt the album in the US?
I don't know. I think it will probably be a little bit of both. I think there's a lot of people who will not give it a chance and will write off the record as just another actor-turned-singer. But what they don't realize is that I consider myself a musician who acts to subsidize my music career. It's a lot of work. It's one of the hardest industries, and I don't think people see that. So hopefully people will give it a chance. Feel free to hate it, but at least listen to it first.

Well, it'll certainly surprise a lot of people who thought you'd be coming out with just another dance-pop record like your Gossip Girl co-star, Leighton Meester.
Oh, I'm sure. When we wrote the record we wrote very honestly and there was no agenda. We didn't write for the radio. We really wanted to write good songs, and that was where it started. If we weren't happy with the song, it wasn't going to get made. There was no marketing agenda other than the music itself, and I think that's an interesting aspect that gets lost in music today.

Having that type of freedom has to be much more favorable to acting, where you have to work off a script and have a tight schedule. Would you say acting is your job and music is your passion?
Absolutely. I enjoy acting. I've done it forever. But I didn't choose it. I did it because I got put into it. I like it OK. But it's not what I wanted to do since I was a little girl. You can't put out a record when you're a kid. You have to develop your art form and your craft. And with this record, I wrote something that I actually wanted people to hear. It just seemed like the right time.

The Pretty Reckless performs with Runner Runner and A Thousand Horses, Saturday at the House of Blues' Cambridge Room

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Mark Schectman