TAYLOR MOMSEN FROM THE PRETTY RECKLESS
Taylor Momsen is probably one of the chilliest rock stars you’ll ever have the chance to talk. On the day of the interview, it actually takes me a few seconds before realizing it’s actually her calling me directly on my phone.
—By Marie-Ève Venne
Her voice is calm and joyful, which surprise me at first, knowing the painful couple of years she and her band went through. The first blow came in 2017 when her band The Pretty Reckless landed a spot supporting childhood hero Chris Cornell. He died by suicide on the tour, shaking Momsen to the core.
In 2018, feeling ready to rebuild her life, the band started speaking to their friend and longtime producer Kato about the next step. Just as they had pulled themselves together, they got another tragic phone call informing them that Kato had died in a motorcycle accident. That’s when Momsen started spiraling into a black hole.
She candidly admits that “Death By Rock and Roll” is the reason that she is still standing today.
“I keep calling this record a rebirth because we went through a lot of loss and a lot of trauma and tragedy over the past few years. I went down a very, very dark hole of depression and substance abuse. I was pretty much a mess. I really credit rock and roll for saving my life. As stupid as that may sound, it’s entirely true.”
The album itself is classic The Pretty Reckless: big guitars and old school rock’n’roll influences. But there’s something different, too, and maybe it’s the feeling of “complete rebirth” that she wanted to imbue it with. Around the middle, there’s a turning point, with more vulnerable, personal touches. On 25, a hauntingly beautiful song with, Momsen dig into many allusions to the infamous “27 club”.
Speaking of this record, she can’t help but expressing how excited she is at the idea of people finally being able to hear it.
“I am just very happy and grateful that I can share it with the rest of the world because it’s something that I’m extraordinarily proud of. We worked incredibly hard on it. And, you know, in my humble opinion, I really think that it’s the best album we’ve ever made. I think that we really created something special and I hope that it can be something kind of cathartic for anyone who listens to it. Maybe they can relate to it on some sort of level.”
She and the band started working on this album when she finally found herself at a crossroad in her life, having to choose between giving up or finally leaving that headspace of depression.
“I think the bigger thing is I didn’t know if I wanted to because I have kind of given up on life. I was looking around me and everything was about death and I was like what’s the fucking point. But I really had to make a decision at some point where, you know, I got bad enough where I had to make a conscious choice between death or moving forward. I chose to move forward.”
The band and Momsen flew to Seattle, to record their album at the legendary London Bridge Studio, where many bands such as Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Alison in Chains recorded too.
As Momsen explains, the tracklist on this album was very important for her and the band, which is something that totally makes sense the first time you hear the final product. It starts very heavy and very dark and almost kind of bleak. But halfway through the album, there’s this kind of musical shift where lyrically and musically it starts to turn where there is light at the end of the tunnel. Where it feels like there is a sense of hope
Even though the album is titled Death By Rock And Roll, which might sound very morbid to some people, Momsen reassures me that it’s not what it means to her at all.
“It’s a phrase that Kato used to say all the time, it was this kind of code and this ethic that meant the ultimate freedom and then you know, I’m going to live life my own way, I’m going to go out my own way, I’m not going to let anyone tell me differently, or rock and roll till I die. It’s very much a battle cry for life.”
And the writing process for this album was most definitely a battle cry for life.
“Normally, you know, when writing songs or working on a record, I’m constantly looking for anything to inspire me, which can be a very torturous process because you never know when inspiration is going to strike or where it’s going to come from. And you kind of just have to wait for it because you can’t force it. But in this case, with this album, the inspiration was like a brick smacking me in the face over and over and over. I didn’t really have a choice. It wouldn’t be the record it is without me being as honest as I am. That’s the way art works. And it’s the way that you know, I’m trying to create something that’s going to last a lifetime.”
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, live event organizers have been canceling or postponing large gatherings from technology conferences to major concerts. This means that The Pretty Reckless can’t hit the road to perform in front of large audiences and feed from the energy of their fans. It is also a huge part of why the record was delayed for so long.
“I wasn’t necessarily comfortable putting out the record and not being able to complete the circle by playing it live. It just felt unbalanced. And it still does to a degree. But the song 25 for example, which I wrote and recorded when I was 24 turning 25, was the first song we recorded for the album. And it suddenly hit me. I just turned 25 and I don’t want to put this record out when I’m 30. I have more songs to write, I have more things to say. So, I kind of got to a place where I just had to close my eyes, point a pen at a calendar, and pick a random date.”
She confines that she truly hopes that the album will give some solace to some people who need it. And that in a near future, that there’s going to be a time when live shows are going to come back and they’re going to be bigger and better than ever and even more exciting because people have had to wait so long for them.
“I’m looking forward to that day. But in the meantime, you know, I am also happy to share the album and give people something to listen to at home and experience it. Experience it by yourself for the first time. And then by the time you get to share it with the crowd, and you know, in a, in a public space where it’s like that symbiotic relationship between artists and an audience, which is unlike anything else, it’ll be even that much more special.”
She is still in the process of healing, but being vulnerable seems to be something Momsen is starting to feel comfortable with after a lifetime in the spotlight.
“Some days, it feels like it’s easy and it feels fine. And then some days, it feels like taking out a scab. If you pick out it too far, you’ll end up bleeding all over the floor again. So, it’s a day-by-day process. But I am mostly focused on the album at the moment. At the end of the day, I think it’s a very hopeful record, like a message that I obviously would love to spread into the world that there is hope after darkness. I think that that’s actually something that’s very strangely relevant for the time that we’re all living in right now. And we could all use a little help.”
– Death By Rock And Roll is out now and available to purchase.