Femme on Fire: Taylor Momsen

By Vanessa Butler

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It would be an understatement to say that Taylor Momsen went through hell to get this album out. The aptly named Going to Hell, The Pretty Reckless’ second studio album, was being recorded at Water Music Recording Studios in Hoboken, New Jersey when the studio was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. Lots of equipment and recordings were lost, and the band had to rerecord a lot of the songs they had been working on at the time. The album was finally released March 18th on Razor & Tie; now Taylor Momsen sits down with us to talk about the songs, the story behind the album cover and more.

Playboy.com: I like that the video for “Heaven Knows” is kind of a throwback. It’s something that I would’ve seen on MTV when I was growing up. Can you tell me a bit about the story behind the track?

Momsen: Thank you! That’s what I was going for! I was going for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” meets The Wall. We filmed the video over the course of two days. I codirected it with Jon J., who is a new person that I work with. Pretty much it’s a social commentary on what is going on in the world today as well as what went on in the past. Lots of imagery and metaphors were thrown in, lots of subtle details that probably aren’t noticed on first watch. But the more you look into the things going on in the background, it’s pretty much all there in the video.

Playboy.com: Yeah, I think that’s what I enjoyed about it. Back in the day you’d re-watch videos over and over again on the video flows, but nowadays it’s just massive budgets and money porn!

Momsen: Yeah, this is not like that. [laughs] It’s very thought out! I’m so glad you noticed.

Playboy.com: You guys have gone through so much shit to get this album out that you must be pretty anxious to get it out. Is there any track in particular you’re dying to unleash?

Momsen: I’m excited for the whole record… so all of them? If I had to pick one, I'd say at the moment "Sweet Things” is definitely one of my favorites. We played “Sweet Things” live a little bit on our last tour, but I’m excited for people to hear the actual recording of it. The track “House on a Hill” is pretty epic. The whole record is written to be listened to front to back. It really has common themes that run throughout and tells a story when put together, so it’s hard to pick songs out individually. But we certainly went through a lot to make this and I think that it shows and is reflective of the time spent on it.

Playboy.com: You said that there are recurring themes throughout the album. Is that how you write? Or do you write things separately?

Momsen: Well as a writer, at least for me, you’re always writing, so it’s actually the songs themselves that are dictating where they're going. When you go in to write something, you don’t go in with the intent, but as you’re writing a record it seems to naturally start to develop and start to get created. So the songs start to create the thing and then you kind of roll with that. But that’s the kind of thing that’s interesting about records, how they're a story. This record in particular really captures a moment in time and that’s reflected in the songs.

Playboy.com: It’s been a few years since your debut album; there must be some major differences between Light Me Up and Going to Hell!

Momsen: Yes and no. It’s differently done, more mature. I’m five years older and I’ve been around the world at this point, so touring the world definitely changed my perspective on not only my own life but everything else too. I think that it’s reflected in this record. It sounds more serious… Essentially what it comes down to is that I’m not 15 anymore, I sound more serious! [laughs] As funny as it is, that’s the truth. The things that I’m writing about now are more thoughtful than what I was writing about at 15. I definitely have learned a lot more about the world than I knew at 15 and I think that you can hear that in Going to Hell.

Playboy.com: You started writing when you were very young, so it must be wild that fans get tattoos of your lyrics on their bodies!

Momsen: It’s the craziest thing ever, and it’s lots and lots of them that are getting these tattoos. I’ve been seeing more and more of them, too. That’s quite the commitment, so all I’ve got to say is thank you. I have to make sure that I’m writing good enough lyrics for you to like it two years later. But seriously, it’s an incredible feeling to know that I’ve created something that people connected to that much that they permanently want to ink onto their bodies. Don’t tattoo my shitty lyrics, only tattoo my good ones! [laughs]

Playboy.com: I really admire your unwavering attitude when it comes to your personal style. How important do you think fashion is to music?

Momsen: I think that fashion and music have always gone hand in hand. Bands like The Clash and The Beatles and Zeppelin all used fashion to help people understand their music and their sound. You have to give an image to go with the sound so people can get it. I have a very direct vision and it tends to evolve and change, obviously, as I do, but it’s always my vision and if it’s not, fuck it!

Playboy.com: You’re constantly having comments thrown at you about the way you dress, most recently over the album cover for Going to Hell. Why do you think people still make a huge deal about women in rock and women’s sexuality?

Momsen: I don’t know, to be honest, because I can see Robert Plant’s fucking dick when I watch old Zeppelin videos and he’s got no shirt on…so as far as I’m concerned he’s been more naked onstage than I have ever been! [laughs] But it’s the same thing as fashion; sexuality is a part of music, because music is so self-emoting. It’s your body, it’s your soul, it’s your everything. Therefore my body is a part of that too. As for the record cover, I think people took it a little bit wrong. To me it was meant to be kind of an iconic piece of art. I specifically didn’t put my face on the record cover. It’s meant to be about the cross and having that make a statement about going to hell. It’s saying that I’ve got nothing. I’ve been stripped of all personal belongings and material possessions because they’re worthless. You come into this world with nothing and you leave this earth with nothing but your soul. Why cover that up with something else?

And fuck, let’s be honest, I just ripped off the Pink Floyd picture and an Eric Clapton album that I love. [laughs] But in the words of Picasso, good artists borrow, great artists steal. So I stole and I redid it. I mean, look up E.C. Was Here. I’m not doing things that haven’t been done before; I’m redoing it in a different way. There are only 12 notes, so everything is going to be repeated in some way, you just have to make it your own and pick up where people you love left off and try to create something new out of that.

Playboy.com: You’ve cited The White Stripes as the band that sparked it all for you after your dad brought you to one of their concerts.

Momsen: This sometimes gets confused, but it was actually my dad that started it all. He brought me to the White Stripes concert. The White Stripes did hit it home for me because it was the first loud rock and roll show I had ever been to so they really took it over the edge, but for me my dad sparked it all the day I came home from the hospital. The day I was born they drove me home listening to The Beatles in the car! But the show was electric, electricity was torqueing through your veins witnessing a live show for the first time and hearing how loud those guitars are and feeling the energy of the audience…I was way into it well before that.

Playboy.com: I admire that you keep your personal life personal and strictly focus on the music. Do you find the instant connection with people on social media daunting?

Momsen: I think it’s a catch-22. Social media is a great tool to use as an artist and as a band in order to connect with your fans and feed them information and let them know what you’re up to. But at the end of the day, the fans have to care about the music, otherwise it doesn’t matter. I’m lucky that my fans don’t prod about my personal life. I’ve said many times that I’m not here to talk about myself, I’m here to write songs and hope they connect to you in some way.

Playboy.com: It seems that the whole rock revival thing hits close to home with your new album. How do you feel about the electronica revival creeping back into music lately?

Momsen: I think that any technology, like the electric guitar, for instance, can be used well or used badly. There’s always been technology in music; it’s just how you use it that makes all the difference. Recording is a form of technology; whether it’s tape or it’s digital, it’s still a form of technology. It’s just the advancements that have changed how it’s done. I think if you’re using technology to create your art, that’s great, but art doesn’t come from technology. It has to stem from something greater than a computer. You can’t let the computer make your art for you. And there are some artists that do, and some artists that don’t. Like Muse uses it really well. They use it to create such an art form that you don’t even notice they’re integrating so much technology into it. And then there’s other acts that…don’t do it quite so well. [laughs]

Playboy.com: What’s in store for 2014?

Momsen: Lots of touring, hopefully some more videos. We’re getting ready to leave for Europe to start the giant tour. So it’s lots of touring for Going to Hell, lots of press, videos, all that crap. We’re starting to work on the next record right now because we’ve had so much time since Going to Hell so I’ve been sitting around and I’m already ready to go back into the studio!


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