By Matt Pais
RedEye music editor
November 1, 2013
Like many popular young female singers these days, Taylor Momsen has been criticized for incorporating sexuality into her performances, photos and videos. The Pretty Reckless singer sees a bit of a double standard there.
“I can see Robert Plant’s [bleep]!” she exclaims of the Led Zeppelin frontman’s sometimes-revealing attire. “I don’t know if anyone is aware of that, but I don’t know why everyone just focuses on women.”
In large sunglasses, an Eric Clapton T-shirt and knees popping out of torn jeans upstairs at the House of Blues before a late October performance, the 20-year-old artist actually looks more like Plant or Kurt Cobain than the controversial musician who wraps a snake around her naked body in the video for the band’s single “Going to Hell.” The hard-rocking cut is the title track to the band’s sophomore album, out March 18.
Momsen—perhaps best known for her time on “Gossip Girl,” though she’s all about music now—says the wardrobe is the only difference between her onstage and offstage personality. That disconnect notwithstanding, it’s good to have a rock band that, as Momsen says, wants to “just crank to 10 and play.”
You said that parents have called the cops during your shows about things being inappropriate. What are they taking issue with?
That was a show somewhere overseas, and a fan jumped onstage and got naked and was dancing and the cops got called. Weirdly I think it was a boy whose dad was like, “This is inappropriate for my son to see” [Laughs].
I’m sure the kid was like (whispering), “Dad, stop!”
(whispers) “Shh, shh, it’s fine!” Whatever. It’s live rock and roll. You never really know what’s going to happen, which is what keeps it entertaining.
There have been so many times with rock bands that you hear people saying, “Mothers, lock up your daughters,” but you don’t often hear, “Mothers, lock up your sons.”
[Laughs] “Mothers, lock up your sons,” yeah. That was a new one for us, but you never know. A family member’s pregnant and it’s her due date today and she’s coming to the show [Laughs], so maybe we’ll have a new experience tonight of water breaking.
You toured with Guns 'N Roses. What did you learn from Axl Rose, for better or worse?
We’ve played with so many people now at this point that really just playing with acts that have been doing it for so long, it really makes you step up your game. Particularly Axl’s voice was just insane. He can go out for two, three hours every night and just wail. And it was like, “OK, I gotta go on before that, so I gotta not suck tonight.” So it definitely makes everyone be better.
Does it take a long time to warm up your voice to get that point or can you turn it on whenever you need it?
[Laughs] I don’t do anything. I don’t have any [techniques]. Everyone always asks me that. I drink a drink and smoke a cigarette and walk on stage. That’s my pre-show ritual.
To get warmed up?
Yeah, if you call that warming up. [Laughs] I pretty much do that anyway, whether it’s a show or not.
Why do you think there aren’t more rock bands out there now that, for lack of a better term, sound like they have some balls?
I don’t know. I think music’s kind of cyclical. I think pop always exists and once in a while, every 10 or 20 years or however long it is, a band comes back in and guitar’s just cooler than everything. Crank it to 10, and it just takes over. There’s definitely a lack of rock bands right now, and rock could definitely use a resurgence, but we hope to be a part of that. It is what it is right now. [Laughs]
It seems like it’s been a long time. You can see from playing Lollapalooza in 2011 that the quantity of actual rock is not there.
Not so much right now, no. All the bands in England and stuff--there’s a few bands coming up, this band called The Strypes, they’re like these 16-year-old kids that are good. They just need to plug in and turn it up. At least playing is coming back into music again. It’s not just all computers. There’s people actually playing instruments again. That’s starting to come back around. Again, just plug it in. [Laughs]
You’re focusing on music, not acting, right now. Maybe it’s because I never watched "Gossip Girl," but I find it silly that you have to continually defend the fact that your job when you were acting was not you and what you do in reality is you. Does that blow your mind time and time again?
It’s a little weird. [Laughs] I guess it makes sense. People see you on television or in tabloids or pictures or whatever and they think they’re seeing you as a person, and they don’t realize that that picture was taken and I’m in a costume. It makes sense, but it’s pretty much gone away. The people coming to shows aren’t asking me about that. They’re here to see a rock show and go nuts.
What’s the most significant way you feel like you’ve changed since the last album?
Well, I’m five years older. [Laughs] I’ve toured almost the entire world at this point. Which definitely affects how you view everything, and I think that’s reflected on this record too. It is, but I can’t talk about it because it's not out yet.
So what’s a way that you're seeing things differently as a result of that?
The world right now is not in a good state to say the least. “Going to Hell,” the song and the record but the song in particular, it's talking about our sins and my sins as a person and our sins as a society and the sins of humanity and how we gotta do something different, man, or the whole place is gonna fall apart. ‘Cause it is right now; it’s all falling apart. It’s all going to [bleeping] hell. [Laughs]
I’m not sure if I’m uplifted that we’re doing something about it or …
Well, someone’s gotta say something. I try to write honestly so …
What can we do to right the ship?
I don’t know. But I will try to make people aware that it is not all glitz and glamor and glitter right now.
Being in the public eye for so long you've’ been quoted many times. Is there anything you've ever said or done that when you think about it now you wish you could take back?
No, I don’t live like that. First of all, I don’t even know how to work a computer so whatever’s written about me or whatever I only hear about it through other interviewers when someone will send me something or show me something. But no, no regrets, man. You can’t take it back, so move forward.
If you could choose to A. never be asked about the acting stuff anymore or B. never be asked about Miley Cyrus anymore, which would you pick?
[Laughs] How about both? Just ask me about the new record. But Miley’s really sweet. She’s actually a good friend of mine, so I have nothing bad to say about her.
What has to happen for society to get over that fixation on female artists’ sexuality?
I don’t think we ever will, especially with the Internet age it’s just something to talk about and it’s an escape for people's real lives to talk about stupid, frivolous drama, which it's fine.
I appreciate you not living with regrets and taking things as they go, but is there a mistake you've made that you learned from that was significant?
I mean, I’ve made plenty of mistakes.
Care to share one and what you learned from that?
Nothing I want to say on camera, how about that. [Laughs] Yes, I’ve learned from some mistakes, but I’m not here to influence a bunch of kids about bad behavior.
How can we differentiate artists who are doing something because that’s who they are and artists who do something because it’s calculated and part of a product?
I think the first thing is write your own [bleeping] songs, man. You don’t need 10 writers to write one line.
Some people do.
Well, then, stop. Write your own songs. As soon as you have a billion people involved in your art, it loses its soul. There is no soul to it. So if you have something to say then say it, but if you don’t then don’t have someone else say it for you.
On Chicago: “The shows are always fun in Chicago. We’ve got a lot of friends and family from here, so it’s always good to see everyone and the shows are great.”
If the “heavier” new record is darker: “Darker’s a subjective word I think. It depends on where you're coming from and what place you’re listening to it. It’s a very thoughtful record. It’s written in the way that it’s meant to be listened to like a Floyd record. From front to back, there’s common themes that go through; it's not just three-minute pop songs. You have the whole picture. We’re looking forward to the record coming out so people will get the full picture of it.”
What she’s listening to: Soundgarden’s new “King Animal”
If she’d want to live through the ‘60s or ‘70s: “Probably the ‘60s. but I love the ‘70s too. I don’t know, both? ‘60s and ‘70s.”
Her favorite place: “Amsterdam’s pretty awesome. London’s amazing. Paris is awesome. The shows in South America were amazing. [Bleeping] Chicago’s the [bleep]. But New York City is probably my favorite place in the world. That’s where I'm from.”
Where she wants to go: “We haven’t been to Africa; we haven’t been to South Africa. We haven’t been to Scandinavia. We haven’t been anywhere warm in a long time! [Laughs]
On people ripping her hair out during shows: “I'll get up in the crowd and that’s super fun, but they always go for the hair. I’m like, 'I’ve got wristbands on, take something else! Why do you got to—it hurts! Stay away from my hair!' [Laughs]”
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U
Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook page.
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC