Sitting in the soft-lit studio of Hoboken's legendary Water Music Recorders (the studio used by everyone from Beyonce to Sonic Youth), with cigarette in hand and perfectly smokey-lined eyes, The Pretty Reckless frontwoman Taylor Momsen is the quintessential rock'n'roll bad-ass. She's come a long way from her actress days, with her band (comprised of Momsen, guitarist Ben Phillips, drummer Jamie Perkins, and bassist Mard Damon) set to debut their sophomore album, Going to Hell, this August, and having toured the world with the music icons like Marilyn Manson and Guns N' Roses. And yeah, it's become her life--when asked what she's doing when she's not writing, performing, or recording music she replies, "writing, performing or recording music," with a laugh. As she played us a few top secret tracks from the new album (each one better than the next,) we chatted with the actress-turned-musician about getting a rush in the studio, proving she's more than just a bored actress, being frustrated with the state of rock these days.
How has the band evolved from when it first started in 2009?
In a lot of ways. It's very original and definitely heavier, and it's a very adventurous record. We just put out our first song, "Follow Me Down," and I think that kind of gives you a taste in terms of the direction we're going towards. This record has a lot of variety in a very different way; our sound has evolved into something that I don't think people have heard before.
What was the writing process like on this album?
It always starts with a song, every song is written on acoustic guitar. So if a song isn't good just on acoustic then you need to work it more; we don't like to rely on production. So it starts with the song and then we go into the studio. The torturous part is the writing laughs], that's where you sit down and just kill yourself. Then you come into the studio and that's when it becomes fun and you see everything start to come to life. Each song starts in a different place so there's no direct process.
Was there anything you learned from your first album Light Me Up that you applied to Going To Hell?
Touring the world for over two years and that experience alone and physically seeing the world and not just reading about it in a book definitely changes your perception of how you view the world. Really, how you view everything. That's definitely reflected in this album and in the writing.
There are a lot of heavy themes on this album. Does it ever feel strange to write such emotional, challenging material and then release that to the public?
I think when we first released a song it was definitely a little bit of hesitance of, well okay, I'm putting my life out into the world, how are people going to take this? But you learn very quickly that you can't think of it like that. As soon as you start to bend for any reason, whether it be for fans or for corporate America or for anything like that, you start to lose why you do it in the first place. I make music for myself. I like writing songs. I'm going to make my art the way I see it and if that resonates with people, then fantastic.
Which is funny, because you also seem very attentive towards fans; there aren't many bands who release new material every week, as you do with Hell Mondays.
Over the past two years there's been a bit of tragedy: The studio flooded and we lost all our gear and all of our recordings. That definitely put a giant setback in the making of this record and finishing it, so it was a real bummer. Now that the record is done it seemed like a good time to interact with our fans more and being like, "Hey sorry! We've been dealing with a lot of shit and we can't wait for you guys to hear it!" So, every Monday, whether it's a leak of a new song or photographs, we just try to give them something because you can't exist without a fan base. We had kept them in the dark too long.
So when Hurricane Sandy hit did you really lose everything?
The entire studio was completely under water. It was really brutal. And it really sucked because we were in a place where everything was smooth and rolling and we had to re-record everything. But I love recording.
Do you think there's a lack of your "what you see is what you get" in rock music these days?
I don't think there's a lot of it. Especially a couple years ago it was really all electronic. It's starting to come back around more with musicians who are actually playing guitars [laughs]. The tides turn, music goes in waves in terms of what's popular, and the biggest thing I've learned is to stick to what you do best and hopefully the tides will turn [for] your benefit. If you try to follow a fad or trend you're just going to end up failing. There's no bending.
When you debuted your first album, you were still an actress who was considered to be doing music on the side. Now you're a musician first and foremost. How does it feel now that people having stopped talking about that period of your life?
It feels good. Acting was always like a day job that I needed to pay the bills. There was really no transition for me at all, other than I didn't have to work three jobs and could just focus on music. As far as the public's perception of me, it's definitely turned over the past few years--we've toured with Manson and Evanescence! It takes time for people's perception to change. It's definitely skewed way towards music than it was in the beginning because people are starting to actually get it; this isn't just a fad, it's my life, body and soul, committed [laughs].
What's in the future for The Pretty Reckless?
We're finishing the last-minute touches on the record and then we start touring in August. We're playing the main stage at Reading and Leeds Festival which I am extremely excited about because it's, like, the goal!
Visit theprettyreckless.com for more info.