It’s been quite some time since we’ve heard from US rock act The Pretty Reckless. While many of us remember their commercially successful track, ‘Make Me Wanna Die’ from their 2010 debut Light Me Up, the band followed that up with two more records, Going To Hell (2014) and Who You Selling For (2016) which saw the four piece playing on stages with some of rock’s greatest heavy hitters, Guns ‘n’ Roses and Soundgarden.
Then, in 2017 tragedy struck the band not once but twice. Losing Soundgarden/Audioslave’s Chris Cornell and shortly after the band’s longtime producer and dear friend Kato Khandwala in a tragic motorcycle accident sent frontwoman Taylor Momsen spiralling downwards on a path of darkness.
In late 2018, Momsen finally saw the light and reignited her passion for music (after rediscovering some of her favourite records!) and the words just came pouring out, forming The Pretty Reckless’ brand new album, Death By Rock and Roll (our review here). A record inspired by some intense grief, loss and darkness, The Pretty Reckless rebirthed out of the ashes and it was quite awe-inspiring getting to know the ever so lovely Taylor Momsen chatting below about how she found the light again out of the darkness and chaos…
Congrats on your new release, Death By Rock & Roll – your first album in five years (since 2016’s Who You Selling For). While many in commercial music believe that rock & roll is dead, we definitely don’t agree with that and reckon rock is always ever-evolving. But what’s your take on this?
I mean, I’m with you. I don’t think that rock and roll can ever die. Rock and roll is first of all one of the original art forms. It stems from the blues, and it encompasses every genre of music. That’s why it’s so powerful. It’s so freeing because it is blues, it is pop, jazz, funk, hip hop at times and folk and country. It’s all of those things in one and so I don’t think that it can die. I think it’s too primal and it’s too important.
It’s soul food, you know? It’s something that you know can feed you in a way that other art forms can’t, and even though it’s not always necessarily at the forefront of the mainstream, you have to remember that that’s where it was born. It wasn’t born in the mainstream. It was born underground. It was born for the underdogs. That’s the power of it, it confronts you on topics and subject matters that are not necessarily always easy to talk about or deal with, but you know you can in rock and roll because there’s no limitation. That’s the ultimate freedom, so I don’t think rock and roll can die. I think it’s just resting right now and it’s gonna come back bigger and stronger than ever and you know, hopefully we can be a part of that.
Yeah, that’s it. A lot of the tracks on the album really does bare your soul too Taylor, but more importantly it pays respects to your close friend and late producer Kato Khandwala. Was this tragic event the catalyst and beginning of album #4, or had you already been working on ideas with him?
It was the beginning and the end of it. I mean, I had written before we were on tour with Soundgarden which was incredible and that obviously ended very tragically. As you know, the passing of Chris Cornell hit me extraordinarily hard and I kind of stepped away from the public eye after that to recoup and process and get my feet back on the ground. I had started to write a few songs during that time period and I was calling Kato and saying that we gotta get back in the studio.
I don’t know what these songs were for, I don’t know if they’re for a record or an EP or if they’re for anything at all. It might totally suck, but we gotta move forward. But as soon as we put these plans in motion, I got the phone call that Kato died in a motorcycle accident, and that was just kind of the nail in the coffin for me. I spiralled downward very quickly into darkness, depression and substance abuse and everything that comes with grief, loss and that kind of trauma. I didn’t really know how to get out of it, I didn’t know if I wanted to and I just kind of gave up on life and on living. I felt very content at the time, fading into nothing and I think that was probably the scariest part is that I was fine with dying, but still breathing I guess.
So to make a long story short, it was music that really brought me back to life. I finally got to a place where I needed it, and so I started by listening to albums that I loved and that led to me picking up a guitar which led to me writing this album, which really was just this kind of outpouring of words. This record just wrote itself whether I wanted to or not. It just flowed out of me in a kind of a stream of consciousness where I couldn’t control it. In one way it was very cathartic and very therapeutic and I think that everything I had been feeling and dealing with and repressing from myself just came to the surface and overflowed into this album. I think that sudden influx of inspiration really creates for something special in it, you know?
It really makes this album a very kind of complete story in this complete kind of circle, and that captures a time period in my life, and that’s something that’s very rare as an artist to get something like that. It’s a blessing and a curse. It’s a double edged sword I guess, but that’s really where this record was born. Born out of the ashes and we had to rise to the occasion like a phoenix. I feel like this album is very much a rebirth for the band in a lot of ways.
You’ve worked with some monumental rock icons like Soundgarden and Audioslave/Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello. To collaborate musically with such an icon like Morello though – did he impart any wise words of wisdom during the process?
Umm, not really. I’m not exactly one for advice in the first place, I tend to kind of make my own mistakes and hopefully learn from them, but I mean getting to work with Tom and having him be a part of the song was just absolutely incredible.
He’s a one of a kind and you know his sound is so unique to him. I couldn’t picture anyone else playing that solo but him and he just knocked it out of the park like, he comes in wailing in all the best ways. It’s everything you know as a fan that I could possibly want from a Tom Morello guitar solo. So I really owe him for that one. He really took the song to the next level.
Yeah, I agree with you there. That song is an anthem and one of my favourites on the record. Similar to your breakthrough song, ‘Make Me Wanna Die’ back in the day, which was a massive hit commercially back in the day and was the song to set you up for the band you are today. Have you ever felt any pressure since to produce another commercial success during the making of Death By Rock & Roll?
Um no, not really. I don’t think of music like that. I feel like everyone measures success differently and you know, it’s obviously a huge honour and a huge compliment to have commercial success.
To have number one songs, high chart ranking positions and breaking records is a huge compliment and certainly not something I take for granted, but that’s not why I do it, you know. I write and I make music for myself because I need to. It’s my identity, I don’t know who I’d be if I didn’t. Which is why in that time period where I wasn’t making music, I was just so lost because I had let go of music for a short time, and when I finally found it again, I found myself.
To me, success is creating something that I’m genuinely proud of and that I can take a step back from and look at and listen to and go, I made that, I love that I’m proud of that, and then you share it and then whatever it does after that is out of your control. You hope it does well and you hope that people connect to it and relate to it and appreciate it for everything you put into it but you can’t control that side of it.
Well, you’ve definitely come out the other side brighter and hopefully stronger. Is there any advice that Taylor in 2021 would love to tell the Taylor back when she was going through that dark, challenging period of her life?
I don’t know, I probably won’t listen to myself because I don’t like to take advice. *laughs*
I mean, I would probably just tell myself, as cliche as it may sound, “Dude, it gets better. You might not want to hear that right now and you might not believe it, but it will get better. Even on your darkest days when you can’t see a speck of light, eventually you will. So just continue to hang in, and know that it will get better and I think that’s the only thing to tell someone when they’re In a state like that because there’s no right or wrong way to go about it. It’s a personal journey that everyone is going to experience differently, and I had to go through what I went through to get me to where I’m at now.
There’s nothing that I would necessarily change. I just I wish I could have seen the light maybe a little sooner. But I don’t think there’s no skipping it either. That’s the thing about life, there’s no shortcuts. You have to go through it to get to the other side, and that’s gonna take however long it’s gonna take.
Looking back, you appreciate the dark times because it makes the lighter times that much better. You have to look at life in kind of a full circle way. If everything was always sunshine and roses all the time, you wouldn’t even notice it. So you have to appreciate the darkness in order to really appreciate the light. That’s kind of how I see it.
Well, it’s definitely obvious now that music is your true calling. But I guess I just want to bring up a previous chapter in your life. While Gossip Girl was a huge part of your early start in the entertainment business, what’s your thoughts on the reboot idea that’s happening?
I mean, I don’t really have a lot of thoughts on it because I think people are misguided in the sense that they think I know anything about the show. I got the call but I never watched it. So I don’t really actually know that much about it. I don’t think I realised at the time that it was going to be such a cultural phenomenon, and I don’t think I would have noticed that or appreciated it while I was in it because I was in it.
The show started before Twitter was even a thing or Instagram or any of that. Social media was just beginning, so I’m curious to see how they take this new world that we all live in now and transform Gossip Girl, and have it fit into the new 21st century that is now. Looking forward to see what they do with that.
And if the producers hit you up like about making an appearance or The Pretty Reckless making a band appearance, would you be open to it? Or is acting a closed chapter now?
I mean, acting is certainly a chapter that has been closed for a long time. That book has been shut and done and over with. Having said that though, I really do owe the producers of Gossip Girl a lot. They allowed me to leave the show when I asked so I could actually pursue my true passion, which was music. They were very supportive and understanding of that, so if they asked for a favour or something, who knows? Acting is not something I’m pursuing by any means. I can be very clear about that, but I’ve also learnt to never say never to anything.
So what’s the plan for The Pretty Reckless for the rest of this year?
That’s a good question…plans…do we have plans? *laughs* Does anyone have plans?
Well, the album’s obviously out. I’m still kind of taking it day by day right now, as probably a lot of people are. We keep making plans to tour and they keep getting pushed back or cancelled. So I’m sure that will continue to happen when we keep making plans and then hopefully eventually one day they won’t be postponed or cancelled.
But we’ve got more visuals coming out to go along with the record, more singles. We’re going to work on getting live streaming together or some way of playing this album for the fans, even if it’s not in person. I’m mostly just looking forward to getting back in the room with the band and playing and jamming together again.
Sounds awesome! Well, it was super lovely talking to you and getting to know you a little more Taylor. All the best with everything coming up this year (or not!)
Thank you so much. It was a pleasure to talk to you too!
Interview by Tamara May (@citylightstam)
The Pretty Reckless’ new album, Death By Rock and Roll is out now through Century Media/Sony Music Australia. Get it here
The Pretty Reckless – Death By Rock And Roll tracklisting:
1. Death By Rock And Roll
2. Only Love Can Save Me Now (feat. Matt Cameron and Kim Thayil
3. And So It Went (feat. Tom Morello)
5. My Bones
6. Got So High
8. Witches Burn
9. Standing At The Wall
10. Turning Gold
11. Rock And Roll Heaven
12. Harley Darling