Few can command a stage like Taylor Momsen. The Pretty Reckless singer is currently headlining festivals across the country, and as a fierce female frontwoman leading in a male-dominated genre, she has changed how fans relate to rock and roll.
The singer’s love for Chris Cornell and Kurt Cobain is evident in her sultry, powerful vocals. “Soundgarden and Nirvana were everything to me,” Momsen tells INLOVE before her photoshoot. A Beatles fan at heart, she recalls hearing “Strawberry Fields Forever” and how it changed her life.
“I’ve always said rock and roll represents freedom,” Momsen shared. “Freedom from everyday life, freedom from restraints, freedom from suppression. It’s where my imagination can thrive. It’s how I express myself with no boundaries. Plus, loud guitars and drums are awesome.”
Momsen started writing at a young age and had numerous songs compiled when she began making her first record. “When I was 15, I wrote ‘Make Me Wanna Die.’ I always credit that as a breakthrough for me with writing,” the rhythm guitarist said. “I feel like it was the first real song I wrote. It has stood the test of time, and I still enjoy playing it over a decade later.”
Sari: In other interviews, you’ve talked about going into the recording studio with James Horner and working on “Where Are You Christmas” for your role in the Grinch. What did you feel in that moment that made you want to do this for the rest of your life?
Taylor Momsen: It literally made the recording studio my home. To this day, the studio is where I’m happiest and most comfortable. It’s the most important place in my life. It set into motion everything I do now. It was magical to sing into a microphone at a young age and hear myself back through the speakers. I’ll never forget it.
Sari: The character of “Cindy Lou Who” taught us all some valuable lessons. Is there any advice or words of wisdom she doled out that you appreciate as an adult?
Taylor Momsen: I think we all have a Grinch in us, and she’s there to remind you to look for the good things in life when the darkness creeps in. It’s a constant yin and yang. You can’t have one without the other; it’s all about balance. The dark and light, and the dream that the light will prevail in the end, is the hope that we all can relate to.
Sari: In your time on Gossip Girl, your character had a love for fashion. What do you love about fashion that inspires you in real life?
Taylor Momsen: I grew up always needing to express myself. It’s a constant need for an outlet for my imagination. Whether writing songs or creating a look, it’s all about being creative and using that to express how I feel at any given time. Fashion is the outside appearance of my inner feeling. Or, I can use it to change my mood. It’s fun for the imagination.
Sari: How would you describe your everyday style?
Taylor Momsen: I’ve always described it as how I’m feeling at the moment. It’s really a hodgepodge of the palette I have to work with. My everyday style usually is relaxed, baggy, and comfortable.
Sari: What are your thoughts on the Gossip Girl reboot?
Taylor Momsen: I love Stephanie [Savage] and Josh [Schwartz], and I’m so happy for them to be able to continue the show they created. It’s fun to see it advance to the times. Things change so quickly these days, so they had a lot of clever things to do to the template of the show.
Sari: After forming The Pretty Reckless in 2009, your music started to appear in TV and film. Was it a different feeling for you hearing your music on screen than it was booking a role as an actor?
Taylor Momsen: It felt like the right thing. I never felt comfortable acting, and as soon as the music was there, it finally made sense. It’s always fun to hear your song in a scene; it gives it a different character than you originally intended when writing it. My songs are so specific, so it’s sometimes completely different from the intent of the song, but it’s always interesting.
Sari: Would you ever return to acting to play a musician?
Taylor Momsen: I don’t think I’d return to acting, especially to play a musician. I get to do that in real life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Sari: How would you summarize the band’s transformation and where you are today?
Taylor Momsen: Just a constant progression of writing and producing. We’ve written and produced all of our music, so we’re always learning and growing. The goal is always to be better than what we’ve done before, and we strive to achieve that. It’s a rollercoaster ride. Constantly learning and growing; as your experiences change, so does the music.
Sari: 2021’s Death by Rock and Roll was really a culmination of everything you’ve been through. What did it mean to you to put it out in the world when you did?
Taylor Momsen: It was our farewell to our best friend and compatriot [producer Kato Khandwala]. We poured all of our heart and soul into saying goodbye and, at the same time, used it to move on. It was a major turning point in our lives, creatively and physically – the end of a chapter and the start of a new one. Or maybe, in this case, the end of the whole book and the start of a new one. Who knows? The music will guide us as it always has.
Sari: You also broke records with that album when you became the first female-fronted band to have seven No. 1 singles. What does that accomplishment mean to you?
Taylor Momsen: I try not to let those things matter too much. As thankful as I am for the recognition, the real accomplishment is the songs. The creation of something meaningful is the goal, always.
Sari: This led you to last summer’s tour with Halestorm. You’ve toured with other powerhouses before, like Evanescence’s Amy Lee. You’re three of the top female voices in rock and roll. I really just want to know what it’s like when the three of you are in a room together. What do you talk about?
Taylor Momsen: We’re all just people working hard like everyone else. The camaraderie mostly comes from all of us being in bands and doing the same grind. When you’re a touring rock band, you all know the drill and share the same experiences, so that’s really where the bonding comes from.
Sari: Other Worlds came out in Nov. 2022. It’s got some covers and some remixes; it’s really a stripped-back version of your music, a new sound for fans. What made you want to do an acoustic/B-sides EP like this?
Taylor Momsen: It came from lockdown when we were all forced to stay home and make music. By the time that was over, I’d amassed a group of songs, and I thought people should hear this, so we put it out. It’s a collection of songs that just came to be out of necessity. I think because they were recorded at home, there’s a comforting tone to them. I hope people find it that way.
Sari: What would you like to do on your next album that you haven’t done before?
Taylor Momsen: I have no idea. It’s always interesting to see where the muses will take you. You never know the destination ’til you’re there.
Sari: Who is your dream artist or band you’d like to tour with?
Taylor Momsen: I’ve played with so many of them already, but really any of the classics. The Stones, The Who – I’d love to watch those bands every night.
Sari: When you think of being INLOVE, what does that mean to you?
Taylor Momsen: Being INLOVE to me means not being able to live without something or someone; it’s part of your soul, and without it, you are incomplete.
Words by Sari Cohen