Let it be said, Taylor Momsen did not bring up Courtney Love. Nor did she have anything to say on Miley Cyrus. In interview, the panda-eyed Lost Girl and prolific wearer of over-the-knee socks comes across as disconcertingly sweet, hardworking and focused to a degree that would sicken her Leaving Cert-aged contemporaries.. The eighteen-year-old has racked up an impressive CV of acting work, including working with Gus Van Sant on Paranoid Park and a long-running role as Jenny on series Gossip Girl, a role from which she only departed earlier this year. Not that she’s taking a break; having fronted her band The Pretty Reckless since 2008, this summer sees take to the road, landing at Oxegen in July to promote their debut album, Light Me Up. Croaky and melodious, and full of adolescent insouciance and despair, it’s an impressive body of work, leading one to believe Momsen is perhaps not so much a Bad Girl as a good girl misconstrued for wanting to do things her own way. Still, we interviewed her to find out for sure, and to talk tampon strings, insomnia and tabloid intrusion .
Oi there Taylor! First things first; is the album title ‘Light Me Up’ a response to critics saying that you need to lighten up?
(Giggles) No, no.. it’s more of a thing we decided on early on. Naming the record was probably the easiest part of the whole process. Someone just threw the title out early and it just fit. It seemed a good name for our very first record, like we’re only just lighting up the fire, just starting out.
Heidi Montag famously recorded a song that you wrote when you were eight years old- does the album have any more (very) early efforts on it?
I was never even aware of her recording my song. It had been recorded and released by the time someone told me. And I was like, I never wrote Heidi Montag a song!’ I’d written the thing forever ago. It’s hard to keep track of cover version, though of course it’s great to hear other artists singing my songs. But for Light Me Up its all new, none of my old stuff.
You’ve achieved a ridiculous amount for someone so young! How are you managing to do it all and stay sane at the same time?
Oh I don’t know if i am sane. But I love what I do, and that’s really the only way I could do it. I don’t know if people realize, I work twenty four hours a day, everyday. It doesn’t stop. But loving what you do makes it all worthwhile. I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t write songs.
Do execs ever question the fact that you’re in control of all thins and you’re so young? Or is it just a matter of ploughing ahead and not thinking about it?
It’s only really hitting me now how I’m lucky to be so in control of my own music. Whereas with acting and modeling, I got put into them at a very young age. And while I do enjoy them, they’re very much jobs to me. Not to look down on either, but it’s just not the same.
Are your songs a reaction against that lack of control? The song ‘Zombie’ seems to be about getting too deep into something..
Zombie is about something very specific; I was at this place in my life where I was just working all the time and not sleeping. I was an insomniac and couldn’t sleep even if I had the time..I went a little bit mad, and the song is definitely a reflection of that, of being on autopilot and not even knowing what your doing anymore. But you have to break free of that. Though we made the record at least, so in the end it turned out well. But for at least a year I was a fucking walking zombie. I’d get about one hour a night.
You managed to look well rested, at least!
I was exhausted, I think that would be the right word. It definitely added to the all madness around the creation of the album. It contributed to the mood.
It’s weird, you’re the opposite of the old cliché of the actress checking into rehab for exhaustion, when it’s for because of your own work ethic and creativity.. else’s vision..
It works out rewarding in the end. The record is very much a reflection of my outlook on life, and to have people hear it and respond to it -and actually like it- is the best feeling on the planet. It’s different to anything I’ve ever done; with films and TV shows you’re conveying someone else’s vision, I never had any say in the scripts. So to have that creative control was it felt pretty awesome. It’s incomparable, really.
Has the reaction to The Pretty Reckless been different outside of America?
Absolutely. We love touring in Europe and the UK. The record has been out there far longer than it has been in America. I think America is only just starting to even realize I have a band. It’s only just in its starting stages in the States, while in Europe we’ve just sold out a tour, and people are able to sing every word back at me.
Which do you find more scary or exciting, acting for camera or performing in front of a crowd?
I never think of either of them as scary, I don’t really get stage fright. But performing, without a doubt, is a lot more exciting. Weirdly enough the stage is one of my comfort zones. I’m quite a shy person, but I feel at home on stage, and in the studio as it’s a small place with only people I know.
I doubt people expect you to be shy. A cursory Google shows you have a bit of a record for outraging people..
The tabloids like to take the smallest thing and spin it way out of proportion so its fun to read. It’s more like fictional entertainment than journalism, though I think people know that its fake and just for effect. I don’t even read what people say because its just not real, and what can I do about it? Nothing really shocks me anymore. I always joke that once there’s a picture of your tampon string on the internet, you have to just give up and not care anymore.
Or you can manipulate it to your advantage, like one Courtney Love..
That’s another of those things! I mean, I never said I was a fan of Hole. My influences are a lot of things, but they’re not Hole. I mean I love Nirvana, but I also like the Beatles, Soundgarden, Pink Floyd, Oasis… I’m a big classic rock fan. but Hole is something that other people came up with.
What was it like working with Madonna for her Material Girl line?
I got to work very closely with her and her daughter on set and on the day of the launch, but it was all over one very busy, very work-orientated day. We had one day to get the entire campaign shot. But it was a great experience, and she really was one of the first to push boundaries and make outraging people a part of her career.
You also modeled for Galliano Girl; it must have been disappointing when the whole thing was called off after Galliano’s public meltdown.
Its weird, we’re always on the road- I don’t even have a computer- so I never really know what’s going on in the outside world. So I never even know about the whole thing till afterwards. I’ve not even seen the video or had the chance to even form an opinion on the incident.
As this is our America Issue, we wanted know: what’s the best and worst thing about being an American?
Oh I don’t know.. I love New York City. I’ve been a lot of places- not all the places, so it’s hard to say it’s the best place in the world when you’ve not seen them all properly, but I really do love it. It really is raw, it has an energy different to other cities. I think of New York as the polar opposite to LA, dark instead of sunny, with all those tall buildings and darkness and shadows New York is one of the best things about America. With the worst.. I can’t really say. It’ll be different for every person.
Let’s just say Miley Cyrus..
I have to go now.
Originally published in Totally Dublin, June 2011