Child actress turned shake-up singer, Taylor Momsen, ain’t trying to be nobody’s role model
All clothes Taylor’s own
Good-girl-gone-bad, shock artist, temptress with a penchant for provocation, outspoken wild child or downright diva… You name it, Taylor Momsen has been labelled it. For a girl so often linked to controversy – whether it’s naked stage antics, or that tampon string photo – the first thing that strikes me about the 21-year-old actress, model and band-leader (she fronts grunge ensemble The Pretty Reckless) is her raw honesty. “I don’t like to look at myself as a role model, because I’m making mistakes all the time. I’m crazy,” the St Louis girl tells me. “Don’t imitate me kids, I’m not a role model, I’m just a kid in a band who’s still figuring it out.”
As we speak, she’s sitting on her tour bus somewhere on Veterans Memorial Highway, heading from Las Vegas to Denver. After spending almost three years honing the band’s second album, Going to Hell, Momsen’s “never-ending tour” is very much in motion. She’s used to it all, though: Momsen has been in the spotlight since the age of two, booked by Ford modelling agency for a few cutesy commercial gigs as a toddler, before her first major role in 2000’s Jim Carrey vehicle The Grinch at five. Later, her part as good girl tunred bad Jenny Humphrey in Gossip Girl propelled her to fame.
But child stardom and the cost of fame don’t come cheap, she says. “I don’t have a lot of friends,” admits Momsen, candidly. “I’m a very isolated person, not necessarily by choice, but I pick my friends very carefully. The cool thing about touring is that I live with all of them, I get to live on a bus with my makeshift, fucked-up family.”
Now a seasoned crowd-teaser, Momsen sure knows how to work a room – whether it means flashing her duct-taped nipples or frolicking on stage in towering stripper heels. At least that was until ‘Recklace unveiled the video for “Heaven Knows” – the album’s lead single, which sees “Smells Like Teen Spirit” riffs colliding with a darkly haunting Pink Floyd’s The Wall-esque choir. The February-launched short saw Momsen ditch the dark warpaint and dungeon-wear for unabashed nudity. When the big “reveal” comes, her privacy is protected by a bold black cross pointing downwards.
In her debut filmmaking foray, visuals were handled by Momsen herself. “I’m always involved in the videos, I just finally got the credit for it this time,” she laughs. “I use religion as a metaphor a lot. It’s in my common vernacular. I was raised Catholic, but it’s a metaphor that’s been used in rock ’n’ roll for so long. Heaven, hell, good, evil – very simple concepts that I’m expanding on. I’m not a satanist though, I’m more spiritual than religious. But if you’re telling me I’m doing something more controversial than Robert Plant, you’re fucking crazy.”
The album’s recording process was by no means plain sailing. “We went through a lot to make this record, a lot of tragedy and unpleasantness,” she concedes. “We had the hurricane [Sandy] wipe out the studio, taking everything with it. I can’t milk it too much, as a lot of people had it worse than us. But it took our guitars and all of our custom-built studio equipment. We were rolling really fast and it just shut everything down.”
Then, just as the band had regrouped, the wife of Going To Hell’s producer Kato Khandwala passed away. “She was like a mother to everyone,” Momsen says, glassy eyed. “The album is dedicated to her. I don’t want to get too into it, but none of us are over that.” Despite the deathly eye makeup, the scorned forward stares and the period play, Momsen is grounded, refreshingly honest and petal-like in her sensitivity. “I write these songs for myself, because I like writing music,” she reflects. “When you start to see people connecting with it, that’s the highest compliment you can get as a songwriter. The main thing was being honest, bare and exposed. The idea is that you come into this world with nothing but your soul, and leave with nothing but your soul. That’s what’s real to me.”
Words: Brooke McCord