Though she came into the public consciousness through her roles in How The Grinch Stole Christmas and on Gossip Girl, Taylor Momsen’s not exactly a pristine pop princess. In fact, she’s a 17-year-old attention-getting amalgam of torn thigh-high fishnets, raccoon eye makeup, and pretty adamant pro-masturbation views. Combine all that with her fairly decent songwriting ability, and you’ve got yourself a rock ’n’ roll frontwoman—in this case, for The Pretty Reckless, a cock-rock outfit with a nasty attitude.
The band is on tour now and will make its way through Chicago with a sold-out show at the Beat Kitchen March 10. Before all that strutting badassery, though, The A.V. Club caught up with Momsen to find out whom, specifically, she’s influenced by during all those growls and shrieks.
Taylor Momsen: They’re my favorite band of all time. They were my first influences and they’re still the biggest. John and Paul, man. Lennon’s just unbelievable. He’s the reason I started writing songs in the first place.
My dad’s actually a giant rock ’n’ roll fan and got me into most of these bands. I’d listen to vinyl records on the player in the basement and the first one was The Beatles. I could hum Beatles songs before I could talk—not very well, but sort of. It’s on video. I grew up listening to them and that started at a very young age.
The A.V. Club: Do you have a favorite Beatles song or record?
TM: I think Abbey Road was the first I heard, so I have to put that at the top. Magical Mystery Tour was the first CD I bought. I think the first songs I knew were “Strawberry Fields” and “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.” My dad would sing those and spin me around in the air. Those are good memories.
TM: My dad turned me on to them at a young age. I think Robert Plant is the quintessential frontman—just the way he moves. His voice is superhuman. He’s a fuckin’ god, vocally. He’s had a big influence on me as a frontwoman, I think. We’re both blondes.
AVC: How do you think he’s directly influenced your performance style?
TM: I try not to emulate anyone directly, but I grew up watching Zeppelin DVDs, so it’s in there a little I think. I naturally took to it, but I never sat there practicing moves or anything.
Jimmy Page is great, too. We have Zeppelin DVDs on rotate in the back of the bus to get psyched for our shows. They’re just great.
AVC: Have you seen Plant and Page live?
TM: I mean, live on DVD, but not in person. I saw that movie, It Might Get Loud, and I just thought, “Man [Page] is still so fuckin’ wicked cool.” Like, holy shit, is he cool. Just quintessentially cool. You just can’t say they’re not so good.
TM: My dad listened to him a lot when I was growing up. He’s an amazing songwriter. I love songwriters, as one myself, and that’s always influenced how I write. Like, when I write a song, the song comes first before production. Everything is written on an acoustic guitar so you can strip away everything from it and have it be equally as entertaining and good without the bells and whistles. Dylan’s one of the quintessential artists who can do that. He’s so prolific and unique, and his voice is so—it took me a minute when I was very young to get into it, but once I got it … he’s brilliant.
AVC: Did you watch his performance on the Grammys?
TM: No. We’re on tour and our cable goes in and out, and I don’t even have a computer. I’ll have to look it up on a borrowed one. Was it good?
AVC: The performance was very, “Look, I’m old, and I’m going to say what I want and wear what I want, and you’re going to like me anyway.”
TM: I think any of the people I’ve named have careers that last. I think the ability to make music for your entire life and have it still be relevant, and have people connect with what you’re saying—that’s all you can ask as an artist.
TM: He’s great. I chopped up my hair a few years ago trying to look like Ziggy Stardust. I liked it for a bit, but then I regretted it and wanted my long hair back. He’s just amazing and androgynous. He’s one of the quintessential people who’s done something shockingly different and strange and so liked by the masses. Plus, he has great songs.
TM: He’s great. Who doesn’t like Nirvana? No one can sing Nirvana songs like Kurt Cobain can. That’s the first thing. He’s just amazing. His songs are very brilliant. I’m sad to not have him be here anymore. I would have loved to see him in concert. I mean, he started an epidemic, a revolution in his own way that I’ll respect for life.
TM: Jagged Little Pill is a great record through and through. She’s a great performer and a great writer, and I love her.
TM: He’s vocally just amazing. I’m a giant Soundgarden and Audioslave fan. I saw him solo in concert two years ago in New York, and that was really cool. Definitely a highlight night for me that I’ll never forget.
TM: I love Pink Floyd. You can put on those records and listen to them over and over and over again.
The White Stripes
TM: I’m a big fan of theirs. Jack White, especially. They were one of the first concerts I ever went to in person. My dad took me when I was 8 or 9. It was an outdoor venue when I was still living in St. Louis, I think. It made a big impact on me, because it was the first live rock show I’d ever seen. I’d been watching DVDs my whole life and I’d seen it all on TV, but to be there in person, to have that impact of a live band and that energy… it was overwhelmingly loud. I just knew I didn’t want to do anything but play in a band.
TM: I’m a giant Who fan. Pete Townsend! The windmill! He’s so great. Like, he’s just going at it every time you see him.
TM: I love Oasis. I love Noel Gallagher. He’s a great songwriter. I’d love to be able to write a song with him at some point.
TM: Right now, I’m in a serious Neil Young phase. Usually I have the same 30 bands I’m into, and then I just rotate through them, but right now it’s just obsessively Neil Young. I’m playing his records over and over and over again and pissing everyone off because it’s so constant. Those and Jackson Browne’s Running On Empty, because that’s the quintessential road record. You gotta play that when you’re on tour.
AVC: It seems like your tastes kind of skew a little old for your age.
TM: I’m definitely into more classic bands. Like, I love blues. I love Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson. That’s where it all started. Rock ’n’ roll and the blues go hand in hand! But then I’m also a DMX fan. I love him. He’s so fucking badass. I’d love to do a song with him! That would be wicked cool.
AVC: What about DMX are you specifically into?
TM: He’s just so badass. Like, holy badass! He’s so real, and I love the way he writes. There’s no sugarcoating on DMX’s shit. It’s down and dirty and raw, and I love that about music in general. When it’s very honest and there’s no sugarcoating for any other reason, like it’s not made for a market or the radio.
Our record’s very much like that. We went in to write it with no intention of writing for a sound, or for the radio, or a market. It was just a direct vision of what I wanted to do, and now we’re trying to find a place in today’s musical world. There’s not a lot of rock ’n’ roll happening, so we’re trying to find where we fit in or don’t fit in, whatever. People seem to like it, though. It opened at number one on the rock charts on iTunes, right behind The Beatles. I’ll take defeat to The Beatles. I wasn’t even expecting it to chart at all, really. We have the best fans.
AVC: If you could model your career off of one of these artists, who would it be?
TM: I think a combination of all of them. It’s too hard to pick one, because I want to do my own thing and make my own path. I want to have my own career and not emulate one person. The goal as a musician, I think, is to be able to make music as a living for the rest of your life. As long as you’re able to write great songs and have the ability to make records and tour, well, as long as I can do that, I’ll be the happiest person in the world.