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Interview: Taylor Momsen Talks Soundgarden, STP’s Singer Search & Collaborating With Legend
By Lauryn Schaffner -
May 4, 2017
This past weekend at Welcome to Rockville, Alternative Nation had the opportunity to speak with Taylor Momsen of The Pretty Reckless after their performance.
The whole band was very friendly and welcoming, with great senses of humor. Taylor and I started off having a very casual and comfortable conversation before I got into questions.
I began by telling her how happy I was to have finally heard “Hangman” live, since it’s my favorite song off the new album, Who You Selling For. She decided to shed some light on where the inspiration for the song came from – a 16th century poem.
“It’s by this guy named Chidiock Tichborne in the 1500s, and it’s a poem I grew up with and Ben [Phillips, The Pretty Reckless guitarist] grew up with. It technically doesn’t have a name – it either goes by Allergy or On the Eve of His Execution. It was to his wife.
He got executed for treason and wrote this poem, and it’s like he suddenly saw his life for the first time because he was gonna be executed – hung – the next day. So the entire chant over the riff is that poem translated into Latin and the bridge is my own verse that I added to his poem.”
Below is Alternative Nation’s full Q&A with Momsen.
So first off, how is it touring with Soundgarden when they’re one of your biggest influences?
Well we’ve only played with them once before and it was in Quebec City. They were amazing and I love Matt Chamberlain who was playing with them at the time, but I’m very excited to see them with Matt Cameron tonight. It’ll be my personal first time seeing Matt Cameron play, and he’s one of my favorite drummers.
Soundgarden is one of the bands that brought us as a group together, we all bonded over the Beatles and Soundgarden. So when we got the call that we were gonna open for them, I didn’t know what to say. I have no words – we are extraordinarily excited and I hope we don’t disappoint their fans.
So Who You Selling For – I wrote a review for it, I’m a big fan – it has a very diverse sound where the songs are all very different. When you guys were writing it, did you intend on making it sound like that or did it kind of just happen that way naturally?
Very naturally. When you write a record or make a song, it takes a minute to look back on it and actually gain perspective, and I think we are just starting to do that now. We kind of unintentionally ended up making kind of a classic rock record.
The new single is “Back to the River” featuring Warren Haynes because we had this southern rock tune that we loved, but it was demanding an amazing slide solo, and who are you gonna call? You call the fucking Allman Brothers, you call Warren Haynes. And he had to listen to it before he said yes, and he heard the song and said he’d love to play on it, and he really elevated it to a whole new level. So it did become a very diverse record.
Writing’s weird. You emote, you write, you think inside your own head…and it’s so yours. Ben and I are the two writers of the band and it’s a very weird thing, you sit inside your own head and you focus. A question that we get asked the most is, “What’s your songwriting process?” And there is no process.
It’s kind of hard to explain because the only common thing that happens, at least for this band, for Ben and I – it requires isolation. We don’t write on the road, you jot down ideas and things always because you’re always thinking and percolating things but the meat of the material comes at home when you’re isolated and you can actually have time with your own thoughts. And when you go to sit down to write a new record, at least for me, I immerse myself in everything art.
I watch great films, read great books like Stephen King, I paint, I sculpt, I swim, run, play guitar, listen to great records – you just try to stick inside your own head and pray that, like a lightning bolt, something’s gonna strike down and hit you and will turn into something. And it’s different every time, some songs are written in five minutes and that’s a magical moment, while some take years of jotting down ideas and lyrics and then putting music to it and seeing where that’s gonna take you, and then eventually you have a song. So it’s different every time and this record kinda…
Yeah. Well we toured Going to Hell for about two and a half years straight. As an artist and a songwriter and someone who constantly needs to be moving forward, it started to kind of destroy us a bit at the end. So now we’re trying to mix it up. So when we got off of touring Going to Hell, Ben and I immediately jumped into writing the new record.
We had our first number one and our second and our third [off that album], and we still love playing them but we needed something fresh to keep us going. So this record was actually written quite quickly, strangely. So we’re trying to switch it up now – tour a little bit, play festivals, get back in the studio, then get back on tour, instead of doing the grinding two-year cycle. Just to keep our minds fresh and clear and not be in this kind of black hole of touring, which it can become.
It sounds crazy because it’s the hardest thing to say to a family member, a friend, an interviewer – to complain about having this as your job. It’s ridiculous, it’s the best job on the planet! I get to go scream into a microphone and crank amps and write songs, and that’s my job! And that’s insane! But if you don’t take a break from it, you start to lose your mind for lack of a better phrase.
Okay, so last question – I know you’re a Grunge fan, would you, if you ever had the time or were approached about it, would you ever consider [singing for] Stone Temple Pilots?
(Giggling) I thought about auditioning for that!
Honestly, I freaked out the rest of the band. I called Mark [Damon, The Pretty Reckless bassist] and Jamie [Perkins, The Pretty Reckless drummer] and was like, “Yeah so I’m gonna go sing for Stone Temple Pilots now and yeah so we’re not touring anymore, sorry guys. This is it, my new gig.” And they bought it for a while! We fuck with each other all the time but I actually had them for a minute. Have they hired a new singer?
No, they still haven’t, they’ve been looking for one for over a year. You should think about it.
I’ll think about it! But I like writing and playing my own songs. I love Stone Temple Pilots, I think they’re fantastic…maybe one show I would sing their songs.
Well thank you very much Taylor!
Thank you so much!