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Taylor Momsen gets pretty candid about her Pretty Reckless writing process


·         Published November 14, 2016 
Updated November 15, 2016

Taylor Momsen and The Pretty Reckless are in the midst of a tour. So as the 23-year-old rocker heads to Niagara Falls this weekend, you know this: She's not doing much writing.

Momsen, who first gained fame as an actress ("Gossip Girl," "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas") but whose pop legacy will certainly be as a musician, saves her writing for home.

That's when, and how, Momsen and guitarist Ben Phillips wrote the Reckless' third album, the just-released "Who You Selling For." They were off tour, chilling and vibing and writing at Momsen's country home or New York apartment. The results included "Take Me Down," the band's fourth No. 1 song.

I talked to Momsen by phone about her writing process. Here are excerpts of our conversation:

Q: I’ve heard you like to be isolated when you write. Did you go you home and shut yourself off for this album?

A: Absolutely. I have a house in the middle of nowhere and a tiny little apartment in New York. Between the two of them, the writing was (done). I shut off the world. It takes reflection, sitting inside your own head and being open to ideas. It takes all of those things in order to have an idea spark and have something percolate.

Q: When you’re home and writing, do you tend to plan out to the days?

A: Not at all. No plan. Especially because I spend so much of my life on the road, and we’re just so structured. It can get really chaotic. When we get off tour, I try to remove myself from outside life. Sleep till whenever, stay up till whenever, in a never-ending process of your own mind of waiting for an idea to come. Which is a very tortuous process in one way, and at the same time, it’s the most rewarding. When you get a good song, there is no better feeling. It’s so satisfying. And then you torture yourself again because you realize you have to do it again.

Q: When an idea comes, what's the next step?

A: There is no process. Each song is started and finished so differently that it’s hard to talk about. The only common thing that’s required is an idea, whether that’s a lyric or melody or a guitar chord or a riff. It can start with something on television, or a dream, or someone walking up the street. You literally never know where that spark is going to come from. Sometimes we’ll be done in five minutes and those are the best ones. Sometimes you sit with an idea for a long, long time, and you work on it and work on it. It takes months and months until it’s good, until it becomes what you want it to be. But there is no forcing it.

The motto is try not to try, if that makes sense. If you sit down and go, “I’m going to write a song today,” it’s probably not going to be a very good one. Everything has to be organic and come naturally to you. That’s what makes writing so difficult and tortuous: You never know when that’s going to come or how long that’s going to take.

Q: You’ve said many times that if people want to understand your life, they should listen to your songs. Have you ever written a song that has changed you?

A: Probably. I don’t want to name some specifically because I don’t think that happens right away. Even though the recording is solidified and once the music is released, that is the record, the songs keep evolving as you grow as a person. This record will mean something different to me five years from now than it does right now. Music and art take time to reflect on before you can actually understand it.

It’s my expressive outlet, but I have many. I paint, I sculpt. I’m very much a homebody. I do things to try to keep myself sane. Because I wouldn’t call myself the most sane person on the planet. (Momsen laughs.) In one way it’s therapy, but I don’t know if it’s directly changed me. It’s allowed to express myself and get emotions out for whatever I’m going through.