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INTERVIEW: Everything ‘Death By Rock and Roll’ And More With The Pretty Reckless’ Taylor Momsen


Shortly after the release of The Pretty Reckless’ highly anticipated fourth album ‘Death by Rock and Roll’, we’ve had the privilege to chat with the band’s vocalist Taylor Momsen to discuss the content of the album, as well as the turbulent and tragic time that came before the album was created.

Strife Magazine: First of all, how are you? With all the craziness that’s going on?
Taylor Momsen: I have been in isolation in Maine, Maine is very remote and I live on an island off the coast of Maine. I got to the point where I had to stop watching the news because it was stressing me out too much. So I’m a little out of touch but aren’t we all at this point!

SM: So how does that work with your bandmates? Do you see them from time to time or is it all just digital communication?
TM: It’s mostly digital. The last time I saw them was In New York when we shot 3 videos back-to-back. We were there for like a week and a half and that was the first time that I had seen them since lockdown started in March. So that was really fun. For a week it felt very refreshing after the first scare. I’m a hypochondriac, so this is kind of my worst nightmare. But once I put that all out of my mind and we had all the testing and the safety protocols, it was a lot of fun. Now I’m hoping we can get into the rehearsal space sooner than later, because as much as I like playing acoustic guitar at home, I really miss electricity and playing with the guys. It’s just not the same. I’m definitely missing playing live for sure.

SM: Don’t you want a more elaborate home studio up at this point?
TM: I have a little at-home recording set-up so I can do vocals and things by myself, but it’s not a studio, I’m not an engineer haha. I’m very technologically-challenged, I can’t even use a computer so I record with a Tascam battery powered 8 track recorder, analogue-style. So that’s how advanced I am, I go old school with it.

SM: So, let’s talk about the new album ‘Death by Rock and Roll’. Congratulations on the release of your record! How has the reception been so far?
TM: It’s been overwhelmingly positive! It’s been out for a while now and it still feels surreal to me that people can actually listen to it. I spent so long writing and working on it and then we essentially sat on it for about a year due to the whole Covid situation. So it’s still taking a minute for me to wrap my head around the fact that it’s actually out. But the response has been incredible, more than we could ever ask for. We love the fans so much, the fact that they stuck with us throughout all of this, we are so fortunate.

SM: The album displays themes such as loss, death and shows a more mature sound than the previous albums, can you share a bit how these themes became the forefront of the new album?
TM: We went through a lot of loss the past few years. We were on tour with Soundgarden, which was absolutely incredible and that tour obviously ended very tragically with the passing of Chris Cornell. To be hit with that, I wasn’t prepared for that. No one was. But it hit me very hard and I figured out very quickly that I was not in a place to be public and I needed to retreat home and process everything in my own time and not in front of the entire world. Shortly after that, as soon as I started to get my feet back on the ground and I had written a couple of songs and I was calling Kato to tell him we had to get in the studio because we were all so crushed by the passing of Chris and we all felt a little lost. So we wanted to get in the studio, I didn’t even know what these songs were for, maybe they were for nothing, but I wanted to start doing something. As soon as we started putting those plans in motion, I got the call that Kato had died in a motorcycle accident. That was the nail in the coffin for me and I spiralled downward very quickly into this hole of darkness and depression and substance abuse. Everything that comes with loss and grief and trauma and I didn’t handle it well. I was at a very low point in my life and to make a very long story short, it was music that brought me back. I didn’t even have to try to write this album, the album just wrote itself because I was so entrenched in everything that had happened. It was such a big part of me that I couldn’t avoid it. It poured out into music and when I finally allowed that to happen, that was the start of me trying to heal myself and get back on the right track. So as cliché as it sounds, this album is the reason that I’m still here. It got very dangerously dark there for a while and the writing of this record was really the thing that saved me. There are obviously a lot of common themes running throughout the albun and if you give it the grace to listen to it, it really captures a moment in my life that you can’t manufacture. It’s so vulnerable and raw. The only way I know how to process anything is through writing songs. It’s always been my balance, my center. So when I finally started writing, it was like a dam breaking, it overflowed. That’s how this record was born.

SM: The title track ‘Death by Rock and Roll’ was partially written 10 years ago, and was finalized for this record. What gave the final push to revisit this song?
TM: We generally don’t revisit old material. But back in 2018 we lost our producer Kato, he was essentially the fifth member of the band and my best friend in the whole world and that hit me extremely hard. “Death by rock and roll” was a phrase he used to say all the time. It was this kind of code and ethic we’ve lived our lives by since we formed the band. It was not a negative phrase, it was a battle cry for life. Live your life your own way, rock and roll ‘til I die. So when he passed we had already started a song called ‘Death By Rock And Roll’ a long time ago and we just never finished it. When he passed, the phrase and song came back around again and I was finally in a place where I felt like I could finish writing it and could actually have it convey what I wanted it to convey and make the statement that I wanted to make.
It was an ode to him, the song itself starts with a recording of his footsteps walking down the hallway of our first recording studio. I just refused to let his memory die.

SM: Let’s talk a little bit about the guest features on the record. Obviously, we got Tom Morello, can you tell us something about how that came to be?
TM: Tom and I had met each other many times throughout the years. I’ve kind of known him for a long time but we really kind of reconnected at the Chris Cornell ‘I Am The Highway’ Tribute show in Los Angeles because we were both playing with Soundgarden on the song ‘Loud Love’. After that, we started recording the album and I had written the song ‘And So It Went’ and just due to the lyrical content of the song and the energy and vibe of it, it made sense musically that he would be part of it. I couldn’t hear it completed without Tom coming in and wailing the fucking solo. So I sent him a demo of it and asked him “Would you take a listen to this and see if you would want to be a part of this and lend your extraordinarily unique voice that is unlike anyone else?” and he said that he’d loved to. And that was it, it was kind of that simple. It did exactly what I thought it was gonna do, he comes in screaming and wailing like no one else but he can.
I love guitar players where they have such a unique voice, it almost sounds like a human voice singing. You’re not just hearing someone who practised a lot. They are really communicating something and Tom is one of those guys who helped reinvent the guitar and he took the song to the next level and to its full potential. I’m so grateful and thankful that he’s a part of it because it’s fucking awesome and Tom Morello is fucking awesome and I love him.

SM: How about the two members from Soundgarden, Matt Cameron and Kim Thayil. Why did you decide on this particular track for them to feature on?
TM: Well, ‘Only Love Can Save Me Now’ was one of the beginning songs of the record and it was actually the last song we recorded because we recorded in Seattle with Matt and Kim at the legendary London Bridge Studio. I never write a song with the intention of asking anyone to play on it. That’s just not how I think. I don’t think in forms of collaboration like ‘Oh I should write something so that I can work with so and so’. The song comes first and once I have it completed and it’s written, I then look at the song and I think ‘If there’s anyone outside of the core unit of our band, is there someone who can contribute something to this that we can’t add ourselves?’.
With ‘Only Love Can Save Me Now’, it had this very Soundgarden-esque feel to the song. So I did a very rough sketch demo of the song and I sent it to Matt and Kim and asked them if they would listen to it and maybe wanted to play on it because I really thought that they would add this unparalleled weight and sound and take it to the next level of where the song could go. They said “Absolutely!” and recording it with them in Seattle was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. To be in such an iconic studio, you could feel all that energy, it was bleeding out of the walls. Not only to be there but to be there with Matt and Kim who I have looked up to my whole life but also have become very dear friends of mine, it was this very beautiful full-circle kind of moment. It was just absolutely incredible. The first time we all played it together and hit record, I thought the speakers were gonna explode. The song just came to life. It was one of those magic moments. It is one of my favourite songs on the record and I am just so thankful and grateful to them that they are a part of it. I love them so much and I’m so glad that we got to work together. It’s a song that’s very near and dear to my heart.

SM: The album writing started with ‘25’, is that correct? What inspired you to write this song?
TM: It did, ‘Death By Rock And Roll’ and ‘25’ were the two spearheading songs. ‘Death By Rock And Roll’ we started to revisit and I finished writing it and ‘25’ was the first new song that I wrote for the record. I wrote it when I was 24, turning 25 and it was the first songs that we recorded, right after my 25th birthday. It’s a very personal and autobiographical song. I was going through a very reflective period in my life. I also tend to go down memory lane every time I have a birthday. It was me just kind of looking back at my life and looking at where I was at that point and I thought to myself “You know what, I’ve been through a lot but I am still here and that’s saying something. I’m 25 and I’m still alive and that has to count for something”. So I took a step back for a second and looked at the song and I thought “This might just be really good” and I thought I had just taken a big step forward in what I can convey lyrically and musically so I was very proud of that song and that was the start of the record in a lot of ways.

SM: The video really compliments the song, it’s a beautiful video.
TM: Thank you! It was so complicated because of Covid. We filmed three videos back-to-back in New York City in a week time. It was a lot of work and the safety protocols alone to make that happen was a lot of prep work and planning but I am very proud of them. I really wanted to make a visual that compliments the song and that kind of expands your mind a little bit but is still very beautiful and elegant but very raw at the same time. It was also very important to me that New York City was featured because that’s where I’m from and that’s where I live most of the time. Now, I haven’t lived there since the pandemic because I’ve been at my house in Maine because that makes a little bit more sense. But I am very much a New Yorker so it was very important to me that I made New York City almost the lover in that music video. I wanted to make it a glamorous picture of despair. With the raw and gritty side of New York as well, it shows those sides of the city which to me represents the song in a lot of ways because you can look at it from two sides. Both sides of the coin.

SM: Did you see that many fans thought that it was going to be a feature on the new James Bond movie?
TM: I wish, man! That would have been very cool, I’m a big James Bond fan. Maybe one day we will be graced with that request from the Bond franchise, haha.

SM: And finally.. a very important question: What’s the first thing you’re going to be doing when the pandemic is over?
TM: I’m gonna get in a rehearsal space with the band and then go on tour! At least one show, anywhere! I don’t care. We miss playing so much, even without an audience. It’s starting to get very daunting. I miss my band mates and the fans.

Taylor Momsen clearly lives for the music! Have you listened to The Pretty Reckless’ new album ‘Death by Rock and Roll’ yet? Stream it right below and let us know your favourite song via social media!

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Eva van den Bosch Head Editor, Photographer
Eva van den Bosch combines concert photography with a prominent editorial role at Strife Mag.