Taylor Momsen on the Pretty Reckless’ long awaited return and new album

After being struck by tragedy, the actress turned rockstar rediscovered why she fell in love with music.

“This album and music very literally saved my life”, Taylor Momsen confides. On the phone in her New England cabin, Momsen is conducting her final interview of the day to wrap up album release week, her first in five years. “When I started to write, this album just poured out of me. It was like the floodgates opened of everything that I had been repressing and keeping bottled up inside just poured out.” 

Three years ago, Taylor Momsen hit rock bottom. A quick rewind of her band’s recent history unveils a rollercoaster past, shining with success yet marred by tragedy. In 2017, The Pretty Reckless, fronted by Momsen, was nearing the end of an electrifying tour alongside legendary rock band, Soundgarden, when dealt their first blow: close confidante and Soundgarden vocalist, Chris Cornell, had died. Momsen made an executive decision to cancel the remaining performances and retreated home to process a loss that she describes as one she was “not equipped to handle”. After months of grieving, Momsen felt ready to lean on music again as a therapeutic tool and was making plans to get back in the studio when her world shattered.

“I got the phone call that my producer and best friend in the entire world, Kato [Khandwala], had died in a motorcycle accident,” Momsen painfully recounts. “It was the final nail in the coffin for me.”

For the band, Khandwala’s death was akin to losing a member. The producer was there during the band’s infancy, helping to construct its hard rock sound and member lineup alongside then-actress Taylor Momsen. He was often described as the fifth member of The Pretty Reckless for his monumental contributions to the band’s award winning hits and Billboard No. 1’s like “Make Me Wanna Die” and “Heaven Knows”. But now, life as the band knew it was upended. Sinking into the dark depths of depression, Momsen unraveled. Nothing mattered anymore in the dark hole of sadness in which she was buried. She didn’t know how to save herself and even more, she didn’t know if she wanted to. Music, which she describes as her life-long lifesaver, suddenly served no purpose. Her world fell silent.

“I couldn’t listen to music, no matter what I put on.” During her darkest days, the singer struggled with substance abuse as she grappled with her emotions. “I found myself very content in fading into nothing. But eventually, that stops working.”

One morning, Momsen dusted off her old record player — step one of rebuilding herself from scratch. Starting with the band that sparked young Taylor’s love of melody and lyricism, The Beatles, she devoured the tunes harmony by harmony, demo by demo, album by album. Each spin of the record cemented itself as a building block of artistic inspiration on her journey of self healing. As the weeks passed, Momsen grew stronger and able to withstand the songs of her musical muses like Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and The Who. Her tears turned from those of sadness to hope. She promised herself that the day she could enjoy a Soundgarden record again would be the day she picked up her guitar. Luckily for fans, she kept that promise.

Today, The Pretty Reckless releases their fourth studio album, Death By Rock And Roll, the long anticipated follow-up to 2016’s Who You Selling For.

Despite its fatalistic title, Momsen describes it as “a battlecry for life” and drew inspiration for its name from longtime collaborator and friend, Kato. “It’s a phrase [he] used to say all of the time that meant live life your own way, go out your own way, rock ‘n roll till I die and don’t let anyone tell you differently”. Despite its birth from loss and suffering, the album is full of hope and takes the listener on a full circle journey from front to back. The album kicks off with the titular track “Death By Rock And Roll” and wastes no time on closing the door to the past. The first lyric singlehandedly kills off Momsen’s former television character, Jenny Humphrey of Gossip Girl. Cause of death? Suicide, with a candle burning in her eye. Momsen declares her retaking of life’s reigns in “And So It Went”, a track featuring Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello wailing on guitar.

A musical and lyrical shift occurs mid-album, perfectly in tune with the shifting of emotions Momsen faced during her grieving process. The darkness lifts and the mood elevates to reveal light at the end of the long, dark tunnel listeners are traveling through. It’s an intentional effort on Momsen’s behalf to illuminate fans to the hardest lesson she learned. “There is hope if you’re willing to see it. I think that that is something that everyone always needs but especially right now, in these crazy times that we’re living in, we could all use a little more hope and a little bit more rock ‘n roll.”

After a year-long delayed release date due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Momsen is eager to share new music with fans. “I’ve been sitting on this album for over a year now at this point. For fuck’s sake, I wrote the song ‘25’ when I was 24 turning 25.” For reference, she’s now 27. “I can’t put this album out when I’m 30. You just have to pick a date, close your eyes, jump and go with it.” The rock group has been tantalizing fans by releasing music videos and stripped back, acoustic takes of their new singles but in her most relatable way, Momsen is itching for real life now more than ever.

“I miss electricity at this point,” she laughs. “I really can’t wait to plug back in with the band and crank amps and have Jamie pound drums and scream into a microphone and play full force. I mean, we get to play electric guitars and that’s just the coolest thing in the world. And if you disagree with me, I think you’re wrong.”

Listen to Death By Rock And Roll now.

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