Ask Taylor Momsen how her newfound gig fronting a rock band on the Vans Warped Tour compares to her time on Gossip Girl (read: the hit show that made her famous), and the charcoal-eyed blonde will answer without missing a beat.
“It’s like a fucking vacation.”
Momsen wastes no time in recalling the 18-hour workdays that often came standard with a prime-time job—complete with all the reshoots, wardrobe changes, and hours in the hair and makeup chair required to make a show about the glossy circles of upper-crust New York City society.
“This?” she concludes, referring to her summer schedule of playing shows nationwide and traveling in a tour bus. “This is easy.”
Momsen and her band, the Pretty Reckless, have been on the road since June. The group—who also include guitarist Ben Phillips, bassist Mark Damon and drummer Jamie Perkins—had been together for about a year before that. They eventually signed with Interscope Records and continued to squeeze in studio time whenever Momsen’s filming schedule would allow, all in preparation for the release of their debut album later this year.
Fittingly, Momsen now has time to spare. She has been suspiciously absent from the current season of Gossip Girl amid reports she’d been fired, left to pursue music or opted for a temporary “creative absence.” Whatever the reason, Momsen’s tight-lipped about it, too. “I’m actually not allowed to talk about it right now,” she says, in a sole instance of holding back.
Momsen is used to speculation, though. Despite having just turned 17, she has already chalked up a bit of a Lohan-esque rap sheet and has been criticized for everything from smoking onstage to swearing on live TV to bad-mouthing Miley Cyrus. (It’s worth noting that Momsen was one of three young actresses who battled it out for the starring role in Hannah Montana. But given her recent media penchant for ranting about the over-Disneyfication of current pop music, one can assume she’s pretty content with not getting the job.)
It’s all trademark Momsen—blunt, impulsive opinions that make for easy tabloid fodder. She knows what she’s doing, but she dismisses the attention, saying she doesn’t own a computer so she couldn’t keep up with the gossip even if she wanted to. She does, however, admit to struggling with the idea that the scrutiny could affect her audience.
“I don’t give a shit what people say about me,” Momsen says. “I just don’t want people to have predetermined ideas about my music based on what they read in the tabloids or see on TV. Don’t tune me out because of that.”
And it’s a valid request. Because while she’s not exactly breaking rock & roll boundaries, Momsen capably—and somewhat surprisingly—carries her band’s brand of peroxide grunge. On lead single “Make Me Wanna Die,” Momsen snarls, wails and pits her nicotine-tinged rasp up against brash, driving guitar riffs—and it works. (Note to Leighton Meester: See what happens when you keep the Auto-Tune to a minimum?)
Given all of this, it’s easy to forget she’s still a teen. Momsen speaks with a low-key confidence—what you might expect from someone thrown into the industry before she hit double-digits. Momsen’s big break a decade ago was playing Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
Despite the sailor’s mouth (and apparent aversion to wearing pants), she comes across as genuinely affable and passionate about music, rattling off artistic differences among classic Beatles albums. She thoroughly describes the most crucial elements of the studio process. As to why she jumped at the chance to join Warped Tour, she explains there’s no better way to hone your stage chops and build an audience than to play a live show almost every day for two months.
And while she might have temporarily traded in TriBeCa for the tour bus, she has adjusted quickly. Although, she admits, she may likely be the only Warped Tour artist with a particular preshow ritual.
“The last thing I do before I go onstage is put on my shoes,” Momsen says.
Specifically, the ones she was recently photographed in: 6-inch Lucite platforms that have a transparent compartment marked “Tips”—with dollar bills tucked inside, naturally.
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“Stripper shoes,” she sums up.
Sure beats Converse.
The Pretty Reckless perform with Mayday Parade, Me Talk Pretty, Reel Big Fish, Swingin’ Utters, Sum 41 and more at the Warped Tour at the Pomona Fairplex, 1101 W. McKinley Ave., Pomona, (909) 623-3111; www.vanswarpedtour.com. Wed.; visit website for set times. $32.75. All ages.
This article appeared in print as "From Gossip Girl to Rock & Roll Woman: Taylor Momsen ditches the knee-high socks for stripper shoes, all in the name of rock & roll."