Q&A: Jenny from the Block
“Gossip Girl,” rock band front woman and STL native Taylor Momsen talks passion, popularity and living your [rebel] dream.
A product of St. Louis’ University City (she studied dance at COCA and remembers writing songs on her backyard swing set), the multi-talented Taylor Momsen is a musician at heart, who’s currently centered hardcore on her passion—as opposed to popularity. She experienced overnight superstardom when cast as Jenny Humphrey on the CW’s hit teen drama “Gossip Girl.” But rather than simply ride the wave, she recently opted to be written out of the story lines in favor of touring the world with her rock band, The Pretty Reckless (which stopped in St. Louis in February). Call it a rebel yell.
ALIVE: What can people who see The Pretty Reckless expect?
Taylor Momsen: It’s very song-driven rock ‘n’ roll, I guess is how I would describe it. We don’t play with tracks or anything, so it’s just a very raw energy; everything is live, anything can happen. Hopefully, people who come to the show and see it just have a good f—ing time; that’s what it’s all about.
ALIVE: Tell me about your song-writing process.
TM: [“Light Me Up”] is a very personal record; you could almost call it autobiographical. It’s very much about my life and my experiences, but it’s also written very metaphorically. The theme is kind of common: pain, and what life entails. Hopefully, no matter what your life is like, you can find something to relate to on it.
ALIVE: In terms of music, who are some of your inspirations?
TM: Well, The Beatles are my favorite band of all time; they’re the reason I started writing music in the first place. I grew up listening to a lot of vinyl records; my dad is a big rock ‘n’ roll fan, so from the day I came home from the hospital, it was The Beatles, The Who, Pink Floyd, AC/DC, all the greats.
ALIVE: What you wear onstage and when you go out gets a lot of press; how would you describe your style?
TM: I love vintage, so a lot of my stage outfits incorporate vintage pieces that I’ve modified. I love lace and leather, and I love Chanel. It’s kind of like Chanel-meets-grunge; opposite ends of the spectrum clashing. I love to play with fashion, and
I’m definitely an extremist. The way I dress might not be for everyone, but I think that’s fine; that’s why it’s personal to me.
ALIVE: What do you miss about St. Louis?
TM: I miss my house and having a backyard; there are no backyards in New York City, just little apartments. We stopped by my old house while on tour because I thought it would be funny to get a picture of the house and the tour bus together. It looked pretty much the same. The swing set was still there; I first started writing on those swings, so there are a lot of good memories of St. Louis for me.
ALIVE: How did you go from being such a music lover to working primarily as an actress?
TM: I first started modeling when I was 2 and acting when I was 3. I got put into it because of my family, so I wouldn’t say it was really a choice—but I enjoyed it, and I still do. It wasn’t really a transition; it was more like acting was a job that I did from a young age, but music was something that I chose from the time I started writing at age 5. It became an outlet for me to stay sane and keep everything together.
ALIVE: How have you been able to work two gigs, when both seem so demanding?
TM: [The “Gossip Girl” crew] has been great and very supportive of the band; I really have to thank them because they’ve been writing me out of the story lines so I can tour. The recording and writing of the record was a very difficult process because I was on the show every episode. I was working from 5am to 6pm on “Gossip Girl” every day, then going to the studio to record from 7pm to 3am. It was lots of coffee and lots of cigarettes.
ALIVE: So, if there was a day where you weren’t allowed to work, what would you do?
TM: Uh, I don’t know. I would write songs, or play—but that classifies as working. Um … I’d go to the beach! How’s that?
Taylor Momsen, St. Louis native, “Gossip Girl” star and rockstar
Photo credit: Photo by Lauren Dukoff