Taylor Momsen’s gig this summer has nothing to do with high-school angst or crushing on boys.
The 16-year-old, best known for her role on The CW’s popular television series Gossip Girl, is playing the entire Vans Warped Tour with her band, The Pretty Reckless.
It’s likely she’s younger than many of the fans who will see her perform.
And while her age doesn’t show in The Pretty Reckless’ raunchy guitar-driven tunes, it does during interviews: “I want to be involved in every aspect of the music process,” Momsen says during a recent phone conversation. “I guess you could say I’m kind of like an anal artist.”
After pausing for a few awkward moments, she let out a giggle.
“Wow. That sounded really bad.”
Momsen admits that her inexperience in the rock industry makes her want to keep veteran songwriting partner and lead guitarist Ben Phillips close by at all times. She’s been working on music with Phillips and his producer, Kato Khandwala (Paramore; Breaking Benjamin), since October 2008. And when the original lineup for The Pretty Reckless fell apart in mid-2009, Phillips joined up and brought along friends — bassist Mark Damon and drummer Jamie Perkins.
“We’d heard some demos at that point, but we hadn’t heard Taylor’s true potential as a singer,” Phillips says. “When she first sang, we were very much surprised at how good it was. She blew us away.”
Thanks in large part to Momsen’s raspy voice, The Pretty Reckless sounds about as un-Gossip Girl as you can get. On the show, Momsen’s character, Jenny Humphrey, symbolizes youthful rebellion (as much one can rebel on a CW show). With The Pretty Reckless, she takes that to the next level. The band is a ballsy blend of garage-rock attitude (think The White Stripes) with guitar licks influenced by Led Zeppelin and Nirvana.
Phillips says the entire vision is Momsen’s, who’s been writing songs since the age of 5.
“Taylor’s really specific and she works really hard,” Phillips says. “When she comes up with a vision, an idea, it sets the course for everything. Where she gets it all from, I don’t think anyone really knows.”
The tracks on the band’s debut album, Light Me Up , tackle everything from breakup agony (“Goin’ Down”) to late-night parties where someone “shows you all the things you shouldn’t know” (“Make Me Wanna Die”).
The band’s sound and subject matter (along with the fact that Momsen is a skinny blonde) has drawn comparisons to Courtney Love’s band, Hole, although Momsen says she’s never really listened to it.
Finding her own, unique identity as a musician is something Momsen says is difficult, due in large part to the shadow cast by Gossip Girl . Still, she admits there’s been a healthy contingent of GG fans at concerts.
The show’s popularity could make The Pretty Reckless one of the biggest draws on this Warped Tour, whose only superstar act is The All-American Rejects.
So Momsen is embracing the influence that her acting career is having on her music career — up to a point.
“Any opportunity to hear your music is a blessing,” she says. “But hopefully it expands beyond the interest of just Gossip Girl fans. I’ve learned to ignore it when someone yells out ‘Jenny’ at a show or on the street.”