The new "Who You Selling For" reflects a more mature, musically diverse hard rock band.
I’m not sure stats validate rock bands—isn’t self-validation part of the point of rock?—but for what it’s worth, The Pretty Reckless are the first band to have its first four songs go to number one on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Songs airplay chart. “Take Me Down” is the band’s most recent song to top the list, this from The Pretty Reckless’ new album, Who You Selling For.
The band is fronted by Taylor Momsen, and its the first album the group has recorded since she entered her 20s. At first, she carried with her a hint of novelty—a teenaged actress known for her role on Gossip Girl fronting a hard rock band. She has been a full-time singer with The Pretty Reckless for more than five years now, so while her starting point’s unusual, she now sings with the swagger and throat-shredding power of any rock ’n’ roll front person.
The Pretty Reckless will play Voodoo’s Altar Stage Saturday at 1:30 p.m., and in pre-album release interviews, Momsen spoke proudly about the range of Who You Selling For, and while that range exists entirely inside the realm of hard rock—the band doesn’t venture off the range into, say, electronic explorations or cheerful pop—it marks a stretch by The Pretty Reckless’ standards. Blues rock, southern rock, and even a hint of piano ballad creep in, though the latter gives way to a heavy guitar riff soon enough. At times, the images and riffs are a bit off the shelf, but there are fresh moments of confusion, regret and excitement that liven the familiar, and hooks that grip hard enough to make the familiarity of some parts seem beside the point.
Recently, we swapped email with Taylor Momsen and guitarist Ben Phillips. Here’s that interview.
I read that this is Taylor’s first album made with the band when she was not a teenager. What has getting into your 20s changed?
Every song is like a time capsule to a moment in your life. It's always interesting to return to those times when singing an older song. I think as anyone gets older, there is a natural progression of maturity and that will show in the music. I don't really think about it too much though; we just try to better ourselves artistically at each venture and age obviously gives you more experience and ability.
In an interview about “Who You Selling For,” Taylor said: “I think, in all honesty, we want everyone to have their own interpretation of it so I don’t want to clarify or specify any sort of direction. I’d really like the listener and the audience to hear it for themselves and however they take it. Once you release something, it’s no longer yours, it’s everyone else’s interpretation and however they take it. I like to leave that open.” How open do you leave it? Are lyrics written to a point where in your mind, they have a clear and specific meaning—one that listeners might or might not get?
The songs all have definite meanings to me, but those meaning change and evolve. You can write about one thing and years later you realize it was about something else. It's just a flow of a muse and luck when writing. I don't mind people interpreting the songs differently; that's part of the point. I do mind when the lyrics are printed incorrectly though ;)
In “Oh My God,” Taylor sings, “I want to take it back / to when I was so dumb and so innocent.” I know there’s a lot more to the song than that, but do you really? If so (even partly), what is happening or happened to inspire that thought?
It's about losing the innocence of youth. When you actually start understanding the world and you can digest things emotionally in a deeper way, the weight can become extreme. Taking it back to the time when imagination is key and the weight of the world is years into the future….
I read that you’re proud of the diversity of Who You Selling For, and that made me wonder if diversity on an album is something to celebrate? I hear people say that, but I try to think of albums that I liked because they were diverse and I don’t come up with many.
I hope celebrating diversity in any context is understood as something to celebrate. Diversity creates perspective, perspective creates thought, thought creates depth. Look at the Beatle records, it starts and ends there. No boundaries, big and brilliant. They did everything
Finally, when Taylor started, I imagine that being a young singing actress made it hard to be taken seriously. When did you start to realize that you were being taken seriously as a musician and a singer?
Spending the last eight years watching people react to the music, taking the songs to heart, that's what we're going for and I think that our music has reached people. That's all you can ask for as a musician, reaching people. The rest is superfluous.