Every now and then, you realize that you’ve been sold a bill of goods that just isn’t true. This is exactly what happened when I sat down to interview Taylor Momsen, who plays Jenny Humphrey on “Gossip Girl” and fronts the band, The Pretty Reckless, whose first full-length album, Light Me Up, comes out tomorrow. I was expecting a girl who constantly drops f-bombs, who can’t stop talking about porn, and who flashes her audiences even though she’s underage. I mean, she supposedly set her dog’s balls on fire! (Sadly, we got cut off before I could ask her if there was any truth to this rumor.)
But instead, the woman on the other side of the line was … totally sweet. And funny. And charming. Heck, she even signed off by telling me to be careful not to slip on the icy New York City sidewalks. There was hardly a hint of teenage rebellion in our entire conversation.
After the jump, Taylor talks about her new album, “Gossip Girl,” and her affinity for thigh-highs. Prepare to start adoring her.
What do you think will surprise people when they listen to Light Me Up for the first time?
If they they’ve watched the show, I think it will surprise them that this is a rock ‘n’ roll record. It’s not a pop record. It’s not dance record. I think the sound will surprise them. We’re very much a band.
What have you learned about the male gender being on the road with three guys and being surrounded by them on the Warped Tour?
That they’re neater than me! I’m the one who leaves stuff lying around. I’m messy—clean but messy. I’m so sporadic and do so much that I’ll leave a pile of dishes and just forget about it. Whenever the bus got messy, it was always because of me. I guess you don’t know someone until you live with them. The guys are my best friends and they’re surprisingly neat. It was a very clean bus.
When you’re on the bus, what is the side-of-the-highway stop you get really excited about?
We love truck stops—they’re always really fun. There’s so much weird stuff and every one across the country is different. You can find the strangest things in truck stops. We always get there really late. On the Warped Tour, we traveled at night. So it would be three in the morning truck stop fun. That’s always a good thing on the road.
You’re not afraid to sing about sex and drugs. Any lyrics or quotes you worry, “Wow, I wish my great aunt never hears this?”
Lyrically, I think, at least for me, the hardest part about writing is writing honestly and I think that’s the most important thing—to make an honest record. It really takes a lot of looking at yourself and it’s not the easiest thing to do, but to say something true, you have to be honest with yourself. Musically, my family is really supportive. I have a great family for that. They know not to read to much into it and just take it for what it is. They know I need creative freedom, because if your music has fear behind it, it isn’t going to be as good as it could. But press wise—I think a lot of what I say gets misconstrued. It’s not what I mean when it comes out of my mouth and it gets spun in some way that’s so negative. Luckily, the people around me know how the industry works and that things get spun and that it happens to everyone.
What was the first album you remember buying?
I grew up listening to a lot of my dad’s records. He had all my favorite bands on vinyl, so I just borrowed them. I didn’t need to buy a lot because he had such a great collection. But I remember when we finally got a CD player, I bought Magical Mystery Tour on CD.
What was the first concert you remember going to?
I went to a lot of little shows in St. Louis. Oh, I went to a Britney Spears concert. But the first one that had a real impact on me, though, was The White Stripes. I was 8 or 9, and it was the first real rock ‘n’ roll show I’d been to live. I mean, I’d seen the videos of Woodstock and The Who DVDs that my dad had, but that was the first one I’d been to that was so overwhelmingly loud with just a massive sound system. It had an amazing impact on me. It was so present. It was definitely a turning point for me where I went, “There is nothing else I want to do but that. I want to play on stage and perform in a rock band.” I’d already been writing songs for a while when I saw them, but it just kind of solidified everything for me.
I was so bummed that The White Stripes just called it quits.
I know, right? That made me a little bit sad, too.
What advice do you have for women who are thinking of picking up a guitar?
Do it! I think it’s one of the most important things. If you can learn to play an instrument, it’s a great form of expression. I love it. I picked it up at a young age, and—playing an instrument—there’s so much you can do. I’m not even close to where I’d like to be with it. It’s a lifelong journey, if you choose it.
I heard “Make Me Wanna Die” on “Gossip Girl” earlier this year. How did that come about?
They asked to play it, and I said, “Of course!” It was awesome.
How did it feel seeing the final cut?
It was kind of strange, honestly. It was like seeing my two worlds collide. But it was fantastic. So awesome. Anyone who wants to play our music, feel free to.
Acting versus music—do you see yourself focusing more on one, or continuing to do both?
Music is my passion and it always has been. It’s the thing I couldn’t live without. I’ve done it for so long—I’ve been working on my music and writing for as long as I’ve been acting, if not longer, even if it’s newer to the public and something different for people to see me do.
How has Jenny Humphrey influenced your personal style and how have you influenced hers?
I’m very different from the character I play on television. At one point during the show, I cut my hair in real life on a weekend and they needed to write it into the story because I had completely different hair. So they did this whole character arc where Jenny’s style evolution started to change and she went through her rebel phase. Definitely Eric, the costume director, took some of my personal style and put it into Jenny. But still, I think there’s a distinct difference. Jenny has more of an Upper East Side look to her even when she’s going through her phases.
You obviously love thigh-highs. What about them speaks to you?
I like the line. I love how they look. I love dresses and how easy they are, and thigh highs are girly and they add something different to it. It’s a look I’ve grown very fond of. I have a massive bag of thigh highs that I rotate through. It’s my accessory. I like tights too, but I think thigh highs add just a little more personality for me.
How did you find out that Madonna and Lourdes wanted you to model for Material Girl?
They called my management and personally asked if I’d be the first face of Material Girl. I was honored. It’s not every day that Madonna calls you. I didn’t believe it at first. My manager was like, “Madonna just called and she’s personally asking if you’ll be the first person to represent her line.” I was like, “Shut up. No way.” I was absolutely ecstatic. She was such a pleasure to work with, and Lourdes as well. Both of them are just so talented, and I had such a great experience.
What would be your ideal 18th birthday?
I used to have birthday parties when I was younger, but I don’t really want a big party. I want something chill. Honestly, I hope we’ll be on the road touring. I hope I’ll be in some random city, trying to find something to do after a show.