If you want to know the meaning behind the songs Taylor Momsen writes for her band, The Pretty Reckless, don’t expect her to provide much insight – especially when it comes to the group’s new record, Going to Hell.
“I think you just got to listen to it,” Momsen said in a recent telephone interview. “It’s kind of like describing a painting that you haven’t finished. I tend to say nothing, and I like the listener to go in with an open mind of having no preconceived notions or anything convoluting what they’re hearing for the first time.”
Even inquiring minds can accept that way of thinking. Fortunately, Momsen wasn’t so tight-lipped when it came to the sound of Going to Hell or the struggles that came with the making of the album, which was released March 18 and has already notched a No. 1 mainstream rock single in Heaven Knows.
The Pretty Reckless will play at 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 20, at Sky City, 1157 Broad St. Doors open at 8 and admission costs $15 in advance or $18 at the door.
Going to Hell is the second full-length album from the band fronted by singer/guitarist Momsen. Now 20, she gained widespread fame for her acting role as the rebellious Jenny Humphrey from 2007-10 in the CW series Gossip Girl, but has set aside acting to pursue music, which is her first love.
The second time out, Momsen said, fans will hear quite a progression in The Pretty Reckless and its music. She already has been fond of saying Going to Hell isn’t a new chapter for the band; it’s a new book.
“I think this record is definitely meant to be listened to from front to back,” Momsen said. “I think the best scenario would be to listen to it like a (Pink) Floyd record: Go in your room with the light turned out, front to back. These are not three-minute pop songs, so the more you listen to the songs, the more you’re going to understand and discover new things in them.”
That description doesn’t fit the group’s 2011 debut album, Light Me Up. That sassy and catchy album was filled with concise rockers that had a distinctly punky sound and attitude.
“When we did Light Me Up, we hadn’t toured it yet,” Momsen said. “So we were recording these songs not having played as a band for 21/2 years every night. So there was a lot more of a production element to it. This record is very, very raw, stripped down and really just what the band sounds like. There are not a lot of bells and whistles on it. So it really is just guitar, bass, drums, vocal.”
Momsen says The Pretty Reckless took its step forward musically on Going to Hell despite having to overcome some setbacks during the project.
The group had settled into its studio space at Water Music in Hoboken, N.J., when Hurricane Sandy took aim at the area.
“No one had any idea how bad it was actually going to be,” Momsen said. “We were all thinking it was a little like over-hyped. But it took out everything. It was eight feet of water and sludge and sewage. Hazmat had to come in, the whole thing. So it was quite a bummer.”
Lots of the group’s gear was destroyed, along with demos and finished recordings for the second album. The biggest loss, though, was momentum.
“We had a really good vibe going,” Momsen said. “I think that was the biggest thing, is that we had our set area. We had our studio. Everything was really rolling in like a great way. When it hit, it really put a damper on everything.”
If there was a silver lining to things, the delay gave Momsen time to write new songs, four of which made the Going to Hell album, including the title cut.
Another disruption was having to find a new record deal after the band was dropped by Interscope Records. The band was jettisoned despite seeing Light Me Up sell about 250,000 copies and produce a pair of modest rock radio hits, Make Me Wanna Die and Just Tonight.
Momsen says that in the long run, leaving Interscope might help the band, which also includes Ben Phillips (guitar), Mark Damon (bass) and Jamie Perkins (drums).
“We got to the point where we were getting heavier and we were going way in a direction and Interscope was going in the opposite direction,” she said. “When I signed there, they had Marilyn Manson and Chris Cornell and all of these rock bands that have been, they essentially dropped their rock department. And it just wasn’t the right fit anymore.”
Momsen got a new deal with Razor & Tie Records, a label with a diverse roster that includes plenty of rock, heavy metal and metalcore.
“We met with a lot of different labels, and they (Razor & Tie) seemed to get it and they really liked the record and they were really into it,” she said. “They were the most excited, and you go with who’s the most excited about it.”
The band is now introducing material from Going to Hell into its live set.
“We’re doing a mix right now. We’ll play a lot from Light Me Up and a lot of stuff from Hit Me Like a Man (the band’s 2012 EP),” Momsen said. “We have lots of songs we can choose from. We kind of mix and match our set. It’s a pretty rocking show. It’s pretty fun.”