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Taylor Momsen: Gossip Girl turned rock queen

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Taylor Momsen began her career, famously, as a child actress (she starred in films including Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas and Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams, and memorably played Brooklyn arriviste Jenny Humphrey for four seasons on Gossip Girl).

But despite her considerable big- and small-screen success, the Missouri native had other plans; several years ago, she walked away from acting—and into a major music career. EW talked to the now-21-year-old about breaking chart records with her band The Pretty Reckless, touring with a shock-rock titan, and why she’s got no regrets.

You’re the first woman ever to land three consecutive No. 1 hits (“Heaven Knows,” “Messed Up World,” and “Follow Me Down“) on the rock charts. That’s more than Stevie Nicks and the Pretenders. How crazy does that feel?

My reaction was sheer and utter shock. [Laughs] I really didn’t know if this record was even going to come out, and so to have so much success from it is pretty mind-blowing … But I think the biggest thing was that we really honed in on our sound. It’s pretty basic, just two guitars, bass drums, vocals, very stripped down and raw. We like that.

When did you start writing songs? I read somewhere that you wrote a song when you were 8-years-old.

I was probably younger than that, yeah. Ever since I was a little kid, I was always singing and jotting down songs and making up things. You write a lot of bad songs before you write good ones. I had to wait until I got a little older till I actually wrote a record’s worth of material that I wanted the world to hear. But, no, I started very, very early. It was like therapy to me. Still is.

Was there any one experience that really inspired your latest album, Going to Hell?

The song, “Going to Hell,” was written in the black-out of Hurricane Sandy that hit New York. We were recording in Hoboken at the time, so Hurricane Sandy took out our studio. Completely destroyed. We lost everything. So there was nothing to do but write. There was no studio, no anything. Everything got put on hold, and “Going to Hell” came out of that experience.

You get compared to female musicians like Courtney Love and Shirley Manson pretty often. Do you think that’s apt?

Most of my influences are male-fronted, probably just because there’s more of them. It started with The Beatles, it was the first band that I fell in love with when I was a kid, and still to this day hold in the highest regard. Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, ACDC, Soundgarden, Bob Dylan, The Doors… I could keep listing bands. [Laughs]

Let’s talk about your time on the road with Marilyn Manson, please. What’s he like?

He’s a great guy! We have a very similar sense of humor. I think he’s super funny and very smart. Everything he says is a joke in some capacity.

You went to the same performing-arts high school in New York as Claire Danes, Britney Spears, and Alicia Keys, and you were trained as a dancer. You also did some modeling, and, of course, acting. Is there some other artistic talent we don’t know about?

I paint and sculpt when I’m home, but I don’t really think I’m good at it. [Laughs] It’s like another form of therapy.

Do you miss being onscreen?

No, not at all. I quit because I finally could just tour in a band, and I got to a place in my life when I had the luxury of doing that. And a lot of people thought I couldn’t. I think when I quit [acting], everyone thought I was crazy, and now it’s three number ones later, so they were wrong.

An edited version of this interview ran in Entertainment Weekly issue #1363, on newsstands Friday, May 8.

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