From the second that Taylor Momsen takes the stage at the Annex, a small New York City rock club that typically hosts lesser-known acts with names like What Would Jesus Drive and Blood Feathers, it's clear that the sixteen-year-old actress turned singer is extremely comfortable in her new role. Clad in a tiny off-white slip dress, she stalks confidently forward and starts growling, quite capably, into the mic; her powerhouse manner calls to mind both Karen O. and a young Courtney Love, and the inky-haired 20-something musicians who make up her band, the Pretty Reckless, look as though they can only just keep up. Two days later, when Taylor sits down to discuss her "very different life" with Teen Vogue, the exhilaration hasn't even begun to wear off: "I've always wanted to make music," she explains. "I was literally humming melodies before I could talk."
TEEN VOGUE: You seemed totally at home in front of that crowd the other night—is it true that, until recently, you'd never played a live show?
TAYLOR MOMSEN: The only other time I've been on a stage was when I starred as the Little Red Hen in the second grade. But my family used to play music and dance around in the basement every Saturday night. My sister and I even formed a band called Pink Boa—we'd put on tutus and masks, and I'd sing and play guitar and she'd play the drums. We knew two songs, "Seven Nation Army" and "I Love Rock 'n' Roll."
TV: And you've been acting professionally for over a decade—that probably helps.
TM: Yeah, I kind of grew up in front of the camera: I started modeling when I was two. I was never pushed into it, but I never really chose it either. That's why music is so different for me—I've known since I was little that this is what I want to do.
TV: Does that mean you're finished with acting after Gossip Girl?
TM: It would be crazy to cut it out completely. And I love being on the show—I hope it goes on for a couple more years. But as for the future, I don't know. I'm at a point now where I'm not doing anything just for money or fame.
TV: You recorded most of your album before signing a deal with your label, Interscope, whereas many famous actresses work the other way around. Was it important to you to do as much as possible yourself?
TM: The most obvious thing is to look at me and say, "Oh, pretty blonde girl, let's put her in pop." But I would never want to do something in music that isn't representing me—I'd feel like I was faking myself. I wanted to have it all done so I could say, "Here's who I am, either you like it or you don't."
TV: Tell us about your song writing process.
TM: I start with an idea, an emotion, and I write whatever comes into my mind. My lyrics are my diary—you're hearing every detail of my life. I'm still learning guitar, so I have a writing partner who helps me: I know what I want to do, but I can't physically do it, so it's good to have someone there who can interpret. I'd call my music rock, but with pop hooks. I grew up listening to the Beatles, Blondie, and Joan Jett, and I love Nirvana.
TV: You recently finished high school, more than two years early. Were you just eager to get it over with?
TM: I found it kind of boring. I'm an artist; I'm not going to use trigonometry. Now I'm taking college classes online—I want to major in Language Arts.
TV: Do you have any interest in doing the regular college thing? Enrolling at a university, living in a dorm...
TM: For most people, college is a place where you learn about yourself, and I feel like I'm doing that already. I'm already independent.
TV: People also make great friends there.
TM: I have such trust complexes. I'm close to like two people.
TV: Is that a side effect of fame?
TM: I've always been like that. People misinterpret what I say all the time: They think I'm being offensive, when really, I'm only being opinionated. Most of my friends are older, too. I live a very adult life: I have two different careers; I'm on tour. What am I going to do, hang out with the high school kids? I just can't relate to what they talk about—it seems so petty.
TV: Are your parents comfortable with your maturity?
TM: They have to be; it's not going anywhere. But I'm responsible. I'm not one of those crazy teens. They trust me.
TV: Do they trust you with older boyfriends?
TM: I'm not dating anyone right now, but I've had lots of relationships. My parents know that I'm not going to date someone who's sixteen. Boys are so much less mature than girls as it is; there's just no way— I would eat a boy my age alive.
TV: You were a finalist for the part of Hannah Montana—are you ever relieved that you didn't get that role?
TM: I think it's a great opportunity for Miley, but yeah, I guess I am relieved. If I had gotten the part, it would be a very different show. It wouldn't have worked for me. I push back.
TV: It's hard to imagine you being totally happy at Disney.
TM: When I was nine, it seemed amazing. But I wouldn't have been able to deal with not writing my own songs. I don't want to lose the artistry—a lot of people in music right now are faces—manufactured. I don't want to be that.
TV: And you've adopted a very rock 'n' roll look.
TM: I had long, pretty hair, and it didn't fit me. I'm pretty, but I'm not, like, a "pretty girl." So I pulled up a bunch of photos of Joan Jett and said, "Do that to my hair." There was a distinct change in my wardrobe, too, and I know people were a little, um, taken aback. But it wasn't me that changed—it was just that I decided to start being myself. Now I do my own makeup, my own hair, and dress myself, and it feels better.
TV: So this isn't just another part? You're not acting when you're up on that stage?
TM: No way. The role is me.
Edited for teenvogue.com. For the complete story pick up the September 2009 issue of Teen
Vogue, on newsstands August 4!
photos and excerpt from tFs
Her teenage angst look is actually really growing on me... I was agaisnt the "I-wanna-be-Courtney-Love- and-Debbie-Harry look" - but can't lie... the girl is looking good lately. Especially her natural look in the green dress!