The Pretty Reckless’ Taylor Momsen on Taylor Hawkins tribute show: “Dave Grohl did a wonderful job honouring his friend”

The band's frontwoman spoke to NME about performing at the tribute show, her friendship with idols Soundgarden, covering David Bowie and new album 'Other Worlds'

The Pretty Reckless will release their new album ‘Other Worlds’, a record of acoustic recordings and cover versions, on Friday (November 4). Check out the video for the new acoustic version of ‘Harley Darling’ below, alongside our interview with frontwoman Taylor Momsen.

The band are also currently on a sold-out tour of the UK and Ireland, which is set to conclude at Brixton’s O2 Academy on Saturday (November 5), followed by a string of dates around Europe later in the month.

The new album follows on from 2021’s ‘Death by Rock and Roll’, the band’s fourth album, which reached Number Six on the UK Albums Chart. Now, five tracks from that album have been re-recorded with minimalist arrangements and are joined by covers of songs by David Bowie, Soundgarden, and Elvis Costello.

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“It all started in lockdown,” Momsen told NME. “I was in the middle of promoting ‘Death by Rock and Roll’ from home, and we weren’t able to tour or play. It was very weird for us, I was getting a little desperate for music, and so I started recording music at home for fun.”

Those recordings built up over the course of 2020. “By the end of it all, unbeknownst to me, I looked at this collection of music I had made and thought, ‘This is kind of a record!’” Momsen explained. “It all goes together and has a similar vibe and energy to it. I was really proud of everything I had made, and that’s how ‘Other Worlds’ was born.”

The Pretty Reckless announced this phase of their career in August with the release of a new mix of ‘Got So High’, a melodic, intimate reimagining of the ‘Death by Rock and Roll’ track. For Momsen, embracing the bareness of demo recordings, in contrast to her band’s trademark grungy rock sound, became a very compelling distraction.

“I love hearing stripped-back versions of songs, hearing where they started. That’s always been really inspiring to me,” she said. “I like delving into the acoustic world; all of our songs start acoustically anyway. I think giving fans that inside look into where songs begin is interesting. Fans have been asking us to do an acoustic record for a very long time.”

She continued: “You can hear all the nuance in my voice, without it having to compete with loud guitars and drums and all the bells and whistles. You can hear the intimate side of myself, which is nice. This record is very pleasurable to listen to, it’s very mellow – it still has a lot of excitement, but it’s very cohesively soothing. At least for me! There’s something dreamy about it – it lets your mind escape to somewhere else.”

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Among the covers included on ‘Other Worlds’, the band’s version of David Bowie’s ‘Quicksand’, originally released on 1971’s ‘Hunky Dory’, has the most noteworthy backstory. The pianist Mike Garson, who played more live shows with Bowie than any other musician and appeared on albums including ‘Aladdin Sane’, ‘Diamond Dogs’ and ‘Young Americans’, contacted Momsen personally to invite her to be part of a Bowie tribute show in January 2021. When he asked which song Momsen would like to contribute, she immediately picked ‘Quicksand’.

“When I was young, my dad was a massive Bowie fan, and he had somehow found bootleg versions of his demos. ‘Quicksand’ was one of them, and you just hear Bowie on the acoustic guitar. It just makes the lyrics and the whole point of the song hit differently,” said Momsen. “You can really connect to it almost in a deeper way.”

The Pretty Reckless Taylor Momsen
The Pretty Reckless’ Taylor Momsen CREDIT: Press

Garson liked Momsen’s version at the tribute show enough that when she decided to record the track for ‘Other Worlds’, he was happy to contribute a piano part himself. “We did it remotely, and it was a collaborative, back-and-forth process, and it turned out really beautifully,” said Momsen.

Other songs covered by The Pretty Reckless on the album include ‘(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding’, the Brinsley Schwartz song that was made famous by a version by Elvis Costello & The Attractions in 1978. The Pretty Reckless have covered the song several times for radio sessions and live shows over the years, but Momsen viewed the lyrics as seeming “particularly fitting for the world right now”, prompting the band to finally record this studio version.

In addition, The Pretty Reckless have recorded a version of Soundgarden’s ‘Halfway There’, a track from the grunge legends’ final album, 2012’s ‘King Animal’. The ‘Other Worlds’ version includes a drum part from Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron, with whom Momsen has struck up a close personal friendship.

“I’ve been a massive Soundgarden fan forever – they had a massive impact on my musical taste. The first time I heard them, I fell in love,” said Momsen. When the Seattle band first asked The Pretty Reckless to join them on tour in 2017, it was a dream come true for Momsen. “I couldn’t fucking believe it. And I got to know them all really well on that tour; we formed a very meaningful friendship.”

“Obviously, we all went through a lot of tragedy at the end of that tour, but that probably reinforced our bond even more,” she added, referring to the circumstances where Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell took his own life in May 2017. The two bands remain tight to this day, a connection that evidently means a lot to Momsen. “You always hear the phrase ‘don’t meet your idols’, but it’s always been so amazing with them,” she said. “They’re the coolest people, so down to earth, so genuine. They’re very dear friends of mine, and I feel very fortunate.”

It was also as a result of Momsen’s connection with Cameron that she became involved in the tribute show for Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins in California in September. At the show, Momsen fronted a band including former Nirvana members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic and Soundgarden’s Cameron and Kim Thayil, playing versions of Soundgarden’s ‘The Day I Tried to Live’ and ‘Black Hole Sun’.

The Pretty Reckless Taylor Momsen
The Pretty Reckless’ Taylor Momsen CREDIT: Press

“It was an absolute honour to be asked to sing at that,” said Momsen. “I loved Taylor dearly. What an incredible musician and one of the best people I’ve ever met in my life.”

“It was just an extraordinarily moving night, the energy in the room was beautiful. Everyone who was there was there for the right reason, egos were checked at the door. And then, obviously, to play with some of my heroes of music was just unbelievable. I have to mention Dave and the Foos as well; the way they went about the show was so well done and so beautiful. It was a very moving evening, very emotional. I feel like Taylor would have really loved it. Dave did a wonderful job honouring his friend.”

‘Other Worlds’ will be released on November 4 on Century Media Records. The Pretty Reckless’ remaining tour dates are as follows:

November 2022

3 – Norwich, UEA LCR
5 – London, O2 Academy Brixton
7 – Tilburg, 013 Poppudium
9 – Berlin, Huxleys Neue Welt
10 – Warsaw, Progresja Club
11 – Prague, Mala Sportovni Hala
13 – Vienna, Gasometer
14 – Zurich, Komplex 457
15 – Milan, Alcatraz
17 – Cologne, Carlswerk Victoria
18 – Paris, Le Zenith

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