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The Pretty Reckless on the conflicts of rock and roll

The state of rock and roll is a little messy right now. Adam Levine is claiming that there are no bands anymore, Steven Wilson is saying that innovation exists only in other genres and a lot of us are still mad that Machine Gun Kelly roasted our favourite artists about not wearing Dr. Martens at Warped Tour. With all those white men opinions in mind, we spoke to Taylor Momsen of The Pretty Reckless to get a different perspective on the institution, which, in her eyes, hasn’t changed a bit.

“I think the biggest thing is you have to remember that rock and roll was never in the mainstream,” Momsen explains. “It was invented in the underground for the underdogs. It delves into subject matter that not everyone wants to confront all the time. It’s a really powerful art form. It’s also one of the original art forms, so it can never go away.”

On her new album with The Pretty Reckless, literally titled Death by Rock and Roll, Momsen harnesses that power to confront the death of her close friend, Kato Khandwala. The acclaimed producer passed away tragically in a motorcycle accident in 2018, which dramatically affected Momsen’s ability to keep on going. She pulled herself up off the ground, using the only thing that she had any faith left in.

“To me, Death by Rock and Roll is the ultimate battle cry for life. It’s the ultimate freedom of: live life your own way, go out your own way…I hope that this album can maybe provide some solace to people who might need it the same way that the albums that I grew up loving and still love to this day, provide that for me. And so I hope that I can kind of, pass that along, I guess.”

Having that kind of emotional investment in rock and roll is likely unanimous for anyone following a music publication like our own or a band like The Pretty Reckless. To Momsen, it might have had its ups and downs, but it’s the only consistent belief system that she’s ever had.

“To me, rock and roll is soul food. It’s something that you need. I need it the same way I need food and water and oxygen. It feeds my soul and keeps me feeling whole and together as a person. So I don’t think it can ever die, I think it’s waiting for its next chance in the sun right now.”

It’s quite cruel to challenge conviction as whole as that, and yet there are questions to be asked about faith in any kind of institution. Sure, the industry of music might be a lot more open-minded than the Catholic Church, but that doesn’t mean it’s not rattled with the same sort of corruption that any kind of organisation at that scale has. It’s not the distinctly human parts that incite concern; the escapism, the chemicals, the greed. It’s Marilyn Manson being accused of abhorrent acts of abuse. And it’s his fans, continuing to defend him and his music because of the connection that they’ve drawn between Manson’s work and their identity, barring them from bringing themselves to condemn him. Are we harbouring others doing the same? Is rock and roll letting this happen?

Momsen comments: “We’re living in a very strange time period right now where every single person has a voice. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I don’t know how I feel about that because I think that this is a touchy subject here, but the point is it’s the music. People are not perfect and people who do bad things should be punished for doing bad things, but you can’t cancel art. You can’t do that, art is art. Art is the ultimate freedom of expression and sometimes does delve into subject matter and topics and things that are not comfortable for everyone.

“But that’s how we learn as a society to understand them and grow and learn from that. If you censor art itself and you censor language, then you’re dumbing down society. So I try to separate the person from the art. I guess, even though sometimes that’s hard to do. I think we’re living in a very kind of risky little game we’re playing here right now with every…with the way the world just decides someone’s guilty and then that’s it. I’m not defending anyone, I’m not trying to get into this in a heavy way, but I just think that art has to remain separate from the way you view the person. I guess if that makes sense.”

We don’t see things the same way as Momsen, but there’s no doubt that shitty people listen to and are in some of your favourite bands. We’ll be over here double-inking Manson’s name on our ever-growing blacklist.

Death by Rock and Roll is out now.