While many might still remember her as Little Jenny Humphrey from the beloved CW teen soap Gossip Girl or, perhaps, Cindy Lou Who from the live-action The Grinch reboot in 2000, Taylor Momsen made a major career change in 2007, starting the hard rock band The Pretty Reckless.
The singer – easily recognizable with her heavy eye makeup and gothy-schoolgirl style – just broke a Billboard record, beating out Stevie Nicks, The Pretenders and Halestorm to become the first woman to land three consecutive No. 1s on the Mainstream Rock chart.
PEOPLE caught up with Momsen, 22, who’s currently touring in support of The Pretty Reckless’ latest album, Going to Hell, with fellow female-fronted band Halestorm.
Congrats, quite a feat – you beat out Stevie Nicks, how does that feel?
It’s pretty insane, to be honest. Coming from when we made this record, we didn’t even know if it was gonna get released or if anyone would hear it, so we really made it for ourselves. [While making the album in 2012, their Hoboken, New Jersey, studio was wiped out by Hurricane Sandy]. To see the success that it’s had is just mind-blowing.
You’re used to being surrounded by guys. What’s it like hitting the road to Lzzy Hale and Halestorm?
Exactly the same. (Laughs.) You know bands on tour, everyone kinda has the same idea, but we’re having a great time. They’re so nice and so great. We were out all night last night hangin’ out together, so it’s been a good tour. It’s just at the beginning, so we’re excited to continue.
Rock’s a pretty male-saturated genre – did you find it hard breaking into that?
From my point of view, I’m just writing songs and performing them. I guess it’s been a thing since the beginning of rock ‘n’ roll, but I don’t look at it from that perspective.
You’re kind of a sex symbol in your own right: What’s it like kicking back with the dudes in your band?
I’m very chill. I think they take longer to get ready for the stage than I do. (Laughs.)
Your last album came out over a year ago. Are you writing a lot on the road, or do you not have the time?
I guess timing’s a part of it, but for me, I require isolation to write, really, so living on the bus with 12 people, there is no alone time on tour, so it’s a little challenging for me. I’m always jotting down ideas and things, but the real meat of the material comes when I’m alone and have time with my thoughts.
You obviously have a background in acting. Was that a challenge you faced breaking out with The Pretty Reckless? Did you worry people wouldn’t take you as seriously?
I think the biggest misconception with that is people thought that that was gonna help because I had some sort of fan base from acting. In reality, it really worked against me and the band because I think I had to work harder than if I had just been a chick in a band from the get-go; people had a lot of misconceptions and a lot of doubts – if it was real, if it was just gonna be a fling.
Coming from that background, I think people were harsher to judge, so we had to really overly prove ourselves, but you know, it paid off, and it’s worth it because I wouldn’t change it for the world, so. We’ve been a band now for six years now, two records. It’s goin’ good. It’s a long road to the top, you know Two records, two EPs, touring the world over and over for six years. It’s very tiring and a lot, but it’s worth it – I wouldn’t go back and change the decision, at all, ever.
You do some pretty crazy stuff on stage when you’re performing – did your parents ever express any concern?
No, God, no. (Laughs.) They’re very, very supportive. I mean, my dad’s one of those reasons that I love music. He introduced me to the Beatles when I was a little kid, and I fell in love, and that was it. But he’s so excited. I grew up on his vinyl collection. The whole thing’s come full circle: He used to be a roadie for Aerosmith, so he gets it. He’s just a superfan when he comes to shows, it’s awesome.
What do you do in your downtime when you’re not on the road?
I paint and sculpt and write and sleep like all the time and catch up on television and wait for the next tour to start. I love HBO, and I love Veep – I have to catch up on that when this [tour] is done.
Have any of your old Gossip Girl costars come out for any shows – are you in touch with any of them?
Connor [Paolo, who played Eric van der Woodsen] is a really good friend, very much like a brother to me, and he comes any time he can. And Kelly Rutherford is a sweetheart, and she always comes when she can. But aside from them, I haven’t really kept in touch with anyone else. I was a kid, so I was kinda the young one, the odd man out.