At barely 25-years-old, Mandy Moore has done more than most of us will do by the age of 60. The industrious singer began her career over ten years ago serving up cavity-inducing pop songs like "Candy" and "I Wanna Be With You," opening for the Backstreet Boys, and generally trying to keep up with her older rivals, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Precocious, poised, and proving she had more to offer than her pipes, she was soon starring in films like A Walk To Remember and the cult favorite Saved.
Out caught up with the Mandy early one morning last week and chatted about living up to her fans expectations, the gay man inside of her that worships Bette Midler, and the tragic fashion choices she wishes she could have prevented her 14-year-old self from making.Since then, Moore has all but abandoned her manufactured pop roots and now releases smart, intimate albums she pens and records with friends. Her latest, Amanda Leigh, now in stores, presents a mature, alt-country sound that might surprise her teenybopper fans of yore. Still, the focus remains on her rich, capable voice and when discussing the new album and her evolution, Moore couldn't sound happier or prouder (or maybe she's just still reeling from her recent marriage to rocker Ryan Adams?).
Out: When I first heard you named the album Amanda Leigh, I instantly thought of Janet Jackson's Damita Jo or Mariah Carey's The Emancipation of Mimi, which both women touted as using the "real" names that their friends and families called them, thereby bestowing some kind of authenticity on those collections of songs. Was this album intended to be a kind of coming out as your "true self" as well?
Mandy Moore: I wouldn't necessarily cop to that. That's all fine and well for other artists to make that proclamation but I'm happier to just let the music be what it is and not take it so seriously. Because I've kind of -- especially with the last record -- been allowed to be myself and to be at the creative helm and to be able to write this record and see it come to fruition. I guess it's more about owning my name at this point in time because I really don't have any relationship to 'Amanda Leigh' -- except for when my parents are angry at me when I've misbehaved or something. [Laughs] Other than that I've always just been Mandy. I'm happy to be Mandy. It just felt like a fitting, sweet little title.
Your evolution from where you started to where you are now was fairly gradual. You began very pop, but the last record is pretty close, musically, to what you're doing now and even Coverage [Moore's cover record featuring her versions of songs by artists like Elton John, Carole King, and Cat Stevens] moved away from the pop. Was it an organic evolution or have you only recently truly felt comfortable making this kind of music?
I think it did happen organically over time. Starting out when I was 14 -- which was ten years ago -- clearly I was a) just happy to be in that position having signed a record deal and just getting to sings songs; and b) I wasn't even really aware of the type of music I really liked and wanted to sing nor what kind of artist I wanted to be in the long run. But I think as time went on I was lucky enough to be in an adult world with all these responsibilities and you sort of do grow up quickly. And very shortly after that I really realized and found what kind of music I really loved and gravitated towards and just started falling in love with singer-songwriter stuff -- Joni Mitchell and Carole King and that led me to Todd Rundgren and Paul McCartney and all kinds of stuff that really influenced this record in particular. It was sort of this organic shift and evolution that happened from the covers record to Wild Hope to Amanda Leigh. It's been all these baby steps -- it wasn't a giant leap from A to Z. I think if you break it down along those lines my progression is a bit more understandable.
What kind of a pulse do you have on your fans? Are the fans that you've had from the beginning still with you? Do you have a lot of new fans based on your new sound?
I don't know if I'm completely aware of who they are or where they come from. I'm not sure if people have followed me from the very beginning, but if they have then kudos to them for the roller coaster ride over the last ten years. To me I'm just happy to have anyone who's interested in the music or what I'm doing. But because I've done film stuff as well, I probably have a pretty different fan base -- people that only know me for my music or people that only know me for the film stuff and I'm not quite sure there's a cross-section of fans that will go both ways. That's a very, very good question.
Well, when you look out into the audience at a show, who's there?
There are people my age or slightly older. If anything I would say there's a bit more of an adult fan base for the music just because of the kind of music that I'm doing now. But again -- it really varies. Sometimes people will buy a ticket to the show and not know what they're getting. Potentially they're disappointed because I'm not doing poppy music or having dancers on stage for the songs. [Laughs]
What do you say to a fan that says, 'I really loved when you were singing songs like 'Candy' and 'Crush' and I wish you'd do that again'?
'Thank you.' I would respond with 'Thank you!' Those two songs in particular I'm absolutely OK with but nobody wants to see me try and dance again and do that kind of music. That just wasn't good for anyone. [Laughs] I think there are plenty of talented, capable artists out there who make much better music than even those two songs and they could probably satisfy that person a lot better than what I could do.
Are you a fan of pop music? Do you have any guilty pop music pleasures that you'd admit?
This is going to sound terrible but I don't even really listen to the radio, so I have no idea what's out there. I'm sure there's great music but --
Well, what about someone like Lady GaGa? You must have heard her stuff -- especially now -- she's kind of hard to escape.
I actually haven't. I've been living under a rock. I know what she looks like but I don't know her music. But of course it's meant to be really cool. I know it's like the thing right now but I've totally missed it. But that to me wouldn't be a guilty pleasure -- there's nothing guilty about that.
How much of an influence has Ryan [Adams, singer and her new husband] had on your music?
I think when you're lucky enough to be in a relationship with a partner that's supportive but that you also have a lot of respect for and you happen to be in the same line of work, it's only natural that there's a little bit of influence, but I feel like that's a question that will be answered on the next record. Amanda Leigh is very contained to me. It's my little pet project with my friend Mike [Viola]. We wrote it together, he produced it and he and I and my engineer friend were sequestered in the studio like the Three Musketeers. It feels very much like my own little project. But it's nice to have someone who's supportive and who's a fan of what you're doing.
When I was on your Wikipedia page, I found a few things that made think perhaps you've got a little bit of gay man trapped inside of you -- any ideas what I'm talking about?
Well -- it says that one of your favorite, favorite artists is Bette Midler.
Oh my God! Yes!
When did your obsession start?
When I was a kid. I know everyone else says, 'I looked up to Madonna,' and I liked Madonna -- I sang 'Papa Don't Preach,' but I loved Bette. I think it's because I remember when I was a kid my mom and my aunt and some of her friends went to a Bette Midler concert in Orlando, maybe? Because I remember there was this concert book there and I would flip through this concert book all the time. I was totally enamored with her. I just thought, She's done everything! She's done movies and Broadway and TV and she does music and she does concerts and that's the kind of career that I want to have. So, she's kind of been my ultimate idol from that perspective. She's really been on a pedestal to me and then I was lucky enough to meet her last year. I saw her show. And she is so delightful! Really everything I wanted her to be. I was just shocked that she even knew that I existed in the world. She knew my name -- she was like, 'Hey Mandy!' She knew that I was like a creepy stalker fan, but she was still very nice to me. So if that makes me a gay man, I'm cool with that. [Laughs]
If you ran into 14-year-old Mandy Moore, what's something you'd want her to know?
God. 14-year-old Mandy Moore. Jeez. I'd probably be pretty insulted by what I was wearing. Not that I have any fashion sense now, necessarily, but I just look back at pictures and think, Who let me wear my hair like that? Who let me wear that awful tablecloth as a skirt? Just dumb things, but I would say just try and hold onto that confidence and fearlessness when you're younger because it slowly evaporates over time. I'm constantly searching for that similar feeling. Being on stage and performing in front of tens of thousands of people when you're 14 -- I just remember never batting an eyelash. I was cool as a cucumber about that. But now to perform in front of a fraction of those people, I'm a nervous wreck all day and I put all this pressure on myself -- I've built it up to be something that it's not. So, I'd probably go up to the younger version of myself and ask her to maintain that sense of confidence as long as I could.
Do you think the difference between the two of you and the reason that you get so nervous now is that you actually care about the music you're putting out there? There's something personally at stake?
I'm sure that definitely factors in, but I also think it's just the age old evolution; when you start growing up and the naivety wears off you realize there's more at stake the older you get -- whatever you're doing in life. Writing my stuff and being truthful and revealing myself in ways I didn't when I was younger probably factors into being more nervous but at the same time I realize that I may not be everyone's cup of tea and I'm OK with that.
Amanda Leigh is now available in stores.