Mandy Moore on Why She’s Returning to Music, 20 Years After Hitting It Big

Chris Willman

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Mandy Moore, of “This Is Us” fame, seemed to have said “that’s not me” when it came to making music anymore. But she was just biding her time, waiting for the right moment — and, she says, the right supportive relationship — to resume recording after dropping out in the late 2000s. The 35-year-old actress, who hit it big as a pop star at 15, returns March 6 with “Silver Landings” on March 6, featuring songs she co-wrote with her producer, Mike Viola, and husband, Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith. Both will also play in Moore’s band when she hits the road beginning March 20 in Pittsburgh for a 26-city tour that ends May 9. 

Is touring something you feel you have to do to promote the album, or something you really want to do?

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I really wanted to tour behind my last album, “Amanda Leigh,” 11 years ago, and it didn’t come to fruition. What’s really motivated me to get back to music for the last decade is how much I love performing live, and making a record as a conduit to getting back on stage. For various reasons, music has come in fits and starts for me over the last decade. I’ve written and not written; I’ve questioned whether music was meant to be part of my next chapter or was behind me. It took being the last five years of being in a relationship with someone like Taylor and having this constant stream of music being this through line that we share in our life.We’ll wake up in the morning… Well, actually I wake up before him. [Laughs.] But we’ll start our day and he’ll have coffee and go right to the piano, and that is nothing short of inspiring, having that constantly in my life and in my ears. I remember early on, when we first started dating, going on the road and watching him play every night, feeling this jealousy burning inside me: I know how to do that. I’ve done that before! 

And in the last year and a half, ever since Mike (Viola) working at Verve, which was a couple years ago, there’s been the idea of: I have to figure out how to make music again. I really leaned on this idea of like, well, I don’t have a manager; I don’t have a record label anymore. The only way that I’d known how to make music is like with that engine behind me. I really came to the idea that it has to start with the music and has to start with me; I can’t really lean on any excuse anymore. And if I want to do it, I just have to put one foot in front of the other. It came naturally. I knew that if I’m going to make music, I’m making it with Mike and Taylor. And I’m sure I could have put it out by myself, but why not have the machinery of a label like Verve Forecast behind me?

You just did a club show in L.A., where you started by announcing it was past your bedtime. It was 9:30!

I’m just a grandma. We were on set till 2 a.m. last night. I would rather wake up at 2 to go do something than stay up till then. So touring is going to challenge me. Thank God we’re starting on the east coast, so at least I’ll have the advantage of feeling three hours behind, body clock-wise.

Was it hard to find the right lull in “This Is Us” to go tour?

The whole idea behind this record was having time out where I could fit a touring schedule into my hiatus from work. And it’s so lucky that it coincided with Dawes not being on the road, and they don’t have a record coming out until later in the year. I literally have been able to scoop up their entire operation —  lighting director, front-of-house guy. We’re basically taking the whole Dawes crew and adding Mike and me and a tour manager and hitting the road. Honestly, lI have the biggest smile on my face because I just don’t know how I lucked out this hard that I get to go on the road with like my favorite people in the world — my husband, my brother-in-law (Taylor’s brother, Griffin, is Dawes’ drummer). That band is literally my family, so it’s just such a dream scenario.

We’re gonna start two and a half weeks after I wrap the show, and do a six-week run total, and still have a little time on the back end to relax and maybe go hike another mountain, after I feel like I fulfilled that part of me that has been so hungry for years and years to go on the road. I’ll still have a little downtime to build my adrenals back up before I go back to the show. Because they work us very hard there, over eight months of filming. 

It felt like you once wanted to distance yourself from your teen music. But when you were previewing your tour with an L.A. club residency, your 1999 hit “Candy” was right there as the encore.

I turned the corner on that line of thinking. There are creative choices that I definitely wouldn’t make as a 35-year-old woman. I can kind of roll my eyes at some of the song choices that I had absolutely no say in. I was a f—ing 15-year-old kid from Orlando who got discovered and signed a record deal when I was a freshman in high school. But I don’t want to malign how I started and where I came from, because that sweet 15-year-old who didn’t know any better is still living inside of me, and she is a huge reason, if not the reason, that I’m still able to do what I love to do. 

I’m not gonna dig too deep into the reservoir of songs from the first few records (on tour). There’s a couple for sure that I’m excited to figure out with the band and see how we can sort of reformulate them to make them sit with the vibe of the show and what the music has been on the past couple records, since I’ve had a hand in writing. Part of what our live show is is me being able to be vulnerable and talk to the audience about where I came from in order to illustrate where I am now.

You have a new song, “Fifteen,” that tells the story of you being a teen queen.

There’s a new sense of ownership that comes from the wisdom of getting a little bit older and being able to step back and have real perspective and affection for that little girl that still lives inside of me. She deserves some recognition and applause, I think, from the 35-year-old in me, for getting through what could have been a really tricky time. I’m developing a television show about that chapter of my life. When I sit and regale people with stories from that time period, it blows me away sometimes. It in many respects feels like an entirely different person lived that — touring with ‘N Sync and the Backstreet Boys, and being an MTV VJ, when my friends are going to prom and taking SATs and going to the mall.

You had some painful experiences that are well known over the last decade. One song on the new album, “Forgiveness,” really feels like it goes to that darker place, but the rest of it is reflective in a more easygoing way.

I’ve lived a wealth of life in the last decade since I’ve made music, and I had plenty to draw from and plenty to say. But I was adamant about this record being a marker of momentum forward, and I didn’t really want to look in the rear-view mirror anymore. I’ve said everything that I need to say about that chapter of my life. A factor for me was that I’m going on the road, and there’s plenty more to who I am as a human and my experience that I can bring to the table that I’m going to be much more content to share with people on a nightly basis.

You have a new song, “Easy Target,” that has lines like “the nameless and faceless take their aim.” Is that a reflection on social media?

You nailed it. In the world we live in, there’s a lack of accountability and transparency, and everybody has a hot take on everything that’s going on. That was my little shout out to that section of the society and how addicted we all are to being able to offer our opinions on things, and how destructive it can be. But also I think there’s really power in owning the idea of like: Yeah, go ahead. Take your shot. I’m an easy target. I totally understand that. It’s fine with me. It’s not gonna knock me off course. It’s not gonna completely ruin my day.

If there was any doubt that was what it was about, it was because you’re not the most polarizing person out there, and it’d seem like, well, who doesn’t like Mandy Moore

That’s very kind. No, for just about anything, you can find a variety of colorful opinions, and I’m certainly not immune to that. There have been very specific instances in life where people love to have their hot takes. I think it was sort of pointing to those specific examples — but again, not being bothered by it. I understand my place in the world. Like, it’s pretty easy if want to knock me or knock the choices that I’ve made personally or professionally – I am a fairly easy target. I mean, my last name makes for the easiest puns of all time. Not to say that I’m above it all the time. I’m definitely a human being and my feelings get hurt. But most of the time, my philosophy is like, if you don’t read it, it doesn’t exist, so it can’t possibly bother you or hurt your feelings. So that’s the philosophy I normally try to subscribe to— I’m not gonna read anything because that’s the only way to get in trouble.

On “This Is Us,” your character has been suffering memory issues, and there was a startling flash-forward related to that. Will the audience see Rebecca in the present tense deal more with that?

I don’t know about the next time we’re going to see a flash-forward of Rebecca at the potential end of her life, like the one that we did at the end of last season. But for what is ailing her at this point, I’ve known obviously for a long time the path that my character’s story was taking. I’ve listened to podcasts, read books watched documentaries — I’ve tried to get my hands on as much information as to what it is like for not only an individual sort of suffering from this particular, now-mild cognitive impairment and what it can potentially lead to, but also understanding the burden on caretakers and family members. And you know, it’s obviously really sensitive territory. We have two more seasons now to sort of see all of this unfold, and aye aye aye! It’s definitely going to be a lot.

Chrissy Metz just signed with a country label. Chris Sullivan got on stage with you in L.A. and sang new songs your husband is producing. You making records again seems to be contagious.

I know. We’re going to have to do a full-on musical episode.

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