After a good 20 minutes of talking with Mandy Moore, it’s time for my last question for the musician/actress, and I want know—does she have a favorite Ryan Adams song? Surely, she can tell me…or at least throw an innocent lie my way.
“I can’t,” she says, shyly. “He’s sitting right next to me!”
A curios Adams is listening in, and he wants to know the question. Moore whispers it to him, and of course, he’ll answer it.
“Oh, let it be a Werewolph song,” he says, a nod to his resurrected death metal band.
Moore laughs along with Adams, catches her breath, but still can’t give an answer. “I don’t know,” she says with another laugh. “There are too many—that would be too hard to choose.”
Given that I had put her on the spot—and that I actually got a quote from her husband—I thank Mandy Moore for her time and say goodbye. She had already given me more than enough.
Like her husband Ryan Adams, Mandy Moore comes with a warning label: she’s a heartbreaker herself. Her new album, Amanda Leigh, titled after her given name, confirms this. It’s mostly old folksy and soft 70’s sounding music—a mature step up from her previous work. The only blatant pop song found on its 13 tracks, “I Could Break Your Heart Any Day of the Week,” is something that Moore describes as “a way of owning and acknowledging your sense of self worth in a rather tongue and cheek manner.” The truth remains, though—Moore could break many things if she wanted, even if she’s just trying to have a little fun.
But who is Mandy Moore the musician? Is she the teen who sang silly and sweet pop tunes 10 years ago? Is she a secret fan of Werewolph and death metal? Or, is she the artist who is credited as a co-writer for all of the songs on Amanda Leigh, an album she recorded with Mike Viola and Ducky Carlisle using vintage equipment?
Glide recently had a chance to talk with Moore about the making of Amanda Leigh, her influences, and expectations.
What is going through your head right now?
A lot…and not a lot. I’m just excited, I think! I’m ready for the record to finally be out. We finished in January, and it always takes so long for it to finally find its way out in the world. So, I’m just ready for people to hear it, and hopefully be able to take it out on the road, too.
Well, congrats on finishing it. You know, I don’t hear this as a pop album. I hear this as more of an experiment for you. Can you talk about that?
Sure! Thank you. I guess I do kind of regard it as a pop record, just because of all of the influences that I love, which are considered to be pop or rock or whatever. But, I love sort of taking this amalgamation of all the people that I love and sort of put it in this big melting pot—borrowing things here and there—and just ultimately getting to make the record I really set out to make.
There were no expectations, there were no guidelines—nothing that I sort of had to stick to, I guess. I mean, we start out the record with a waltz, and end the record with this really acoustic melodic little…thing. And everything in between—we have clavinets, we have French horn, we have woodwinds, and a string quartet. I just wanted to make something that felt cohesive, like a collection of music and body of work where there was this common thread throughout. But, I also wanted each song to have its own thing going on, and I think that was achieved.
You mentioned not dealing with expectations. Do you think though that some of your listeners have some kind of expectation in mind for you to sound a certain way? Is that hard to fight through sometimes?
I think that there are certainly people out there who only know me for what I was doing 10 years ago, musically, and that they come in with certain expectations—and that’s fine. I actually myself don’t think it’s that crazy to have evolved and grown up over the last 10 years…
I think it’s normal, actually.
Totally, exactly! So, it’s just a testament to time taking its course. I feel lucky to still be around and kicking and having the opportunity to make music. And I also recognize that there are going to be people who hopefully listened to the last record and are curious to see what this one is all about; I’ll take all of them, and everything in between. You know, why not? Just…just be open-minded and go in with as little expectations about what you think you’re going to hear.
You worked with Mike Viola, and you wrote with Lori McKenna for this album. How does that help bring the process along for you?
To be honest, I think this whole record spawned from meeting Mike and immediately knowing that it would be fun to collaborate with him. I wasn’t sure to what degree, but it happened so organically. We ended up meeting and hitting it off, and we both love the same kind of music. And then before I knew it, we were writing together, and we both agreed that if he had the time and I had the time, we would sit together as often as we could—or either just chat and listen to music and really work hard to figure out what this record was going to be.
He kind of jumped on board immediately, and I loved that about him. He got me, and got the type of artist I am and what kind of record I wanted to make. He was an incredible sort of comrade in this whole crazy journey. A lot of it kind of took shape in my mind with Mike. I was like, “Well this is kind of the record I want to make—is that okay?” And he was like, “Yeah, why not!” And I loved that school of thought.
I wrote a bunch with Lori on the last record, and we actually wrote a ton together for this record, and only one song ended up getting cut and made it on the final thing…
Yeah! I think it was a wonderful learning experience making a record this way. It was something I had never done before. To be able to write an album’s worth of stuff with one person, and then be in the studio with them, in a very sort of contained and intimate and creative way—it was just Mike, myself, and our engineer friend Ducky—that was it! So, it was a learning experience on a level that I had never had before, and I think it was just as important as the writing experience was.
I don’t think a lot of people—myself included—know what it takes to record an album…
Yeah—it’s not something to commit to lightly. It’s something I’m very passionate about. Again, I feel lucky that I have some other things on my plate that I could focus on, and I wouldn’t have to do this, but I want to. I love it. I know I have a lot to learn—there are certainly places that I want to continue pushing myself towards and goals that I have for myself, and I’ll just keep on keeping on, and see wherever that takes me.
What are a few things that you would like to learn about writing a song or playing an instrument? Is there something in particular?
No…I mean, I would love to just be able to accompany myself on stage one of these days—that’s one of the biggest goals I have for myself. Other than that, just like anybody else who continues to work on their craft—without sounding pretentious—you know, as a writer, you have to keep at it. Whatever you choose to do in life, you have to constantly be working on it. And that’s what I hope to do—continue to write everyday—writing poetry or reading, or just absorbing new music and discovering new artists and getting into their whole catalog; just being open minded about things and being open enough to realize that influences come from all sides. I’ve had some interesting life adventures—especially as of late—that I know will somehow make their way into the music.
I think they have to, and I think a lot of people want to know who you are as a musician. When they hear the name ‘Mandy Moore,’ what do they think of? What do you want them to think?
I think that I would not expect for people to have followed every little nook and cranny of what I’ve done over the past 10 years, but I think that I’ve tried to…I’ve made my own little path going from A to Z. There have been little steps that I don’t expect everyone to notice, but I didn’t just make the first record and then just jump in to making this record—a lot has happened in between. I guess I just want people …if I were to describe the type of artist that I want to be—I don’t really have an exact answer for that; I don’t have an exact definition. I guess what I would want people to take away, at the end of the day, is that I love what I do, and I am really passionate about music. And like I said, I’ve come a long way, and there is still a long way to go, and there is so much I am interested in, stuff I want to learn about and absorb, and each experience clearly is leading to the next experience—each puzzle piece is part of the big picture.
This record was so informed by writing Wild Hope and recording it, and taking it on the road—some adventures that people know a little bit about and plenty that people know nothing about. All of that is what it took to write this record—songs that didn’t make it on the record, songs that clearly did—just a lot of investigating and experimenting. If nothing else, I just want people to know that I love what I do, and I’m not doing it for any other reason than that. I wouldn’t be doing it anymore! As I said, quite frankly, I’m lucky enough that I have other things that I could concentrate on, but I really love to push myself and challenge myself, and I’m going to continue to do that. Whether it’s in the same sense that I’m doing now, or whether I’m just making music for myself and nobody ever hears it.
I’ve read recently where you say you listen to Fleet Foxes, and you listen to Paul McCartney, CSNY…those are some great bands and songwriters. And Mandy Moore listens to them?
Oh yeah! I’m a big fan of some unbelievable musicians, I think. Like Joni Mitchell and McCartney…and then I’m also really lucky to have some really incredible…I don’t know if you would call them ‘musical tastemakers.’ (laughs) People in my life—I have some great musical friends who have great musical tastes, and over the years I have just been introduced to tons of stuff that have led to my own investigations. It led me to make that record Coverage…I was 18 or 17…and was like, ‘I don’t think any of my friends know about XTC or The Waterboys!’ So, I like doing my own investigations, too.
Isn’t it weird how that happens?
Well, I’m sure you’ve heard a lot more than I have, though! But, I have fun finding new music. It’s cool to find something and fall in love with it and to be able to introduce it to your friends. It’s the best!
And of course now, you’re married to a magnificent songwriter…
Yeah, he’s alright. (laughs)
How has that helped, though? Do you talk about music?
Well, I guess, yeah…when you’re lucky enough to have a great support system in place, you can’t help but collectively share things you love about your job. And (he is) someone who understands what you’re talking about, what you’re going through—yeah, there’s a lot of musical discussion, sure.
Are you looking to learn a lot from him?
Umm…I mean I guess, yeah! (laughs) I guess that….it’s a pretty ideal situation. There are a lot of creative juices constantly flowing. So, I’m excited to see…again, over the last couple years, like all of the new musical partnerships and friends that I’ve made—it’s been so fruitful and so much fun. Even the little things—like a friend saying, ‘Hey, come up on stage and sing some harmony with me.’ Just those little things. You know, I love going to shows and watching those little nuggets—people getting up and participating—it’s so much fun to be in that position now. So, I definitely think that all of that stuff is going to inform what comes about next.
You talked a little about this earlier, but is playing an instrument something you really want to do?
Yeah…(laughs). Umm…yeah. I play a little piano and a little guitar. And right now I’m kinda learning a little bit of bass, so that’s where my head is right now. I think it would be ideal one day to be able to accompany myself on stage. Or even just for my own benefit at home. If I knew how to play as well as some of my friends, I would have less of a social life than I do at this point—I would never leave the house. I would just be playing and singing all day like a big nerd. (laughs)
But, at the end of the day, I’ve just always loved singing. And it’s a whole new experience the last five or six years having a band behind me—and even more recent—having a band behind me singing my own music that I wrote. There are plenty of people who I love who are rockin’ out, and they don’t have to be rockin’ out with a guitar.
What would you say your favorite song is on the album—the one that is most dear to you?
Ahhhh….it’s hard. I think I have a special sort of place in my heart for the last two songs on the record (“Nothing Everything” and “Bug”), because they were the last two songs written while we were recording. To me, it really kind of typifies the experience as a whole. Like I said, the entire two years of everything that kind of happened in life—what it took to get to that point of writing and finishing—I remember putting my pen down after scribbling down the last few words for “Nothing Everything,” and I just started crying. It was a lot. I’m a particularly sensitive person, and I thought, ‘This is it…this is the end of the experience making this record!’ So, they kind of really mean a lot to me in a different way; they’re just sort of separate from the rest of the songs on the record.
The last one ends on a soft acoustic vibe that works well.
I was really adamant about having one song like that on the record, and I was like, ‘It has to be the end!’ I felt like I still had something to say while making the record. I kept talking to Mike about it, and when it came time to put the pen to the paper…
Well, that’s important–you have to close the record…
Yeah, there’s still something to say. And opening up a record with lyrics like ‘Restless to being/ A wave comes crashing in,’ I was like, ‘There has to be something that closes it with not a lot of fuss, just a very simple sentiment.’ I kind of ruminated a lot about what that needed to be, and it all kind of fell together perfectly.
Glide Senior Writer Jason Gonulsen lives in the St. Louis, MO area with his wife, Kelly, and dogs, Maggie and Tucker. You can e-mail him at: [email protected]