At the tender age of 14, Mandy Moore inked a deal with Epic Records, and soon after, got to work on her debut LP, 1999's So Real.
Like most eye-catching, aspiring pop singers her age, the songs that comprised Moore's platinum first studio outing were mostly written for her, with lyrics she hadn't composed and felt little connection with. The same thing happened with her 2001 self-titled offering, and then again with 2003's Coverage, a collection of covers Moore felt a strong connection to.
"Being a part of the process from the get-go was something that I was never allowed to do," the singer said last week. "I signed a record deal and was sort of shoved into the studio with songs that I didn't really like and had no say in — which was fine, because it was a great platform for me to start from. But for the last few years, I've known just what type of record I wanted to make — and I stood my ground."
After a break from music that found her concentrating on building her acting résumé, Moore is back with that album, which she's tentatively, tellingly titled Wild Hope. Slated for release in April, it will be the first of Moore's efforts on which she either wrote or co-wrote every song.
"Making this record has been the most exciting and fulfilling experience of my life — creatively," Moore explained. "It's been my favorite endeavor, including movies and all that stuff. I really have had such a blast making it, and I wouldn't have wanted to do it any other way — nor do I want to do another record any other way.
"I feel like any artist should be able to call the shots," she continued. "That's the whole point — to fulfill your passion. I could have made this record a couple of years ago, in a very different way, with different players involved, and I just knew that it wasn't the right thing. It would be nice to sort of find success with this particular album, but I'm just happy that it's going to be out there and available, and I'll be able to play this music. It just kind of happened the way I imagined it happening."
Moore began writing material for Wild Hope more than two years ago, and, when the time was right, headed to Allaire Studios in Shokan, New York, where she'd spent seven weeks tracking with producer John Alagia (Dave Matthews Band, Liz Phair). Moore said she brought 18 completed tunes into the studio with her, some of which she'd worked on with singer/songwriters like Rachael Yamagata, Chantal Kreviazuk and Lori McKenna, or indie pop-folk duo the Weepies, all of whom she said she's a "humungous fan" of.
"The fact that they were open to the idea of collaborating with me, and on top of that, the collaboration working and us sort of getting great results from our time together — I just had no idea," she explained. Moore, who is learning to play guitar and is an avid folk-music fan, personally approached the artists she wanted to work with. "It was really magical and kind of serendipitous in a way. It was me being this huge fan and chasing after them, telling them I'd love to work with them. And it all worked out."
And yes, fans will be hearing a different Mandy on Wild Hope — not the "Candy" Mandy they might have grown up with. She said that her love of folk did seep into some of the tracks, and she had to take the chance of it not connecting with her old fans.
"I love the music I love, and I wanted to make an organic, fresh, live-sounding pop record unlike what's out there now," she said, admitting that she no longer knows where she fits into today's musical landscape. But more than that, the album's also very personal, she said.
"People will take what they want to take from the lyrics," Moore explained. "I don't live my life too much in the public eye, relatively speaking, so I can escape a little bit of that scrutiny. But it is a personal record and it's my first songwriting stab at things, so the lyrics are about what's been going on in my life the last two years, and how I feel about life and love and figuring out who I am and where I fit in. I definitely tried to not take the easy road, and I'm very proud of it. I pushed myself to say exactly what I wanted to say."
What Moore's most excited about is performing the material live. When she first started out in the business, Moore said she was mostly an opening act for boy bands. But this time around, she's going to be headlining — just not in arenas.
"Opening for the Backstreet Boys was fun when I was 15, but I want to go on a legitimate tour," she said. "I want to play small clubs, and have that intimacy. I want to be able to see people singing back those words I wrote."
Next year will see no shortage of Mandy Moore. In addition to the album, she has four films on the way: "Because I Said So," "License to Wed," "Dedication" and "Southland Tales" (see "Mandy Moore Attends School Of Comedy With 'Office' Star, Robin Williams").