Mandy Moore on ‘In Real Life,’ ‘Candy,’ Taylor Goldsmith

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for amfAR

Over the span of just two weeks in May, Mandy Moore released her seventh studio album, In Real Life, and said good-bye to her long-running family weepie This Is Us. “It’s a real mixture of feelings,” she says over Zoom, describing the waves of excitement and sadness that have come in the aftermath of these career milestones. “I’m trying to stay present and acknowledge and appreciate all of it. I get the feeling that this will probably never happen again.”

Moore may have felt the same way about her touring days. Yet on June 10, she kicks off her first headlining stint in more than a decade. And it’s a full-on family affair: Her husband and collaborator, Dawes front man Taylor Goldsmith, her brother-in-law, Dawes’ drummer Griffin Goldsmith, and her 16-month-old son, Gus, will all be joining her on the road. (She also recently announced she’s pregnant with baby No. 2.) “Obviously, no one’s going out and getting wasted,” she says. “We’re all married and have kids and are just happy to be playing two hours every night.” To be fair, drinking to excess has never been Moore’s touring style; she’s always been more interested in turning her cross-country musical adventures into multistate smorgasbords. “It’s basically a tour of Whole Foods around the country. We’re just like, What healthy snacks can we find on the road?” she says. “I’m like, Oh, what’s the best third-wave coffee in Austin? I’m looking up the Eater maps in different cities. That’s what’s exciting to me.”

Moore is also psyched to play some of the hits from her early teen pop-star days, including her sticky sweet debut single “Candy,” which dropped four months before the turn of the new millennium. At 38 years old, Moore has a sense of humor regarding her early discography. (In our interview, she apologized more than once for not being able to refund anyone who bought her first — and, ironically, best-selling — album, 1999’s So Real.) But she also doesn’t mind being known as the self-proclaimed “boring” pop star of the early aughts. “I just don’t think I’ve ever been interesting enough to have crazy rumors written about me. Maybe one day!” she says rather excitedly. Having said that, she was game to spill the behind-the-scenes tea from her much-memed 2003 Vanity Fair cover shoot with Hilary Duff, Lindsay Lohan, and the Olsen twins — and reveal which was the better boy band to tour with: NSYNC or the Backstreet Boys.

It’s always fun to play “Candy.” People are excited to hear it, but it’s a new version: a little bluesier and obviously a bit more organic because there are no synthesizers and drum machines and whatnot. Anything from a Walk to Remember is always sweet. Those are songs that might feel really dated to me, but a whole new life is born when you play them with the band. I’m excited to take lots of stuff from the past and put a slightly new spin on it. I mean, we’re not digging too deep into the back catalogue and doing any B-sides from my first or second record. We’re going to stick to the songs that most people know and play lots of stuff from the new record. There’s nothing from my early discography that I’ve had to sort of come around and find a new relationship with. I’m just excited to make sure that the older tracks feel like they make sense with the newer music. I didn’t write any of those early songs, so I feel okay saying that a good song is a good song. [Laughs.] Like, “I Wanna Be With You” is a good song and a fun one to play. This tour is going to be a fun acknowledgment of lots of different chapters of my life — done by me as a 38-year-old, not a 16-year-old. 

I feel like the title track is pretty all-encompassing of what this record is and where it sort of emanated from. It wasn’t the first song written for the album, but once it was written, it was like, Oh, this is sort of the nucleus of this collection sonically. Kind of zooming out and looking at it from a macro level, it feels like everything I wanted to say about life rolled into one. I feel like I now have an entirely new set of tools and colors to use when making music or just being a human being.

I mean, everything? I didn’t know what I was doing. Poor Shane West had to show me the ropes. I didn’t know what sides were. I didn’t know how to hit my mark. I took a lot of the basic information about being a working actor from that experience. I just remember the tremendous bittersweet sadness of saying good-bye to everybody when the film ended and feeling like, Oh, I don’t think anything will ever measure up to this experience. I loved the material we were working on. I loved what the movie ultimately said. The soundtrack was also such a huge part of the affection for the film. Twenty years later, people’s fondness of it is so rooted in the music and the soundtrack. I think singing that song “Only Hope” in the movie was such a big plot point. That soundtrack is probably a favorite of mine.

We filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina, so it was kind of like a sleepaway camp. I turned 17 on the movie, and I felt like I was sort of starting to come into my own as a pseudo-adult. All of it was such a pivotal experience for me. Honestly, I’ve never felt that way again until This Is Us, which just goes to show there are very few experiences that just check all of those boxes in this crazy life of being an artist. I’ve had so many fantastic experiences and loved working with people, but nothing had quite measured up to A Walk to Remember until This Is Us. That film set the bar and really shaped everything.

They were both so different. NSYNC was my first experience, and it was a summer amphitheater tour. We started out on the side stage that was, like, literally right when you walked in through the turnstile where your ticket was torn. There was a tiny little baby stage, and so maybe 15, 20, people would watch. Most of the time, people wanted to go buy merch or cotton candy or whatever. They were there for the experience, not to watch whatever girl and four backup dancers singing some music they’d never heard before. We did transition to the main stage before the end of the tour, but that experience was so different from the Backstreet Boys. It was their Into the Millennium tour, you know, “I Want It That Way,” so it was in an arena, and it was this spectacle of a show. The show was in the round and they literally flew to 20,000 people with glow sticks. It felt more like a fully realized situation, so I’d probably have to say the Backstreet Boys just for that fact alone. It was mind-blowing. Eight months after watching them on TRL, I was on the road with them. It was a very, very crazy chapter of my life. It was just so surreal. That’s really the only word I could use to describe it. It was the most surreal experience, and the same with NSYNC. Remember “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays”? I remember watching that music video while, like, literally getting ready for Catholic school and putting on my uniform. Six months later, I was opening for them. It was such a head trip.

“Every Light” because it was the very first song that we wrote for In Real Life. It was just the two of us, it was the beginning of quarantine, and it just feels like a very specific snapshot and moment in time for us. It was just our own little quiet intimate ode to this future child that we were going to have. I don’t think when we wrote it we were thinking it would ever see the light of day. It was just sort of our own cathartic way of trying to get in touch with how we were feeling. When we’re working together, it’s just so comfortable and so easy. I feel like I have the ultimate champion and supporter by my side. I have such unending respect for him as an artist separate from being my partner. Getting to work with him is really the cherry on the sundae. I couldn’t ask for anything better, he’s the dream collaborator in every sense.

I remember that obviously being my favorite part of the video. [Laughs.] But they were written in the treatment. It was just, like, entirely random. I mean, let’s remember this was the late ’90s, early 2000s, where you just did crazy things in music videos because that was the way to get people to vote for it on TRL. So I just remember that being one of the things that really caught my eye and made me go, I think we should pick this one! The chimps were super-professional and very sweet. It was really fun to work with them.

I was a VJ from 1999 to 2002 or 2003. I loved it. I was just in New York, and my husband and I were walking around Times Square, and I was pointing out to him, like, That was the window where we’d stand and look down at this crazy crowd in Times Square. TRL was really such a moment in time. I remember the electricity of being a part of the show as a VJ. More fun though was being on the show as a VJ and my own video being voted into the top ten. To go from a high schooler who called in to vote for videos to then being on the other side as a recording artist and having the opportunity to not only make my own videos but for them to be shown on MTV and voted on TRL was just so crazy. On one hand, it feels like yesterday, and on the other hand, it feels like it happened to an entirely different person. It’s a really fantastic and just bizarre chapter of my life, but I loved it. I loved the adrenaline of being on a live show and not knowing what videos were going to make it. Trying to explain this to teenagers now is so tough, but MTV was so intrinsically linked to pop culture, like, that was the Zeitgeist. It was the litmus test. If it was cool enough for MTV, then it was cool. There was no social media, MTV was it, the be-all and end-all.

Photo: Vanity Fair

I felt like a real outsider. I didn’t know anybody. I was really excited to be there. I just remember it being a whole production and kind of hearing the whispers. I think there was some inner turmoil because Hilary Duff and Lindsay Lohan were both fighting over Aaron Carter, if I remember correctly. I remember hearing whispers that one of the Olsen twins had a crush on my boyfriend at the time, Andy Roddick. I remember feeling like, Well, that’s cool! Someone knows who my boyfriend is — wow! And they have a crush on him? That makes me feel cool. I picked a cool guy! [Laughs.] I just remember being excited about being a part of it and feeling like I sort of made it in some regard. I was considered cool enough to be on the cover with all of these ladies. Among the women, I did not feel any animosity or competitiveness. Everybody felt really friendly, so whatever stressful, anxiety-inducing experiences people had, I didn’t feel any of that. You get all that energy and personality and publicists and all of that together, it is a recipe for disaster. But my recollection of it was there was none of that.

If I’m being totally honest, I feel like I escaped a lot of scrutiny because I never had the same level of success that most of my contemporaries did. Being younger than all of them, I was very much allowed to be myself. I dressed the way I wanted to dress and answered questions the way I wanted to answer questions. Although I lived in an adult world and had the responsibilities of an adult, I was very much allowed to be a teenager. I went to the mall. I went to amusement parks. I went out to dinner with my friends. I think that’s a testament to my parents, who were just my parents. They never were my managers. No shade to anybody, but for me, that’s what I attribute to staying grounded and finding success and being here at 38 years old with a career. I don’t think I would be the same person or would have had the same experience had I not had a great parental figure always by my side. They had no other vested interest in my career other than making sure that I was happy and taken care of and doing my homework. At the time, I just thought, like, Oh, that’s what happens. Mom and dad schlep around with you around the country just to make sure you’re eating dinner. But no, it’s not that case for everybody, and so I feel very, very lucky.

Oh, probably the bulk of that first record. Yeah. I mean, I wish I had the money to refund people, but of course, that was the one that sold more than anything else. [Laughs.] I don’t have tens of millions of dollars to pay people back. So sorry about that! The bulk of that record is just, you know, when I say a good song is a good song, I don’t think that pertains to a lot of that record. A lot of those songs are not the ones that are being revisited on the road. “Candy” is the glaring exception. The rest of that record, I’m okay to take a hard pass on.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The 2002 teen tearjerker based on the Nicholas Sparks novel of the same name, which marked Moore’s first onscreen lead role.

BSB kicked off every show of their 1999 tour by riding “hovering surfboards” over the crowd (with help from wire harnesses) to the sounds of “The Imperial March” from The Empire Strikes Back, before launching into their hit “Larger Than Life.”