Mandy Moore radiates warmth, hope, joy.
Even over the phone, she speaks emphatically about life and her work, as she turns attention unflinchingly away from a traumatic past and eyes a bright future. Her seventh studio album, Silver Landings, her first in 11 years, spins with a folk-rock sensibility, a style in which she is well-versed (2009’s Amanda Leigh saw her flex those muscles in spades). Across the SoCal-bleached new record, she commands the conversation in a way she never has before.
“I knew that when venturing to make this record, first of all, there wasn’t a ton of expectation on me, which was very freeing,” she says. “The last few records weren’t tremendous successes, so in that sense, I knew I was going to make a record on my own terms. That was exciting. Therefore, I could really lean into the things that influenced me the most.”
Moore calls upon a wide range of muses ⏤ from Joni Mitchell to Crosby, Stills & Nash ⏤ and peppers in some of her most magnetic vocal work to-date. “Every picture that I take / Every word that I say / Ends up a footnote on my resume,” she heaves on album opener “I’d Rather Lose.” Her voice floats across the melody, a smoldering set-up of the album’s rich musicality and moving emotional gamble.
“Thematically, it made a lot of sense. [This song] provided a template of the stakes of what this album was ultimately going to be,” she says. “I also think, sonically, it’s one of my favorite sounding songs on the album, and I always feel that’s a no-lose situation, if you can start a record off with one of your favorites.”
She offers only a peek in the beginning ⏤ choosing to slowly peel back the layers, revealing some bruises, of course, but it is the remarkable strength that is most impressive. “Not all pain is black and blue / Strongest people come unglued,” she coos with a staccato swing on “Save a Little for Yourself.” She quickly advises to keep particular pieces of herself close to the vest. “When someone gets the best of you / Don’t let them take the rest of you,” she stresses.
“Fifteen” burns with affection for her 15-year-old self ⏤ the age she was when the bright-eyed singer-songwriter released her debut album, So Real. “On the road with the boy bands singing for the people in the mall / No regrets… with a few exceptions / Learning to love all the imperfections still a part of me,” she waxes wistful.
Made over three different recording sessions, between United Studios and Barebones Studios, Silver Landings ⏤ produced by longtime collaborator and friend Mike Viola (Panic! At the Disco, Fall Out Boy, Jenny Lewis) ⏤ conjures up a dreamy refresh of the Laurel Canyon sound. A star-studded smorgasbord of musicians ⏤ including Dawes band members Griffin Goldsmith (drums, percussion) and Taylor Goldsmith, Moore’s husband (electric guitar, baritone acoustic Guitar, high strung guitar), Tyler Chester (bass, acetone, piano, Wurlitzer, chamberlain), and Sean Douglas (piano, Wurlitzer) ⏤ press the songs with a lush, sunny slather.
The players also include Viola (Juno 60, pianet, and numerous other instruments), Davey Farragher (bass), Alan Hampton (bass), Eric Lea (viola), Sara Watkins (fiddle, vocals), and Jason Boesel (percussion).
Amidst a hectic This is Us filming schedule, lead time to hit the studio was minimal. “I’d email Mike, saying, ‘Ok, Mike, my schedule just came out! I have next Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday off.’ We were trying to sandwich in these recording sessions and reach out to see what band members were available. Obviously, I always knew Taylor and Griffin’s schedule.”
Musically, an album foundation came with the song “Trying My Best, Los Angeles,” a groovy little number reflecting on Moore’s roller coaster relationship with the city itself. “They say it’s all who you know / But I dropped all my names / By now even mine has changed / Sometimes I stare at the phone / Like I’m praying for rain,” she considers, letting the heaviness fall away from her.
Later, she juggles the complicated dichotomy of her journey. “Laughing and crying / Either way you know I’m yours,” she admits.
The pull to stay was far too strong. Before she knew it, 20 years had passed.
“I live in a company town. That’s not lost on me,” she reflects, “and so therefore, my love affair with Los Angeles has fluctuated over the years. I definitely feel like an Angelino, tried and true. I’ve lived here longer than I ever lived anywhere else. This is my hometown in many ways. It’s my chosen hometown.”
Notably congested, the metropolis led to Moore spending plenty of downtime in her car ⏤ as many can certainly relate. “I’ve found myself at certain junctures of my life second guessing whether or not I belong here, whether or not Los Angeles wants me, and where I should go instead. A lot of those come to Jesus moments happen in the car because obviously, we’re quite a congested metropolitan area,” she laughs. “I very much feel much of our lives are lived in our cars. That’s why I think, lyrically, a lot of the song – and a lot of the record, in general – ultimately, my mandate was my favorite thing to do is find a record that I am just crazy about and find some time to take a drive on not a congested day or not a congested part of town and roll the windows down.”
“It’s 82 degrees here and blues skies. This is the day I made a record like mine to listen to. Find a canyon or ride along the PCH and blast something and be hopeful and excited about the future. Definitely acknowledge the past and what it took to get here – but ultimately, I’m a glass half full kind of gal, and I wanted this album to swim in those waters.”
“Trying My Best, Los Angeles” immediately became a lyrical touchpoint, as well ⏤ confirming she was on the right path. “The scope of the song was all-encompassing on what I was trying to say and what the band was going to be doing. I hadn’t made a song quite like this before,” she explains. “It also came together while we were recording. We didn’t go in with any particular arrangement ideas, necessarily.”
Further freedom was provoked out of spontaneity, showing up in these live-to-tape floor sessions ⏤ a first for her. “We’d walk in, and Mike, Taylor, and I would show everyone else the bare bones of what the song was and its structure. As a band, we’d ultimately decide then what we wanted to do. We’d do two or three takes, go back in the control room, listen, rewind the tape, and figure it out.”
“‘Is anything worth keeping? Probably not. Let’s record over it.’ We’d go back and do a couple more takes until we were all on the same page. Then, we did very minimal overdubbing. I mean, there are a couple keyboard overdubs and a little background stuff. But most of this record really just was what was happening on the floor in isolation. It was awesome. This is why I want to make music now.”
To say her musical fire has been ignited is an understatement. The performances ⏤ from the sweeping, provocative sparkle of lead-in “When I Wasn’t Watching” to the restrained “If That’s What It Takes” ⏤ showcase a soft, yet glowing, brilliance. The most evident 1-2 emotional punch comes with “Forgiveness” and “Stories Reminding Myself of Me,” two songs that dig right into the core of her pain.
“Doesn’t matter how the cards get shuffled / It only matters how they’re played / Your lies were never subtle / As if I didn’t know the game,” she mulls over the remnants of her heart on the former. Finding forgiveness was never easy, and in the final frame, she tightens her grip, singing, “Will I forgive you / You don’t get to know.”
With the latter, she dusts herself off and readies to move forward ⏤ an entire new world stretches out ahead of her. “Time to go / I’m not taking anything / Can’t take another swing,” she sings with a plainspoken determination. Later, it’s punctuated with the line: “I’ve said my peace.”
“Having taken such a long break from music and not knowing how to start back up again and what direction to go in and what to say ⏤ and I had so much to say ⏤ that it was almost immobilizing,” she says. “I didn’t even know where to begin. There is a lot of that confusion poured into different parts of this record. There is stuff I want to address on this album, but on my own terms. I’m not interested in reliving the past. I’ve spent enough of my time miserable, and I don’t want to do that anymore. I’ve taken great strides to move away from the past and find momentum forward and distance myself from it.”
Pain, trauma, and grief are injected in heavy, appropriate doses, and each decision was born out of vital creative rebirth. “It came down to forgiving myself and being able to drop the bags and look with an eye to the future and sunnier skies. With a song like ‘Stories,’ there’s a real vulnerability in opening yourself up to not just parts of your life people might be familiar with ⏤ I understand I am a public figure and I’ve been in this industry for 20 years ⏤ but ultimately in things people don’t know as much about. That’s the part of my life I’m most interested in sharing with people, too.”
In many ways, playing matriarch Rebecca Pearson on NBC’s hit drama This is Us (now nearing the end of its fourth season) was the catalyst driving her to this moment. “I’ve been incredibly lucky to have found success at all in this industry. Especially as an actor, it’s like, sure, I’m able to pour myself and life experiences into roles and different characters, but at the end of the day, it’s not me 100 percent. That’s what I really craved and missed ⏤ being able to really share a side of myself that only music allows you to share as a writer and performer. That is very reflective in that particular song [‘Stories Reminding Myself of Me’].”
Moore’s story reaches its apex with the closing song and title track. “I’ve been unpacking a suitcase ever since I was a kid,” she sings with a tinge of both sadness and hope. Such a simple line tells the entire story of her life, from an optimistic 15-year-old to a grown woman, 35, that has been through the wringer but still sees the world in bright neons.
“It’s weird. It makes me emotional to think about and talk about,” she says. Here, she pauses to hold back tears, her voice audibly cracking.
She collects herself and continues, head-on, “I had a lot of work to do on myself and my relationship to music and being a musician and legitimacy and all kinds of conversations in that regard. This song sums up everything for me and everything it took to make this record and find the courage to jump back into this world again – which I very much questioned for a long time, whether I had any right to be here. It felt fitting it was the last song on the record and the title of the record.”
“I am a believer in things happening for a reason. I’m really taking stock of the ebb and flow of not only the last decade of my life but the last two decades. Forgiving that 15-year-old or making peace with her, I have so much affection now for that part of myself. I recognized her role in who I am today and having a career at all,” she says. “Who cares about being embarrassed about music I had no say in when I was 15. I’m proud of it! I was making music and I had a career! It allowed me to be here today as a 35-year-old woman, and there are plenty of people who have a connection to that chapter of my career and to that music. Who am I to disparage their choices or pass judgement on them. There is so much that goes into getting me to this place of ultimate acceptance and understanding.”
“Silver Landings,” then, takes on a more “grounded form of a silver lining,” she notes. “That’s how I view my life and career.”
Moore’s tenacity for life soaks onto every inch of Silver Landings, the entirety of which she co-wrote with Taylor Goldsmith and Viola. “They are two of my favorite songwriters in the world. I would say that not knowing them or married to one of them. I was in incredible company, musically, and I felt safe to be vulnerable and to dip my toe back into music in a way I hadn’t in a very long time. I knew I had the backing and security of people that I had the utmost respect for. I knew they loved me and really championed me.”
Across the board, Moore is an easy target ⏤ for Linda Ronstadt comparisons. Both demonstrate great understanding of melody, story-building, and vocal craftsmanship. In the first season of This is Us, Moore performed a cover of Little Feat’s “Willin’” (famously covered by Ronstadt in 1974), and it was an instant hit. “I love Linda Ronstadt,” she gushes.
Fans were quick to point out the similarities, even going as far to say Moore is a dead-ringer to play the rock legend in an inevitable biopic. “I mean…. sure,” Moore hesitates. “I think understanding her background, maybe it wouldn’t necessarily be my role to take on. But I would be honored to be part of anything having to do with Linda. My lord, yes. If nothing else, I’ll be there opening weekend to see that biopic.”
Silver Landings is not only Moore’s first record in over a decade, but she sets out on her first-ever proper tour later this month. “Obviously, I’m in a completely different chapter of my life. I’m nervous but excited. This is something I’ve been pining for for a very, very long time. The fact I get to do it with all of Dawes and Mike? This band is unbeatable,” she says. “I will play any song from the past with them. We were in rehearsals the other day, and we were playing ‘Extraordinary’ and ‘Wild Hope’ and ‘Candy.’ Everything sounds good with this band.”
Teasing a setlist, Moore will, of course, play her big pop hits but also pull from her TV work. “We’ve gotta do ‘Willin’ and the song Taylor wrote for my character last season [‘Invisible Ink’]. I want to be able to weave in other aspects of my life. I understand people are going to be there for a whole host of reasons,” she says. “Plenty of people probably don’t know any music from my past and maybe only know me from the TV show. I want to honor that, as well. I know I’m not just a musician.”
“I’m excited to be almost like a VH1 Storyteller and bring people into the fold and talk about my last 20 years. This is the best summer hiatus ever. Everyone else is going off and making movies and doing other TV shows, and I’m like, ‘I’m going on the road!’ I’m a giddy teenager. I can’t wait to get on the bus and take off.”
Silver Landings officially drops today (March 6) on Universal Music Group.
Here are Moore’s upcoming tour dates:
March 20 – Pittsburgh, PA – Benedum Center with Bedouine
March 21 – Atlantic City, NJ – Music Box at the Borgata with Bedouine
March 22 – Boston, MA – Orpheum Theatre with Bedouine
March 24 – New York, NY – Beacon Theatre
March 26 – Washington, DC – Warner Theatre with Bedouine
March 27 – Red Bank, NJ – Count Basie Theatre with Bedouine
March 30 – Durham, NC – Durham Performing Arts Center with Bedouine
March 31 – Charleston, SC – North Charleston Performing Arts Center with Bedouine
April 1 – Charlotte, NC – Knight Theatre with Bedouine
April 3 – Atlanta, GA – Woodruff Arts Center with Bedouine
April 4 – Birmingham, Al – Lyric Theatre with Bedouine
April 5 – Nashville, TN – Ryman Auditorium with Bedouine
April 7 – Jacksonville, FL – Florida Theatre with Bedouine
April 8 – Orlando, FL – Bob Carr Theatre with Bedouine
April 9 – Tampa, FL – Straz Center with Bedouine
April 17 – Milwaukee, WI – Pabst Theatre with Bedouine
April 18 – Chicago, IL – Chicago Theatre with Bedouine
April 19 – Minneapolis, MN – State Theatre with Bedouine
April 21 – Kansas City, MO – UPtown Theatre with Madison Cunningham
April 23 – Dallas, TX – Majestic Theatre with Madison Cunningham
April 24 – Houston, TX – Cullen Performing Arts Center with Madison Cunningham
April 25 – Austin, TX – ACL Live at the Moody Theater with Madison Cunningham
April 27 – Phoenix, TX – Orpheum Theatre with Madison Cunningham
May 1 – Sacramento, CA – Crest Theatre with Madison Cunningham
May 2 – San Francisco, CA – Warfield Theatre with Madison Cunningham
May 5 – Portland, OR – Roseland Theater with Madison Cunningham
May 6 – Seattle, WA – Paramount Theatre with Madison Cunningham
May 8 – Salt Lake City, UT – Eccles Theater with Madison Cunningham
May 9 – Denver, CO – Gothic Theatre with Madison Cunningham
Photo Credit: Carter Smith