Mandy Moore, the angel-faced actress and sometime singer, interrupted her recent concert in Manhattan to grumble for a moment about the men who did her wrong.
"You know, guys suck," she proclaimed, her sweet facial expression diluting any post-breakup bitterness. "I don't want to make a sweeping generalization, but some guys suck. And I've come across a few."
The statuesque 23-year-old, who split from TV star Zach Braff last year and has dated tennis hunk Andy Roddick and man-about-town Wilmer Valderrama, sings through some heavy stuff on "Wild Hope," her first studio album in more than three years.
The folk-pop disc, released last month and recorded in New York's rustic Catskill Mountains, is a departure from the bubble-gum music of Miss Moore's not-so-distant past. The album was produced by John Alagia, who has shaped albums by Dave Matthews and Liz Phair, and its acoustic sound and mature themes of heartbreak and personal growth would be more at home in a coffee shop than on popular radio.
Miss Moore, who has had more success as an actress than she ever did as a singer, is fine with that.
After all, her star continues to rise in film, overshadowing her singing career and forays into fashion design. She co-stars with Robin Williams in the new comedy "License to Wed" and will appear later this summer in the art-house romance "Dedication." Music, however, remains her biggest passion.
"It's just where my heart really is," she says during an interview in a trendy Manhattan hotel. "I love going back and forth and doing a little bit of [singing and acting]. I feel fulfilled creatively by a little bit of both."
Getting to the finish line was the hard part. As she branched out into movies — playing against her goody-two-shoes image as a judgmental teen in 2004's "Saved!" and as an ambitious reality TV star in last year's "American Dreamz" — Miss Moore parted ways with two record labels, Epic and then Warner Music Group, over the organic direction she wanted to take her music.
"Basically, it was me being adamant about wanting to write a record and not wanting to perform somebody else's material onstage anymore," she says, adding that higher-ups at Warner wanted to make a "very, very different pop record" than she had envisioned.
Miss Moore, who tackled classic songs in her 2003 album, the low-selling "Coverage," eventually signed with the Firm Music, a new label run by her management company. As part of the deal, in which artist and label share ownership of each record, Miss Moore gets full creative control. She co-wrote every track on "Wild Hope," bringing little-known singer-songwriters Lori McKenna and Rachel Yamagata into her team of collaborators.
Recording the album last year, she says, was "completely cathartic" and helped her sail through a low point in her life after her breakup with Mr. Braff.
The bottom line, she notes, was to "try to feel better in general and less confused and less like perplexed by life and everything that sort of comes along with it as you enter adulthood. Because that's what it was for me."
Her spell of sadness was only temporary. During this interview, Miss Moore reveals herself to be outgoing and chatty and, yes, wholesome. She sips apple juice. She introduces her new boyfriend, singer Greg Laswell, who sits at a laptop computer inside the hotel suite.
If she's all smiles, it's partly because she has a CD and two movies to promote. There's "License to Wed," a romantic comedy (which opened Tuesday) about a newly engaged couple forced to undergo a marriage preparation course, and "Dedication," directed by Justin Theroux, slated for limited release in August. In the latter, she sports heavy eye makeup as an illustrator who falls for a misogynistic children's book author played by Billy Crudup.
"I don't mind that people are like, 'Ah, you know, you're wholesome, and you seem like a real good girl,' " she says. "That is who I am, that's quintessentially who I am, but there are some times [when] you don't want to exactly feel like someone can pin you down, or pinpoint exactly who you are."
Miss Moore looks up to Reese Witherspoon, whose eclectic career she hopes to emulate.
"You can lose yourself in the work that she's doing, and you're not sort of sitting there, thinking about her life and what she ate for breakfast," she says of the Oscar-winning actress. "Unfortunately, there are those celebrities — and it's not their fault — but you can't really detach yourself from their persona. And it works to their detriment, you know?"
Indeed, while her famous peers are in rehab or freshly sprung from jail, Miss Moore lies low and out of the tabloids — except for her relationships. The lyrical content of "Wild Hope" has set off speculation that Mr. Braff was the inspiration; Miss Moore claims "it's not about one specific person."
She laid it all out there in the final number, "Gardenia," a stripped-down, wrenching ballad that speaks to her evolution from child pop star to serious artist.
"I'm the one who likes to make love on the floor," she sings. "I don't want to hang up the phone yet; it's been good getting to know me more."