The singer-actress talks her new album and overcoming anxiety.
Ashley Tisdale has built her entire career on being relatable. After moving to Los Angeles from her native New Jersey, the young entertainer cut her teeth with supporting roles on hit shows like 7th Heaven and Smart Guy. Despite her growing profile, Tisdale still prioritized working regular jobs and attending public school until she got her breakout Disney character, first as Maddie Fitzpatrick, the environmentally conscious teenage service worker in The Suite Life of Zack & Cody.
Having something that felt like a normal life likely helped Tisdale adjust to the pressures of her meteoric rise to fame, which hit critical mass when she played queen bee Sharpay Evans in the wildly popular High School Musical franchise, starting in 2005. But even off screen, Tisdale was fiercely individual on the streets and red carpet, wearing boas, UGGs, and no shortage of tulle and beads. You could tell from the squinty-eyed celebutante pout she perfected that she could care less about the public’s judgement.
Tisdale’s acting triumphs opened the door for equally successful music entrees, from 2006’s gold-selling bubblegum pop debut, Headstrong (“He Said She Said”), and her edgier pop-rock influenced follow-up, 2009’s Guilty Pleasure (“It’s Alright, It’s OK”). During both major-label efforts, Tisdale’s winning personality never dimmed, even when leaning into the tumultuous experiences of her teenage fanbase with life, liberty, and the pursuit of individuality.
This diverse industry cred all worked to establish Tisdale as one of the pre-eminent talents of her generation, coming from the same child star boot camp that bred contemporaries like Selena Gomez, Lindsay Lohan, Vanessa Hudgens, Drake Bell, Justin Bieber, Hilary Duff, and countless others. But of course, growing up in the limelight is not without its challenges, as we’ve seen time and again through the turbulent highs and lows navigated by all these stars.
And somehow through her own inner fortitude, Tisdale made what looked like a seamless transition to adulthood, taking on more risqué roles on shows like Sons of Anarchy and in Scary Movie 5. She has since gotten married to musician Christopher French, launched a makeup line, and executive-produced the ABC Family TV series Young & Hungry for its four-season run. Now 33, Tisdale is more in the driver’s seat than ever.
After nine years, super fans were elated to discover that Tisdale was ready to release her third album Symptoms. It’s out in 2019, and on it, she shows audiences a side they haven’t seen during her decades-long career — that of Ashley Tisdale, a woman navigating the ups and downs of her internal world. And it’s 100 percent her: alongside producer John Feldmann, Tisdale wrote the album’s nine songs, forging a creative partnership that allowed her to reveal her most vulnerable self yet.
The lead single from Symptoms, “Voices in My Head,” which you can stream below, carries an almost quiet grace. Over a simple, catchy guitar lick that morphs into a spare electro-infused beat, Tisdale acknowledges the voices that threaten to “fuck me up and change me” when she buries her feelings. She sings with serene acceptance about the voices as lies to you and me, making her experience universal. It’s the calm therapy session we all need right now.
Where does this come from? Tisdale gets candid and espouses hard-earned wisdom with PAPER in an illuminating interview. Here, she talks about being true to herself, self-love, and why we should label ourselves less.
Hey! Oh my god. I’m so excited. How are you?
I am so good, how are you?
Well, my life is so great, I get to talk to Ashley Tisdale!
Oh my god, you are hilarious.
So you’re working on your new album…
Yes, “Voices in My Head” [is out now] and then Symptoms will be out in January.
How are you feeling about it?
I know! I’m feeling really really good. You know, it’s so different from any of the other experiences I’ve had in music. In the past, for me, when it came to — even in TV and movies — I’ve always been like, “Oh my gosh! I wonder how this is going to do?” And I honestly have no fear, I don’t even really, honestly, care. I’m so proud of it, and proud of what I’ve done. It’s the most authentic thing I have ever done in my career. It’s very personal for me.
Wow, like even more than acting, everything else?
Oh, yeah. In acting, I’m playing different characters, so it’s not really me as a person. I’m producing other peoples’ visions; but this album is who I am, and I think it’s very scary at the same time because you’re being so vulnerable and that’s really hard. I think this is the first time my fans and people are even going to know who I am as a person. The album really takes you through a journey of what I’ve gone through.
It’s been nine years since your last album. You’ve had a full life since then! I know you have a lot to say. Can you give me an overview of some of the bigger themes you’re tackling on this record?
Since it’s been so long since I have done music, I always said I was not going to do music just to put something out there. It’d have to mean something. I definitely have gone through things over the last couple of years, and even have become more aware of things that I go through. It was all really weird how this happened, but John Feldmann, who is a really good friend of mine who produces the 5 Seconds of Summer records and blink-182 and all the way back to Hilary Duff, back in the day… he came to me and was like, “We just created Big Noise and we want to sign you.” And I was like, “Oh that’s so crazy. Let me feel it out in the studio.” I’ve been in and out of the studio for about four years now, but I really wasn’t excited about anything I was doing. Really the album is an upbeat record, like pop/electronic, but it’s got the undertones of issues like depression and anxiety. I’ve dealt with anxiety for a really long time. I think I became super aware of my anxiety about two years ago.