Credit: Roberto D'Este

The most important thing to remember going into Ashley Tisdale’s sophomore album, Guilty Pleasure, is that the High School Musical star is actually a whopping 23 years old. “Hey, it isn’t bad that I look young,” she laughs. “I’ve got good genes, I gotta say.” With an exclusive track now available on iTunes — “Overrated” marks the first of three songs to be released digitally before the July 28th album debut — she’s also hoping she has a good chance at leaving the Disney playpen behind and striking out as a grown-up pop star. “I think this album has a sense of very strong survival in every song, and that’s something I’m attracted to,” says Tisdale. “I’m a strong person. I’m also very sassy and a little bit angsty sometimes. I try to show a different side of me that people haven’t seen. I think people really see me as Sharpay, from High School Musical, which is great — but there is a different side of Ashley, and that’s really coming across on the album. I am growing up. That’s what I feel the album is really about. I’m not young anymore. I’m 23 turning 24, and it’s a reflection of where I am in my life right now.”

Tisdale says she was involved in every aspect of the album’s production, from its guitar-driven, slightly industrial sound (Lady GaGa is an inspiration) to much of the writing process. “I definitely want an album I would listen to,” she says. Her favorite track, “What If,” was a collaboration with American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi, who Tisdale calls “a talented person who knows what she’s doing.” “‘What If’ was the last song I recorded, and I just feel like it’s the most personal. It makes me very vulnerable, I think, for everybody to hear it. I don’t want to talk specifics, but the song is about when you’re in a relationship, and you get into arguments, you’re always willing to try and save the relationship. You’re willing to work things out — but the other person is always willing to walk away. So at the end of the day, without all those games, if I needed you, would you be there for me?”

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Tisdale’s busy summer will continue on the acting front with the July 31 release of supernatural family action pic Aliens in the Attic. But alas, despite the fact that production has started on HSM 4, she insists she and her castmates from the first three films will have no involvement. “We don’t have anything to do with it,” she says, laughing off a suggestion that the old pack put in a background cameo for kicks. “I think it would be really weird without the main cast,” she says. “I don’t know if I could do it. We’ve graduated. It was such a great experience, but I think we’re all kind of doing our own things, and we’re all moving on.” That moving on, Tisdale knows, is her biggest challenge at the moment. While she says she’s “very grateful” for her time in the Disney system, “it’s always hard to make that transition in your career [into more mature subject matter]. That’s where I am right now. There’s no rule book to do it, so you just have to go through it, and follow your instincts and your gut. This is all I want to do, and hopefully it’ll go really well.

“I hope to inspire people, influence people,” she says. “I’m living out my dreams and I love what I do. I’m also very normal — I went to a regular school, I worked in clothing stores, so I just really want to inspire people and say, like, anything can happen. Just keep going. I never knew I’d be doing an album someday. Luckily, High School Musical opened all those doors for us, and I’m really lucky and blessed for that.”