A Moment of Levity: Rita Wison (left) at the Billbaord/THR Film and TV Music Conference with Billboard's Phil Gallo said her debut album "AM/FM" was inspired by songs heard on the radio from the backseat of her parent's car. (Photo: Arnold Turner)
Actress/producer Rita Wilson made a surprise appearance at the Billboard/Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Music Conference on Tuesday, stopping by to chat with Billboard senior correspondent Phil Gallo about her new all-cover songs album "AM/FM," due Feb. 7 on Decca.
The bubbly Wilson, who is also known as Mrs. Tom Hanks, was inspired to make the album by her memories of growing up in Los Angeles. "We used to sit in the back seat of our parent's car, hear songs on the AM radio, and sing along," she said.
Later on, when she got her own driver's license, the music had changed and moved to the FM band, where she heard the singer/songwriters that dominated L.A. music in the early '70s. So one-half of the album is dedicated to her versions of classic pop, and the other to the more folk-rock based songs of her teens.
Making the album gave her a chance to revisit some of her old favorites and see how they've changed. She told Gallo that one especially stood out, Dave Loggins' "Please Come To Boston." The first time she heard it, she couldn't understand why the woman wouldn't take the trip.
"I mean, he's cute and musician. Why not go?" But when she hears the song now, she can understand the point of view of the woman. "Maybe she was scared, or had a good life where she was."
Wilson views "AM/FM" as a move out of her comfort zone, but is not exactly a novice when it comes to music. She appeared as Roxy in the 2006 Broadway revival of "Chicago," and was a producer of the film version of the Abba-centric musical "Mamma Mia." And her first job was as an usher at the then-Universal Amphitheater. (She got fired from that job for fraternizing with musician J.D. Souther backstage.)
Still most people making their first album would not have Jay Landers, known for his work with Barbara Streisand, as their A&R rep, or have Nashville powerhouse Fred Mullen producing. Wilson admits, though, that she did feel a certain amount of trepidation walking into the studio with such heavyweights -- and simply recording at all.
"So many people have tried to do it and came before me," she said. "I want people to think I deserve to be here, and not someone who woke up one morning and decided to make an album."
But those nerves quickly passed. "I've always felt more comfortable with music than acting," she noted, quite a statement coming from an actress who has appeared in "Runaway Bride," "The Story of Us," and "Auto Focus."
But she says music has always been a part of her life ("there was always a guitar or piano around"). She even says that her listening to the radio growing up was an education.
"You could learn how to sing harmony by listening to the Everly Brothers' "[All I Have To Do] Dream," and learn about melody or songwriting by listening to Carole King. They were not only great songs, but great teachers as well."
There are other members of the Hanks/Wilson family who have musical ambitions. Her son Chet Haze is an up-and-coming rapper (see video below), and she proudly told the crowd of his gig next week opening up for LMFAO.
Rita Wison (left) with Billboard Publisher Lisa Ryan Howard (Photo: Arnold Turner)