With 2012’s covers set AM/FM, Rita Wilson staked a claim as a recording artist. But the Sleepless in Seattle, The Good Wife and Girls actress’ self-titled sophomore album brings her into the songwriting ranks collaborating with a cadre of proven hitmakers such as Kara DioGuardi, Richard Marx, Jason Reeves, Nathan Champman, Sugarland‘s Kristian Bush and more.
“I always wanted to do music, but I didn’t believe that I could be a songwriter because I didn’t play an instrument and I had never been around anybody who had written a song. So I was never aware of the process,” Wilson — who releases Rita Wilson on March 11 — tells Billboard. It was good friend DioGuardi who showed her the ropes, co-writing a couple of songs with Wilson and Reeves and putting her on the path that became the album.
“I found it such an exhilarating process even though some people might say it’s like watching paint dry,” Wilson says. “You have to be so open and make yourself so kind of vulnerable in a way. It’s like you meet a complete stranger and you fall madly in love, you strip emotionally naked, you have musical intercourse and give birth to a song baby. It’s the craziest thing.”
Wilson had no problem with vulnerability, as it turned out. Much of the songwriting for Rita Wilson was done around the time Wilson was diagnosed with breast cancer while also starring on Broadway in the Larry David play Fish in the Dark. She went from uttering David’s caustic words to pouring her heart into songs such as “Crying, Crying,” “Grateful” and “In The Dark,” a process Wilson found healing in its own right.
“Music has always been that thing for me, that idea that there’s always a better way to look at things even though you can be down and even thou yough can be really in bad shape. There’s still a way to get through it,” she notes. “I didn’t set out to write that theme specifically, but I wrote a lot of songs and that theme was emerging, so then I thought, ‘OK, I’m gonna go with this.'”
“Along For the Ride,” which Billboard is premiering exclusively below, rolls in from the opposite side of that emotional spectrum, however. Another early composition, the uptempo, Americana-flavored song was co-written with Nashville tunesmith Annie Bosko, who Wilson met at a New Year’s Eve party she and husband Tom Hanks threw (Bosko is the sister of a friend of the couple’s son Chester). “We were talking,” Wilson recalls, “and she said she lived in Nashville and I said, ‘Oh, I know a few people in Nashville. Do you know Jason Reeves and his wife, Nelly Joy?’ And she goes, ‘They’re my best friends.’ So Annie and I decided to write together and we’ve written four or five songs together now. But (‘Along For the Ride’) just felt good. I had the title and we wanted to write something that was very upbeat and also kind of metaphorical. Even though it talks about cars I think it’s much more of a ‘Let’s get up and get out of this bad mood’ sentiment.” Listen to it below:
Wilson retains that spirit throughout the album’s 15 tracks, which she produced with Ron Aniello, Babyface, Chapman and Marx. She’ll be taking the material onto the stage starting Feb. 23, with a 12-night residency at the Cafe Carlyle In New York City and then a 17-date tour kicking off March 29 in Solana Beach, Calif., and wrapping up April 26 in Boston. She’s looking forward to singing her own material on tour, as well as the experience of hitting the road with a band.
“I’ve already picked out my bus; It’s kind of modern and sleek and very cool-looking,” says Wilson who, along with Hanks, co-produced My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, a sequel to their 2002 hit adaptation of Nia Vardalos’ play. “I think there’ll be lots of Scrabble, Bananagrams, card games and jogging or walking and stuff like that. It’s going to be hilarious.”