Look who’s a songwriter now! For her introspective self-titled second album (out Friday, March 11), Rita Wilson put pen to paper with a who’s who of esteemed hitmakers, including former American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi, Adele collaborator Dan Wilson, Taylor Swift’s studio guru Nathan Chapman and more.
Us Weekly’s Ian Drew chatted with the 59-year-old actress-singer (who also returns to play Marni’s mom on the new season of HBO’s Girls) about her writing process — and busting moves like Janet Jackson!
Us: Your last album, 2012’s AM/FM, was all covers. Why did you decide to write your own songs this time around?
Rita Wilson: I’ve always loved storytelling, but when I started writing, I actually didn’t know I was writing an album for myself. It all started when Kara DioGuardi said, “I’m going to write a song with you because I think you could write a song.” And so she did and brought in Jason Reeves, another amazing songwriter.
And when I had two songs under my belt, one of which was “Grateful,” which is on the album, I thought, “OK, I’m going to branch out here” and see if this other guy, Kristian Bush from the band Sugarland, would write with me. He had offered to when he first met me and I thought, “This guy’s crazy! I’m gonna write a song? I can’t write a song!”
But when I got back to him, I felt at least a little bit like, “OK, I’ve written two songs and maybe that’ll be OK.’” And later, after I had maybe 30 songs under my belt, I was like, “I think I’m writing an album for myself!”
Us: What inspired such personal numbers as “Forgiving Me, Forgiving You” and “Crying, Cryin”?
RW: Well, I’m a very public person who’s extremely private. A lot of public people are very comfortable saying everything that’s on their mind and revealing themselves. I’m not like that. But in songwriting, you have to be 100 percent honest and authentic about what’s going on to really get across my experience. We don’t want to bother people with our stuff. But at the same time, we’re all seeking connection to really have honest conversations and not be judged. So it was more than an outlet. It was revelatory. You can be surprised by some of the things that come up in the process.
Us: The album also includes more upbeat tunes, such as “Girls Night In,” which you penned with Taylor Swift’s co-writer, Nathan Chapman. It actually reminded me of her song “22.”
RW: It was a wonderful experience and we really were having so much fun with it. We wrote it in Nashville at Nathan’s place after we started talking about girls’ nights out, where you go out with your girlfriends and go crazy.
But what about the nights when you just stay in with your girlfriends? And those can be even more fun because it’s completely uninhibiting. You’re just letting it all hang out. You don’t care what you wear. You don’t care what you look like. You don’t care if you’re eating too much. You just are with your friends, having a great time.
A few years ago, I had watched these music videos and I was like, “I want to learn how to do those dances.” So I called a friend up who’s a choreographer and said, “Can you teach me and my girlfriends a bunch of these dances?” And he’s like, “Yes.” So we were pretending we were Janet Jackson! It was really fun.
Us: Not the outfits though?
RW: I wish we had the outfits. Oh my gosh! Her outfits are so good.
Us: Aren’t you also a Taylor Swift fan?
RW: I’m a huge Taylor fan. Nobody reaches her level of songwriting, her performance, her intelligence, or even her closeness with her family. I love the girl. I went to her concert when she was in L.A. and had the best time.
The whole 1989 album is just ridiculous it’s so good. How do you pick a favorite off of that one? I love “Blank Space.” I love “Out of the Woods. “Shake It Off” is fantastic!
She’s a person who turns something negative into something empowering time and time again. And I think that’s such an amazing mindset that she has, but also it’s a great way to teach people how to do that. Young girls who maybe are not feeling that strong at a certain point in their life to be able to look at her as a role model and say, “Yep, I’m turning around. I’m just gonna play.”
Us: So what is your favorite song on the disc?
RW: I’d probably have to say “Grateful” because it was the first song I wrote with Kara DioGuardi so it holds a special place in my heart. Without that song, I wouldn’t have written any of the following songs. And it tells the truth of what you feel.
We all go through stuff and, at the time that it’s happening and you think, “I can’t believe this horrible thing is happening to me.” And then maybe a couple years down the way you realize, like, “If that horrible thing didn’t happen to me, I wouldn’t be here where this wonderful thing is happening to me.” So it’s kind of being able to connect the dots and be grateful for everything that happens in the moment, even if it’s a horrible thing.
Us: Your big tour launches in Solana Beach, California, on March 29. Are you excited?
RW: Oh my gosh, I love it so much! I get so giddy and so excited because I get to see the people who are listening to the music and relate to them. They inspire the show as much as I am singing the show. I feel their vibe. I feel their excitement and I love that connection. That’s what I love so much and I’m also so excited because I’m going across the country, which I’ve never done before on 16 wheels or however many wheels are on a bus!
Us: Wow, wow. So what are you going to do on those long bus rides to pass the time?
RW: I love games. I’m a big games player so there’s gonna be Scattergories, Uno, Bananagrams, Gin Rummy and Hearts. And I’m sure there will be lots of movies. Lots of music. Perhaps some songwriting. And, I predict, plenty of laughs.
Wilson’s second album, Rita Wilson, is available on iTunes this Friday, March 11!
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