Inspired by the sounds of the 1970s, the actor, singer and songwriter returns with a new album of dazzling duets
For her latest album, Rita Wilson Now & Forever: Duets, multi-talented singer-songwriter Rita Wilson is putting a fresh spin on some of the legendary music of the 1970s. Her stirring renditions of hits like Massachusetts, sung with Leslie Odom Jr., and Where Is the Love? featuring Smokey Robinson, pay homage to influential artists while demonstrating the musical prowess of Wilson and her fellow vocalists.
The remainder of the duets consist of Wilson teaming up with more esteemed musicians: Willie Nelson, Jackson Browne, Tim McGraw, Elvis Costello, Keith Urban, Josh Groban, Vince Gill and Jimmie Allen. On her fifth studio album, she’s again partnering with frequent collaborator, Grammy Award-winning producer Matt Rollings. Here, the performer shares with us her story-driven approach to songwriting and reflects on the process of recording the album.
What inspired you to cover classic 70s sounds for Rita Wilson Now & Forever: Duets?
“The 70s introduced me to the singer-songwriter, a person writing from their own personal experience. That sort of vulnerability and honesty in songs felt very truthful. Those songs speak to me from that place of honesty. I think that’s the reason they’ve endured.”
How has music from this era informed your own songwriting process?
“It’s always been about the story for me. A story wrapped in a gorgeous melody is evocative and allows a visual to form in my mind. One that allows a personal interpretation. I always try to be as honest as I can in my own writing but constantly seek out the masters and learn from them.”
As you release your fifth studio album, how has your songwriting evolved since you began creating music?
“As I have been writing over the last 11 years I have felt as if I’m in a master class. I have learned from every writer I have worked with. Just take the approach to writing a bridge; one writer I worked with said she thought the bridge was the ‘drop the mic’ moment. I loved that. I try to take bits of everything I have learned and apply them to what I’m working on. There is craftsmanship, thought, reflection that all go into a song.
“I have learned that I am stubborn about getting something right and not giving up if it feels as if what is being written doesn’t resonate truthfully. It’s important to me to keep seeking that. I never want to feel that I’m settling for something just because it’s the easiest path. I’ve also learned to not force anything. All the great songwriters I have written with listen. They’re thoughtful. And sometimes a song can’t be rushed. It has to live in its own time when you’re writing it.”
What was it like to collaborate with many talented fellow artists as well as your co-producer, Matt Rollings?
“Inspiring. Matt has played on most of my albums since my first album, AM/FM. He’s an extraordinary pianist, composer, arranger and songwriter. With all my duet partners it felt surreal, and yet so real. There was a humbling quality to it, yet I also experienced that everyone is an artist and wants to get it right. Every person on the album was bringing their best game. In some ways that was the great equalizer… Everyone wanting to do their best.”
How do you hope audiences feel while listening to these duets?
“I hope they feel a connection to some truthful reinterpretation of the lyrics as conversations between lovers, a recognition of themselves in the people who are in the songs. Every artist on the album has a distinctive and evocative voice, whether through our own history with them or through their own emotional connection to us through their art. It was important to me to bring people to these classic songs in a new way, with duets. That’s the brilliance of a great song … so many ways to interpret them.”
As an acclaimed songwriter, what advice would you offer to others hoping to explore their own creativity through music?
“Today there are so many ways to do this. YouTube aside, where you can learn almost anything, there are communities of people that are writing, and websites like Soundbetter.com and Briidge where you can be connected with other writers. And of course, there’s the old-fashioned way, doing it yourself. If you’re a lyricist and need to find a musician who plays, start looking around and try writing with different people.
“Take ideas from anywhere. I keep notes on my phone that I pin to the top and write down ideas as they come in. I keep voice memos if I hear a melody; a notepad by the bed for those middle-of-the-night ideas. Take time to reflect, be silent, walk, swim, let your mind wander. It’s often in the quiet that the good ideas come.”