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Rita Wilson finds songwriting, music much to her liking

Singer/Songwriter Rita Wilson performs at City Winery Nashville on April 19, 2016. | Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Four years ago, actress Rita Wilson took a leap of faith. It changed everything.

Releasing her first album, “AM/FM,” Wilson fulfilled a longing deep within her that not even she could completely articulate. The album’s lyrics, however, made it crystal clear: Wilson was a singer to be reckoned with. Opting for a mix of country and pop, Wilson dug deep, with powerful vocals that proved this was no hobby.

RITA WILSON
With: The Shades
When: 8 p.m. May 3
Where: City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph
Tickets: $22-$28
Info: citywinery.com

Wilson spent the next four years on various film projects (including “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2”). She also had to deal with a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2015, which lead to a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. But music remained a constant companion for the 59-year-old entertainer. In fact, writing songs and performing on Broadway in Larry David’s “Fish in the Dark” proved to be the best medicine, she muses.

Wilson released her second CD, a self-titled nod to country rock, on March 11. And this time out, it’s Wilson the serious songwriter that also emerges alongside vocals that have grown ever more potent. The songs, all co-written by Wilson, are intimate and personal. The singer has something to say.

Wilson (aka Mrs. Tom Hanks) recently chatted about starting a music career at this point in her life.

Q. Why did you decide you wanted to pursue a music career?
A. It was what I always wanted to do but didn’t have to courage to do. I didn’t know how to make it happen. All the [singers] I know play instruments or write their own music or have their own bands. I didn’t know how you could even begin that process. Acting happened to me by accident. I focused on acting because it was consistent work. Music came up again when I did “Chicago” [also on Broadway, in 2006] and I thought, “I cannot go forward in my career without having music in my life.”

Q. Did you record this album in Nashville or Los Angeles?
A. Only two tracks were recorded in Nashville, “Girls Night In” and “Strong Tonight.” Everything else was recorded in L.A. But I did a majority of the writing in Nashville over multiple songwriting sessions. There’s such an incredible work ethic there. You have sessions set up in the morning, sessions set up in the afternoon. You’re gonna leave with a song by the end of the day!  It’s extraordinary. It taught me a lot. The discipline, the focus and the talent these songwriters have, and they’re so open [to collaborating], especially with someone like me who’s not an experienced songwriter.

Q. Your first album was more country-pop. This one has a more decidedly country-rock edge. Was that an intentional shift?
A. It’s funny because when I was doing this album I wasn’t setting out to do this kind of album or that kind of album. When I started writing I didn’t know I was even WRITING an album. I was 30 songs in before I realized it. . . . I was just writing songs hoping other people would sing them. I didn’t think I had the guts to do it on my own. There are great female country artists, but I’m talking about the real storytelling artists. I was turned on to Dolly Parton, Bobbie Gentry, Jessi Colter at a very young age. I wanted to write [those kinds of songs].

Q. Why do you say you didn’t have the guts to do it on your own?
A. You feel a bit like an interloper in the beginning. What makes me think I can come into this business that people have been doing for so long? And then you get over it and it became something I couldn’t NOT do. You just have to get over the fact that people are gonna judge you.

Q. The songs on this album are so personal, almost confessional in a sense. Can you talk about some of them, such as “Crying, Crying” and “Forgiving Me Forgiving You.” What was going on in your life that led to those lyrics?
A. With “Crying, Crying,” there was a lot of stuff going on at the time in my life. I was doing “Fish in the Dark” on Broadway with Larry David, and at the same time I was rehearsing the play I’d have to fly to L.A. for surgery or a doctor’s appointment because they were still trying to figure out if I had cancer or not. I was so grateful for having the play because I could escape at night while I was going through all the bad stuff during the day. . . . With “Forgiving Me Forgiving You” I think I wanted to explore the whole idea of forgiveness. I’ve always looked at that as something confusing. . . . If someone has wronged you they have to say I’m sorry and then you forgive them. You then get that closure. Someone has to give. Someone has to make that first move.

Q. “Strong Tonight” speaks volumes to women everywhere.
A. Every woman in the WORLD can sing that song. Every woman I know is keeping it together — her marriage, her job, her kids. And sometimes I just want to scream, “I can’t take it anymore! I’m going to lose it and I don’t care!” [Laughs] So the song says allow yourself that one indulgence. Not because it’s a song about anger, but it’s coming from a place of this is what I feel.

Rita Wilson album

Q. Is doing a Broadway show vastly different from performing on stage as a singer?
A. With music it’s me just singing a song on a stage. I can’t say I’m hiding behind a character. That was one of the things I loved about the process [of making an album]. Songwriting forces you to be honest. You can’t just have lyrics. If it’s not truthful it won’t make sense. It forces you dig deep.

Q. What did you discover about yourself in the process of making this album?
A. I wasn’t prepared for how creatively satisfied I would be in the process of writing songs. And the collaborations that came about, the friendships I made. To be able to tell the truth through music about an experience you’ve had. The whole point was to just tell the truth and not hold back. You learn you have something to say and that you’re not alone. My experiences are not unique. There are people going through worse things, or the same thing or happier things and in a way through my songs we’re sharing them. I found this feeling of community, that you’re connecting to something.