©Grand Ole Opry, photo by Chris Hollo

When Rita Wilson does something, she gives it 1000%. Whether it’s her four albums, 30-plus-year marriage to husband Tom Hanks, or a Ted-X talk Wilson dives in, heart first, with the intention of sharing wisdom and connecting with her seemingly limitless creativity. As Wilson explained in her Ted-X Nashville talk this month, “How I Forgot to Ask Myself What I Want, and Why We All Need to be Asking That Question,” at War Memorial auditorium, it is perfectly fine to crave more at any point in time or level of success. Wilson, whose talk was said to be one of the day’s most moving, spoke to how rediscovering her passion for music, over the last decade, has made her feel more alive, inspired, and aligned with her soul than ever.

The triple threat actress, producer, and singer-songwriter, who also sang at Ted-X and performed at the Grand Ole Opry (it was her sixth time) the same evening, reminisced in her talk about the influence of her hardworking parents and how battling cancer spurred her desire even further to become the best songwriter she could be. Like her Nashville counterparts, she works hard at the craft, writing constantly, paying attention to what she can learn from other’s processes, and keeping her antennas out for great stories. As she explained at Ted-X Nashville, there is no age limit when it comes to tapping into your joy. When the video hits YouTube in a few weeks it will make viewers want to jump out of their seats and tackle what makes their heart tick.

 

You and I both spoke at TEDx Nashville and worked with the same coach. What made you want to write and perform a Tedx talk?

RW: I’ve listened to so many Ted and Tedx talks. When they asked me to do one, I was completely flattered but also very anxious. (Laughs) It wasn’t easy, but I really enjoyed reflecting on what it’s been like coming to music and songwriting later on in my career. I didn’t feel like I was alone in the desire to reconnect with an impulse.

The talk was about reintegrating something you love into your life that may have been forgotten about. We know what inspires us but, somewhere along the way the message is sent that it’s not valuable because you can’t make money at it or it’s too difficult. The talk is about getting in touch with whatever it is that brings you joy.

What did it feel like when you first began writing music and songs?

RW: I immediately felt closer to who I am as a creative person than I ever had before. I’ve made a wonderful career out of acting but I can count on one hand the roles that were the most liberating or connected to a creative story I wanted to tell. Writing my own stories, or interpreting other’s, felt incredibly creatively satisfying.

What has it been like working with some of the top country music songwriters?

RW: Going back to my childhood, I remember hearing country music on AM radio. It was always the stories that got to me. It has been exhilarating to be able to work with the incredible songwriters in Nashville who are so disciplined, professional, and focused, which are all qualities that I respond to. I love the people here and the town too. I wish I had bought property years ago before it got all crazy expensive. (Laughs)

Your music has been called practical and straightforward as it addresses real-life issues in a down-to-earth way. How did you find your own songwriting style?

RW: When I first started visiting Nashville to write I didn’t know why I was here at first. I thought, maybe one day someone will hear my songs and think, that sounds like a song I’d like to sing. Around this time, I started writing a lot and seeing themes that were developing amongst the stories I was telling. A narrative started to appear. It occurred to me one day that I was writing an album for myself. When I look back on that first album of original music {self-titled “Rita Wilson”}, a lot of the songs are about saying the truth. I wrote for myself while hoping others would like it too.

Did the co-writing process feel natural to you?

RW: It felt more than natural! I am a people and partner person. I was absolutely overjoyed because I love collaboration. I remember thinking this is beyond ideal.

What was it like to work with artists you admired?

RW: Sometimes ignorance is bliss. When you don’t know that asking someone of a certain stature to collaborate is taboo, you’re liberated from that boundary. My producer knew Vince Gill and asked him to sing harmony on a song, which was a gift. In Chris Cornell’s case, we had become friendly before I asked him to sing on the duet, “All I Have to Do Is Dream.” He said ‘yes’ because he trusted my taste and didn’t think I’d create something tacky. (Laughs) I’ve been so lucky.

Do you enjoy writing more about your own life or others?

RW: I go with wherever the inspiration is coming from on. Kristian Bush {one-half of Grammy-winning country music duo Sugarland} often asks, “What’s on your heart?” which I love. I am always amazed by the fact that you can go into a session having no idea what you’re going to write and at the end of it you’ve created something brand new that didn’t exist before. The songwriting process will never cease to amaze me.

What has it been like to perform at famed Nashville venues like the Grand Ole Opry?

RW: Completely amazing. I believe you count your Opry performances like you count your blessings because that’s what it feels like to perform there, which I’ve done six times. The fact that Nashville, The Opry, and Bluebird Café have welcomed me is something I will never take for granted. I am humbled by it, to be honest with you.

A lot of women look up to you as a role model. Do you have any advice for us?

RW: As I discussed in my Tedx Nashville talk, whether you’re single, married, have children, or are a creative or business person it’s about asking yourself, “what gives me joy?” Just because you follow your passion doesn’t mean you have to exclude a home life either. I know many incredible women who have created businesses out of their homes so they could raise children. While we still have a long way to go in terms of women being equal to men when it comes to pay and position, I believe that by using our metaphorical and literal voices we can change the dynamic. It all comes back to being fearless and saying what you want to say. How can we use our voices?

Well, your candor when it comes to using your voice, both in songwriting and journalism, is so refreshing. Last question: what are your favorite Nashville hangs?

RW: For restaurants, I love Rolf & Daughters, Adele’s, Husk, and Kayne Prime. Neighborhoods that are my favorite are The Gulch and 12th Avenue South. Of course, The Bluebird Café is my favorite. If I am in Nashville, I always make time to go there.

Well, we can’t wait to have you back. There’s still property available!

 

Look out for Rita’s TEDx Talk on Youtube in January.

Learn more about Rita Wilson at www.ritawilson.com