Rita Wilson: "I Didn't Wait This Long to Become a Songwriter So That I Could Play It Safe"
Rita Wilson's latest country song started on Instagram.
She'd had the title for “Where’s My Country Song?” on her mind when she got an Instagram message from 2010 American Idol champ Lee DeWyze.
"Apparently, Lee's wife Jonna (Walsh) had heard my Halfway to Home and she suggested that he reach out to me to write together. She thought that Lee and I would find common ground," Wilson told me, "and she was right."
So in November of last year, in a carefree pre-pandemic world, DeWyze and Wilson got together at her little writing room in Los Angeles. "I had the title of the song already," she said, "because when I think about women in all genres of music, there's sort of an idealized female in the song. But in a way, that woman is just a fantasy.
"And I wanted to explore writing about the women who are the real women. The ones we all know. The ones who are out there raising children or working behind the scenes, and I wanted to honor them somehow. My mom, my sister, and all of the women who don't have songs written about them. So I had that idea and pitched it to Lee. Then the minute he started strumming the melody in the beginning, I knew that that was the right tone."
Wilson's not wrong. Try to think of country songs about women who aren't just the girls in a country song. It's a pretty short list.
There is Lori McKenna's brand new "When You're My Age." There was The Highwomen's "Redesigning Women" in 2019. There was Carrie Underwood's “What I Never Knew I Always Wanted” in 2015. There was Jamie O'Neal's "Somebody's Hero" in 2005. There was Reba McEntire's "Is There Life Out There?" in 1991. There was Dolly Parton's "9 to 5" in 1980. And maybe a few more. But you get the idea.
So it's about time for more of those kinds of songs. Songs that Wilson says are for and about the women who aren't being represented or reflected in the songs out there. "That's what I listen for and listen to," she said.
That said, she is encouraged by the recent chart success of artists like Ingrid Andress and Gabby Barrett. But sadly, those chart-toppers are anomalies in the male-dominated country music genre we live in right now.
"What I am trying to do is expand the vision of women who are out there. But I think people won't write those kinds of songs if they don't believe they will ever get played on the radio. They may have those songs in them, but figure no one will ever hear them. I don't get played on radio. I'd like to," she added, "but I didn't wait this long to become a songwriter so that I could play it safe."
Everything about being a songwriter and a performer right now has been about taking risks and putting herself out there, Wilson said. "If I'm gonna do that, then what I have to say has to be truthful about what I'm observing and what I want put out there in the world. There's room for everybody. We don't just have this one narrow niche that is the experience of what it's like to be a woman. There is room to add more voices to this. Why is there only room for certain points of view?"
And that is indeed the million-dollar question that's behind the song that asks "Where's My Country Song?"
(As for Wilson's husband Tom Hanks? He's biased, but is clearly already a big fan of the song.)
Wilson is poised to answer the question, because she's been all the women. She has had a career, raised children, pivoted a little, and like most women, has always found her own kind of balance. "Women have always juggled. Women have always been multi-taskers. Women have always been able to do that. Everything I've done in my life informs the other things I'm doing: I still produce movies, I still act, I still write music," she said. "And making music is probably -- at this moment in time -- the most creatively satisfying."
Of her empty nest -- her children are grown and flown -- Wilson reflects that it has given her a new perspective and freed her to follow the passion she's always had.
"When you have more time, you ask yourself what it is that you really want. I used to feel like that question could be selfish. And it took me a really long time to get to the answer: music," she said. "Everyone has something that they know they love and have passion for. But somewhere along the way that message becomes, 'Do something safe.'
"But the next step requires risk. You need to still hold onto the thing you've always loved."