Nelly Furtado interview: first decade, greatest hits, what’s next
November 9, 2010 by Bill Palmer
Even as she continues work on her fifth album, Nelly Furtado is giving fans an early holiday gift next week with the rest of a “Best Of” album which includes three new songs along with past hits along the lines of I’m Like A Bird and Promiscuous. As her career enters its second decade, Nelly reflects on the first ten years, gives us the scoop on the new songs surfacing this month, and offers hints about her forthcoming 2011 release.
Night Is Young is the new single from Best Of record. What can you tell us about it?
It’s a fun song and it’s got this explosion of positive vibes. It’s just a song about reflecting on life and celebrating the moment at the same time with your friends. I had a really great conversation with a friend of mine and we sat and talked about the past, present, and future. That’s what inspired the lyrics. The element of youth I think exists in everyone, I believe, and it’s celebrating that idea, really. And when I got together with Salaam Remi, he’s a great example of that. He’s this timeless, jolly human being and we had so much fun together. I think the song really captures the vibration between us and the energy. People are feeling it a lot. I’m happy, because I’ve never really had a straightforward song that been dance pop, I guess you say. It’s definitely a pop track, but it’s obviously quite a high BPM. I think it’s 130 or something. It’s a really fast song.
I’ve also heard an acoustic guitar live version of the song. How did the song originally come to life?
My theory is that if a song is a good song, no matter how you dress it up, it has to sound good on acoustic guitar, and that’s been kind of my rule my whole career. It’s like, okay, if you can play this song on acoustic guitar, and I wrote a lot of my first album on acoustic guitar, but I always fee like if you can bring it back to that acoustic guitar and sing it, that’s a good tune. Because there are a lot of songs that really don’t sound good on acoustic guitar, which is fine, it doesn’t mean they’re not good songs. They’ll do well on the radio. But for me personally, I like all my songs to sound good also on acoustic. This song does that, but it wasn’t written that way. It started as a lyric. It started kind of like a poem. I wrote all the lyrics and then I came to the studio and Salaam had this really great beat.
Whoa Nelly was released ten years ago, almost to the day. Your career has had success not just in that moment, but you’ve lasted long enough that you can do a greatest hits album. In that moment ten years ago, were you thinking about this moment back then? Did you ever think you’d get to this point?
You know what’s really funny is that I actually wasn’t. I was thinking more about free clothes and meeting cute boys, and I finally have a CD out so I get to do music full time (laughs). At the time, when I signed my record deal, in my head I was like okay I’m just gonna put this one album out to humor myself and then I’m gonna go back to university. But then I never went back to university, I just kept making albums because it was so much fun. That’s actually what I was thinking about at the time, if you want the truth (laughs).
But I had so much fun. You have to understand, a lot of stuff happened to me in a short amount of time. So I was just really lucky. I got to do so many things just for the first album. I won a Grammy and I opened for U2 and I did Glastonbury and Area One and all these crazy rock and roll moments. My rock and roll diary got really full within a year. So it was almost overwhelming. I always say I have this disease. Every time I put an album out, I go through a six month period when I’m like, “I’m gonna retire and my sewing class starts tomorrow.” I go through this funny period of wanting to retire and not knowing what I’m doing. And then it disappears. It just melts away and I’m ready to make another album again. It’s a critical condition. I don’t have a name for it yet or a medicine.
It’s going to be called Nelly Furtado Syndrome.
I think it’s called Spoiled Brat Syndrome (laughs).
If you had gone back to university, what would you have studied?
I was actually registered for the creative writing program at the University of Victoria because I had this dream of writing novels. I did a year of college and I was gonna do that, but instead I went to Toronto and went around the world with my manager trying to get a record deal and made a demo tape. So yeah, I just went the other route.
It wasn’t until I looked at the greatest hits record and saw songs like I’m Like A Bird and Promiscuous and Manos Al Aire on the same track list, that it sunk in just how many things you’ve tried in your career. What comes to mind when you look back at the whole sum of the ten years? Are you glad you’ve pushed those boundaries?
Yeah, I have to say pushing boundaries definitely paid off for me in my career. It’s weird. I think it’s just been a side product of my ADD. I always get bored staying with one style for too long. It’s just kind of okay, I’ve done that, let’s move on, let’s do something different. It also comes from my wide range of musical tastes. I just listen to so many different kinds of music. I grew up in a home where we were playing fado music and we were playing ABBA in the same hour. It was always eclectic for me, so I just don’t know any other way. There have been times in my life, trust me, I’ve been like why can’t I just do one style? Why aren’t I a blues singer or a jazz singer? Why wasn’t I born into a style? What’s wrong with me?
I’ve just been myself over the years. I guess my compass has been about okay, if I genuinely like the music I’m making at the time, and if it genuinely reflects something that’s going on in my life, then people are going to like it or gravitate to it. Or at least at the very end of the day, if everybody hates it, I know that I did it with good intentions. There’s nothing worse than thinking you did something because somebody told you to or because you thought it was cool, and then everybody hates it. Then you feel like a moron. But if you do it because you wanted to, then you can only blame yourself.
You know what’s really funny in this business is I find even the thing that may be considered mistakes, or this or that, actually become your strengths. For instance in my career I feel like my turning point or solidifying point in my career was my Folklore album, which sold less than the other two English albums. The reason why is because some of my fans around the world have really gravitated toward the Folklore album because there’s something in it that speaks more to emotion. I guess at the end of the day, music that moves you emotionally is the stuff that ends up sticking with you long term.
So you’ve got an album of all new material coming out next year.
Yeah I’m working on it right now. It’s coming out in 2011, and originally it was titled Lifestyle. It’s kind of funny. The way I picked the new songs for Best of Nelly Furtado was I was just coming off my Latin American tour for Mi Plan and two of my songs got leaked on the internet. Somebody in eastern Europe or something leaked the songs on the internet. One song was Night Is Young and the other song was Girlfriend In The City, but they were kind of horrible versions that weren’t even finished and not mixed. So I thought okay, a lot of my fans have heard these new songs anyway in their rough version, I might as well finish them and put them out properly on the greatest hits album. It kind of seemed like the natural choice. And then the third selection is Stars, which is a song Lester Mendez and I wrote a couple years ago when we were doing the Loose sessions. It’s one of those songs that I think people who like Folklore will like, because it’s more intimate and slow.
After the Spanish album I got exposed to a lot of Latin singers who sang with so much passion and real integrity. I think I started taking my job more seriously in the last five years, but in the last year more than ever because Mi Plan was a Nelstar release with just my own label. All the creative and so many details were so homegrown and personal for me. It’s kind of taken my focus in a new direction.
What’s the mix of languages on Lifestyle?
I would say that’s a working title right now. I haven’t totally decided on that title, Lifestyle. My goal is to put out two albums in two years, actually, like a Lifestyle Part 1 and Part 2. I think this new album is going to be all English. It’ll be my first only-English album.
interview by Bill Palmer