Nelly Furtado

Jason Torbitt | Thursday, 21 February 2008

Nelly Furtado

The Loose star chats with us about life as a solo artist, her influences, and notable progression since her first album, Whoa, Nelly!.

Thanks for chatting with us today, Nelly. What first made you want to become a singer? Where did it all start for you?

For me, I guess I just always knew. I was one of those lucky kids who just walked out onto the stage when I was four years old, for a performance with my mother, at like a church event, and god…right away, I just loved being on stage, I loved the reaction from the crowd, I loved the excitement, I loved the fact that I was spreading positive energy. I already could see myself performing for thousands, that very first day when I was only four. So it was never in question, I knew that I’d be doing it for a living.

I just wrote songs all the time - I’d be constantly singing, making up my own melodies, making up my own lyrics, started writing them down when I was twelve. Always played instruments, every kind, started recording when I was 16. The great thing is, I wasn’t a show kid, d’ya know what I mean? It was always like really cool things I was doing, like playing concert trombone or jazz trombone.

You were in a marching band, too, weren’t you?

I was, yeah. I was always really music-focussed. My mother definitely pushed me to do music, and really encouraged me, drove me to all my lessons, but it was always about the music first, you know. It was never about shows. I actually didn’t have a lot of live experience until my first album came out, and it was like – whoooaaa – really overwhelming.

Your parents emigrated from Portugal to Canada, so you grew up in a very multicultural environment ... how would you say it’s being reflected in your life, and in your music taste, especially?

Oh, like in everything I do – my parents emigrated to Canada. That was nothing - they just kind of went for it! They didn’t speak the language; once they got to Victoria, they had three of us there, and we just grew up with both cultures, it was a duality. And growing up with learning the language ... we went to night school to learn Portuguese, our mother spoke English to us at home, she took us to folk dancing lessons – Portuguese folk dancing at the weekend, and we’d learn Portuguese songs, and attend church in Portuguese.

Then she started taking us on trips to the Azures. We went on family trips every so often in the summertime, and I learnt a lot, it was great to see not only the rural background of my family, and working class roots, but also just the culture. The family, the love...the different pace of life. Growing up in Canada I met so many other young people with the same experience, and their parents are from India, Hong Kong, Somalia, Chile. We were attending different cultur[al] events like every weekend. So it was really rich, and that's why my music’s rich, and that's why – I’m, y’know, endlessly interested in collaborating with artists from around the world.

It’s been well documented that you’ve been a fan of Indian and Desi music. What Asian artists and singers could we find in your CD collection?

Erm, I’ve got [so many] Pakistani singer[s], and I’ve got a couple of contemporary sort of things in my collection as well, including the Joash CD that I like quite a lot.

So what really interests you about South Asian music, and the films?

God, I love films, they’re incredible! Actually, a Canadian director named Deepa Mehta was born in India, [and] she just came out with a third part of her trilogy, Water – I don’t know if you’ve seen the film, but it’s absolutely beautiful. She went through a struggle to film it, and actually ended up shooting it in Sri Lanka. But it’s a gorgeous film, and I think anybody would appreciate it; anyone interested remotely in Indian culture. I met her actually: she was walking off a plane, and I literally ran 100 metres, and I was like "aahh, hiiii, I'm Nelly Furtado, and I love your films!" [Laughter]. And she also did the movie Bollywood Hollywood which is great. But I do love the traditional Bollywood films. I was originally going to do the Ranga de Basanti movie, in India, actually...

But we’re seeing a lot of US Hollywood stars now making progressions with cameo roles into Bollywood...It’s great..!

Yeah, yeah it is. I do quite enjoy watching a Bollywood flick now and again at home. God I just think it’s beautiful - the colour. I was also offered a role in Bombay Dreams on Broadway about two years ago, and I went to the theatre - it was beautiful. But [it was] just [the] wrong timing, god yeah...whoop I’m tapped, I can’t wait to go to India in December.

Well first of all, let’s just hit one of the hottest albums: Loose. What was your inspiration behind the whole album, and the name of the album, especially?

You know what, Loose came to me after doing sessions with Jurassic 5, and The Roots, and Timbaland, like all these hip-hop acts. When Nelly came out asking for collaborations I was like "yeah sure", and I did as many as I could fit into my schedule. And every time I did, I got this great feeling, like I didn’t have to try. It was as if like it was effortless, like it was really natural, because I grew up on Hip Hop and R 'n' B, and my walls were plastered with Hip Hop and R 'n' B stars growing up. That was my life, and I felt that it was time to do an album that kind of paid tribute to that side of me - Timbaland really brings that out of me. He also brings out this darker, more strong, powerful me in the studio, and I just love that. I just love him to death, and we had this special chemistry - we really wanted the world to hear that, you know?

Yeah, that was a hot tune. I liked the video as well. The video was cool.

Yeah, the video was fun. Then he invited me for the Get Your Freak On remix, and that changed my whole world. That really gave me faith in who I was in that side of my world as an artist. Cos it was right around when I’m Like A Bird came out, and he had this juxtaposition going on with the Get Your Freak On remix. But some people had never heard I’m Like A Bird but loved Get Your Freak On remix, and...

Speaking of Timbaland, apparently he’s been showing you how to shake that booty to his sound. Is that true?

[Laughter] Well he is a great dancer - he has natural rhythm - and there were times in the studio where he went, "What are you DOING? You’re dancing like a crazy raver from Canada." Actually, when I did the video for Promiscuous, I went to the dance studio, worked with this choreographer called Fatima, and I just walked in and it was the scariest day of my life in a way. She was like "Oh!" and we spent the day...and after it was like "Ahh!" It was great!

When I was a kid, I did like Janet Jackson, Hip Hop, dance, at school, everything. So it was basically just tapping back into all that again, and getting more confident in it, and now I love dancing. I love trying the moves. I love learning the choreography. It’s a challenge, and I like challenges.

Now, before Loose, there was Whoa, Nelly!, which featured Fly Like a Bird and Turn off the Light. Let me just say off the record: Turn off the Light - the urban remix - was hot.

Timbaland’s always pushing boundaries like that, and he and Scott Storch produced it together - the Turn off the Light remix. That went to number one on Rhythmic Radio in the US.

There’s been a transition in your image and music style from Whoa, Nelly! to Loose; what would you say that’s been attributed to?

You know what, I’m just growing up. I’m just becoming a woman...

You’ve become a mother as well, haven’t you?

Yeah, I’ve become a mother. My whole sense of being a woman has been really enriched by motherhood. I think I have just so much more confidence and swagger than I used to have, and, I dunno, I just feel really good, really happy to be alive. I’m really happy to be doing this for a living, and I think my confidence and happiness and enthusiasm around the record has made me very sexy...

I recorded this album [in Miami], and it’s a sexy place. When you were talking about cultural heritage, living in Miami for four months is the first time I really, really felt truly comfortable as a Latin girl. Because there were so many Latin women around me, and men.

Miami’s beautiful…

It’s like a real fusion, because the Latinos who live in Miami are very comfortable, these Latin and American, it’s a very good fusion, so you don’t feel like you have to sacrifice anything really. You never really feel torn in the you know what I mean? So I think that because I was in that environment, I just felt free; I just felt relaxed, and definitely the sexy vibe was on! I felt like I could really be myself - be my sexy Latino self. [Laughter]

Would you say becoming a mother changed your life? How is it balancing a music career, and being a mum as well. Has it been difficult, or are you just taking it in your stride?

Being a mum and being a musician: yes, it's challenging. It’s like crazy duality - it's madness. And you've got to be willing to not be like status quo to do it. You’ve got to be willing to accept madness in your life, and that’s what I’ve done. I’ve chosen to take my daughter on the road with me, I've chosen to make her a part of it, and have her experience the madness with me. It's great!

And she’s been following you around, right? Taking her on tour? Even Gwen Stefani’s doing the same thing with her child - is it a good thing to do?

Yeah, I think it’s changing...I think it could be both. You could be a sexy singer and a mother. There’s no sort of complex any more, and I think I’m just re-defining that for myself, and for others too. She loves music, which is great. And now, she’s three [years old], and that means she’s taking it all in. There’s different ways to educate your children, and I think I’m just doing it my way. And it’s been a blast. But it’s as tiring as hell; I never sleep. [Laughter]

Are we going to see more children then, Nelly?

[Laughter] I love being a mum. In the future, you’re gonna see...yeah!

Every artist gets their inspiration from somewhere, whether it be from their family or others in the industry. Who were you looking up to when you were a kid, and which artists do you look up to and find inspiration from now?

Oh, growing up – my Mum singing in the church choir, and she had singers around the house all the time, singing. And then my Dad would bring me to these freestyle Portuguese sort of village battles, where people would sing, and they’d battle each other through song, and there’d be like a clear winner. My Dad would hop up there sometimes. So I was really open to free-styling and just jumping on stage, like at a really early age. We listened to pop: my Dad had vinyl, like Blondie, Abba, The Police, Led Zeppelin, Billy Joel, Lionel Richie. Then I got into some Hip Hop and R 'n' B, like Salt 'n' Pepper, TLC, and LL Cool J - different things like that. I got into my British music too ... like The Prodigy, Radiohead, The Verve, Oasis.

Do you feel you’re in competition with artists like Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas, and Gwen Stefani? Do you feel that you can be compared to them at all?

I think that my catalogue is more diverse than those two artists. I think because I’ve collaborated with artists in other languages - like Spanish, Portuguese, and English – that it really separates me from those other two artists. I also think that my roots in hip-hop and stuff are more authentic, although I appreciate both of them, and I’m fans of both of their work.

You kind of touched all of the boundaries then, with your music?

Oh yeah, I like it all. And then I got into Brazilian, all sorts of world music.

So away from music - when you’re on the road and chilling out - what sort of stuff do you listen to? What’s on your iPod right now?

Last year, I listened to loads of Bloc Party. This year, I’ve been listening to Gospel.

How long are you going to be in the UK for?

I’m actually leaving tomorrow, I’ve been here all week. But I come back for the BRIT awards in February, and I’m picking up a world tour in the UK.

Damn, you’re organised! You know what’s going on!

[Laughter] Well from week to week, you have to, when you’re a working mum!

If you could sum up the past year for you in three words, what would they be?

Erm, lets see: Amazing, Rollercoaster, Spectacular!

And it’s Christmas soon: what do you think the best Christmas present you’ve ever received is? What’s the best one?

The best Christmas present I’ve ever received was...

Buzz Lightyear?

[Laughter] No! The magic oven I received when I was 12! A magic oven that makes cakes, a little children’s oven! [Laughter]

What do you have planned for the holiday period? Are you gigging anywhere over New Years, or spending time with the family, or..?

At Christmas I’ll be at home in Toronto, and at New Years I’ll be in Bombay! Mumbai!

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for the coming year?

I still haven’t completed all my resolutions from last year, so I’m going to work on that for this year!

And what can Nelly fans look forward to this year?

Fans can look forward to the world tour, starting in the UK, then Europe, Latin America, then North America.