Nelly Furtado: Wings Of Change, Pt 1

As we take a trip down memory lane in the career of Nelly Furtado, it’s amazing to see the ground she has broken as an artist. From the time of her 2000 release Whoa, Nelly!, it wasn’t long before the Canadian songstress had the universe wanting to fly like a bird. “Turn Off the Lights” […]

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As we take a trip down memory lane in the career of Nelly Furtado, it’s amazing to see the ground she has broken as an artist. From the time of her 2000 release Whoa, Nelly!, it wasn’t long before the Canadian songstress had the universe wanting to fly like a bird. “Turn Off the Lights” affirmed that Nelly was a long-time Hip-Hop chick, rocking Trip-Hop tracks in her early days as the group Nelstar.

The 2003 release of Folklore offered Nelly’s pensive and subdued side, mixing folky rock with her signature style and sound. Now with platinum and gold plaques, Timbaland collaborations and a beautiful daughter, Nelly Furtado has come full circle with her new album, Loose.

Nelly spent some time with us to respond to the shock of her new record, her place in Hip-Hop, and how she got here. Aside from falling in love with herself and her roots again and reveling in the joys of motherhood, Nelly definitely plans to bring sexy back! Alternatives: Was music always “it” for you?

Nelly Furtado: Yeah for me, you know when I was like…I started writing songs when I was twelve and I’d spend all of my time in my bedroom. My walls were plastered with all the rap and R&B stars of the time, whether it was Bell Biv DeVoe or Mary J., or even Chi Ali and different artists like that. I started writing rhymes at one point. Then I went back to songs, and they were very R&B. And then I discovered more like Rock and Electronic and Trip-Hop, and I formed a Trip-Hop group called Nelstar in Toronto.

My first recording gig was for a Hip-Hop group called Planes of Fascination, and I did background vocals. And, you know, it was really fun. And then for a while, I tried other Urban styles like House, Drum n’Bass- anything having to do with the city I loved. You know, [laughs] just anything with a beat. I remember at the age of ten, kinda begging my mom to buy the Casio keyboard with the built-in scratch effect so I could jam over it and sing – I always loved beats and vocals.

I think that’s why Timbaland and I get along so well, because he’s full of beats and I’m full of melodies, so the two of us is like an explosion in the studio. The studio literally exploded the first day. We were recording a song called “Maneater,” and the volume was so loud it burnt the rubber and a flame came out the speaker. So it was very intense. I’ve changed where I learned to play acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and developed my skills as a songwriter, became more independent, and now I’m just getting better. It’s an education. It’s a slow climb for me. I plan to be doing this til, hopefully til I’m 75 like Celia Cruz. [laughs] I hope so.

AHHA: How would you describe your journey from Nelstar to this point?

Nelly: Nelstar, wow, seems like a lifetime ago, but at the same time is really close to home. The other day I was in Central Park alone with my daughter, just chillin’ on the lawn. Sometimes I feel nostalgic in a way [about that time]. I was only 17 and really just kind of experiencing independence for the first time because I was living on my own, and just really feeling the creativity of the city, Toronto, and the streets and the music. Trip-Hop music; Hip-Hop music. I went to my first rave and went to my first open mic. It was a very fun, very potent time, but it was also a very dark time too. I was depressed and not really knowing where my life was going. I had a dream, but had no way of making it come true.

Eventually I decided to go back home and go to college, and I bought a guitar because I learned how to write songs better; took some writing classes. Before that I met Track and Field. They kind of brought a ray of sunshine into what I was doing. I was really melancholy until I met them, and then I was like, “Uh oh! Music can be happy!” Then I started writing different songs. Then I wrote a song called “Hey Man,” which was on my album [Whoa, Nelly!], and I realized that I had my own unique voice. Around that time was also when I was discovered at a talent show in Toronto. From then on things kept going. I did my demo with Track and Field in Toronto in their bedroom apartment/studio. A lot of my earlier demos were made in bedroom studios. [laughs]

AHHA: Coming from a musical family, was the music industry a shock to you at all?

Nelly: My mom was real strict about us doing music, but when I got into the music business, I had only performed like five times. I did musical theatre, but like it was much more about music growing up than it was about performing. One of my first performances was at the Tonight Show, my first photo shoot was with Vanity Fair, my first tour was opening for U2. So it was very scary. It’s only now that I’m getting my sea legs. I feel like now I’ve caught up with everyone who was on the Mickey Mouse Club since they were little kids. And I mean that in a good way. I’m not making fun of those people, I was just very out of place when I came out because I was a Pop artist, but didn’t have the experience – the showmanship.

AHHA: How did you first become involved with Hip-Hop?

Nelly: Um, I think I’ve always kind of been different. Since I was like a little kid I was always like experimenting with different musical styles. I did everything from play trombones or play the ukulele to sing in choir and also always sung in two languages: Portugese and English. So I already started off eclectic at the age of four, you know when I first performed. So Hip-Hop was just another style I picked up along the way and what I do as an artist is I try to flip it up every time, because I never want people to guess what I’m gonna do next. I always wanna turn people’s heads and not shock them, but just kind of prove to them I can do different things. I think the Hip-Hop thing was one last weapon I hadn’t pulled out yet. I was saving it, you know? And I knew on my third album I’d probably unleash that on people so… A lot of people who know the material and know the catalog and know the remixes and collabos I’ve done, from the Roots to Jurassic 5 to Missy Elliot, Miss Jade… You know, independent artists like Swollen Members or Jellestone to Saukrates to different people I’ve worked with. It’s a part of what I do, you know, and in this album with Timbaland is like us kinda putting our heads together and fulfilling on the promise we made with a couple of tracks that turned people’s heads five years ago, you know?

AHHA: You described Loose as putting your hoodie back on to go hangout with the Hip-Hop kids. Hip-Hop has been an underlying thread in your career. Why do you feel that so many people are shocked still at you moving more towards Hip-Hop?

Nelly: [laughs] It’s just so funny. It must be those people who only heard “I’m Like a Bird” I think. [laughs] Sometimes people judge artists by their last material. Nevermind the whole body of work before that. So it’s kind of funny, but for me, I just don’t live my life that way. I live my life completely diverse and completely open-minded. Folklore was my singer/songwriter album back when I was performing at coffee houses and listening to a lot of Elliot Smith and Beth Orton.

But then this album is more the time of my life when I was listening to like Salt-n-Pepa, New Edition, Boyz II Men, LL Cool J. I don’t want any of my albums to sound the same. Now people are seeing more of the entertainer in me. Like “Promiscuous Girl;” all of the steps are choreographed. I was putting on a show with my performance. I love it, because I feel liberated like when I was 13 in my room doing my favorite Janet Jackson routine. I love that. That’s why this album was so fun for me. But at the same time, I’m only now coming into my own.

AHHA: You have a song on the album called “Afraid” and the chorus says So afraid of what people might say / But that’s ok, ‘cause you’re only human. Was that any indication of reservations in putting the record out?

Nelly: You know, I think in these past couple of years in life, I’ve just grown a whole lot. After the birth of my daughter, Nevis, my whole life changed. I’ve kind of let go of my ego, because once you become a mother you don’t care so much about what people think of you. You act the way you want. You don’t have time for wishy-washiness. When I was recording this album in Miami, I was going through changes as a person too. Just kind of like feeling like myself for the first time. I think because Miami is just so Latin, and everyone speaks Spanish. Being a Latin woman in Miami, you just feel at home. You’re completely surrounded by people who look like you similarly or culturally.

I wrote [the chorus to ”Afraid”] in a hotel room in Miami, and it came out of nowhere. What I like about the chorus is that it reminds you of walking down the hall in high school always afraid of what people think about you, because you live from the outside in. Now that I’m an adult, I care about the inside of me. I realize now that everything comes from the inside. Before I said I didn’t care about what people thought about me, but I really did.

AHHA: What are some of your experiences working with Hip-Hop artists?

Nelly: You know, all of my experiences working with Hip-Hop artists…that was my inspiration for calling this album Loose. ‘Cause what I discovered was even when I was promoting my first album, you know, these artists would approach me. At one point I was getting requests for Hip-Hop collaborations like every week! It would be like from DMX to Foxy Brown to everybody, and I couldn’t do it all because I was always touring. But I have so much respect for so many of those artists and I got around to doing the Jurassic 5 thing. Hooked up in LA at NuMark’s home studio, and it was incredible working with them.

What I found every time I collaborated with a Hip-Hop artist, I felt so relaxed. I felt Loose, you know? And then I scratched my head and a lightbulb went off, and I said, “Why aren’t I doing this on my own records? I could make my life so much easier!” And I did the Jay Leno Show like four or five times, but the time I felt the most relaxed was when I did “Get Your Freak On” with Missy Elliot. It just kinda rolled off my shoulders because I think culturally, just growing up, my relation to music has always been very spontaneous. When I was a child, my father would take me to these events where two people would kind of battle each other, not rapping but singing over guitars. It’s a Portuguese traditional style from the islands they’re from. And I was a child, so it made an impact on me. The element of the spontaneity and the freestyling; definitely the idea of coming from very simple roots.