The main thing you need to know about what follows is that before the phone rang we were discussing whether or not to say hello to Nelly in a way that would rhyme with ‘Whoa, Nelly!’.
The phone rings.
Where are you?
I’m actually in Toronto today. It’s about 10 in the morning here.
Have you had your breakfast yet?
Oh god, yeah. Hours ago!
You know what you artistic types are like sometimes. You go without breakfast and then you wonder why you’re hungry.
No, no. Remember I’ve got an eight-year-old. I was on the school run this morning.
What sort of experience is ‘the Nelly Furtado school run’?
It’s very regular. Yeah, just like any other mummy. Get up and try my best, right? But it’s fun. I mean [SEAMLESS SEGUE ALERT] it’s been six years since my last English album but I have been doing stuff. I put out my Spanish album in 2009. I’ve also been working on my label Nelstar Records. Nelstar Records started in I dunno, about 2008. I put out an album by this band called Fritz Helder & The Phantoms – one third of Azari & III – have you heard of that band?
Well Fritz used to have another band called Fritz Helder & The Phantoms, he used to dance with me so I was friends with him and then he had this band I was just hanging out at their shows and it was fun but then eventually put them out on our imprint and we did some promotion and stuff and it was fun. But after that they all broke up and went their separate ways and I ended signing another artist from Toronto named Dylan Murray. I’ve been just working on A&Ring his album and he’s really talented. One of his songs is on my album actually. We had a duet called ‘Be OK’ which we perform together. We did that for a while and then I started doing my English album so I’m super, super excited to finally have another one out.
Weren’t people breathing down your throat for an immediate follow-up to ‘Loose’?
Yeah there were. And after I put out ‘Loose’ and the tour there were two ways to look at it. I could either just kinda wait and do it like I usually do in an organic way until that wave of inspiration hits me, which is probably a little bit old school but that’s the way I like to work. I don’t like that assembly line approach to making music. But then the other thing was maybe I should just be putting something out right away. But I talked about it with my tour manager and we thought, ‘nah, why wreck the flow’. I’ve found that everything that I’ve done in my career, even if it feels like the wrong step at first, ends up being something completely positive that’s changed my whole career, and improved the longterm trajectory of my career. So I mean, I just kind of go with the flow really to be honest. It’s scary at times. I literally want to quit after every album. After every single album that I’ve made I go through this six month period where I think I want to go back to university and write a book. It happens every time but then I just get on with it and make another album and go through this rebirth process I guess.
When you’re touring and promoting an album for years do you lose track of what the fun bit of it was when you were making music in the first place?
That’s true. You have to find the fun again. For me, it’s essential. You have to make it fresh for yourself again and make it fun for yourself again. Instinctively you know if this is ready to put out yet, or if you need to wait, to get inspired again. That’s why working with Rodney [‘Darkchild’ Jerkins – amazing] was exciting. I met him and I think we wrote ‘The Spirit Indestructible’, the title track, on the first day. We’d done this creative, intimate thing together and when I went home that day I almost felt dirty – like, ‘oh should I call you or should you call me?’. (Laughs) It’s really fun for me. Collaborating can be really exhilarating. I kind of went back to that childlike place in my mind on this album.
You’ve written your own label bio this time round – it’s like a letter to the media saying, ‘Hello! Here I am again’.
Oh my self-written bio?
Yes, it’s nice. Not only does it save your label 500 quid on getting someone else to write it, but also it’s interesting to read you unmediated saying what you feel you need to say about the album. You also talked about the diary you kept when you were 16. Which sounds exciting.
All 16-year-olds’ diaries are exciting. Do you keep diaries still?
(Giggles again) No because once you’re married you can’t keep a diary, you can’t hide it. The best lock in the world won’t keep that thing safe! I was envying my daughters diary – I stole it from her – she hasn’t even written in it but it’s got a lock and I was thinking ‘hmm, maybe if I got one with a lock I’ll be alright’. That’s my worst fear. You write a diary and then you die one day and everyone reads it.
If you could tell that 16-year-old Nelly Furtado who was writing in her diary one thing, what would it be?
Oh… That’s interesting you ask me that because on my song ‘Big Hoops’, I’m actually 14-years-old. I’m channelling my 14-year-old self because I used to put on these big hoop earrings and big jeans and backpack and go down and hang out in front of the mall and wait for my friends.
As did I.
You too, right?
Yes. Big hoop earrings.
(Laughs) Well no, it’s…
The bigger the better.
…about that thing right, that makes you feel that swagger and at that age you haven’t had… Well, you haven’t had the knocks of life yet and so you feel like you can conquer anything. Essentially I think our fight or flight instinct stays the same from that age until now and I feel like this album was this weird process of rediscovering that inner fire. So at 14 I guess I’d tell myself that there’s lots of time. Life is long. You don’t have to do everything all at once.
Life: it goes on for ages, it’s pretty annoying in parts, there are some quite bad bits.
I’d also tell her that by jumping out the window of the second floor bedroom you could break an ankle.
How did you land? Did you roll when you landed?
I scaled down the next window underneath me. It had a little ledge on it.
It’s always a good idea to know how to escape any room. If there’d been a fire or something you’d have been fine.
Sometimes when they make an album they think they know what the album is about, but its only when they get to the point where they’re talking about it with the media, or they’re reading reviews, or they’re getting it reflected back at them somehow, that they start to realise exactly what it is they’ve made. Is your feeling about this album a bit different now that you’re starting to show it to different people, or is it exactly what you thought it was going to be?
That’s a good question. I think the time when the album is just your album and a few people in your close circle or musical circle that you share it with is a very special time. I think that’s why I did all those videos. A videographer was with me all the time and I did all those webisodes because I wanted to really capture that time, for myself as much as anybody. It’s such a special time because you’re so high off all the music. You’re just so excited about all the people you’ve collaborated with. It’s like a celebration, it’s like a party. I made sure that when we’d done the final listen that I thanked everybody in the room. At that time, that’s when it’s yours still, right? And those moments are so special and once it’s out, it’s a whole other party. And it’s so fun singing live and having people celebrate the music with you and having people live their life listening to the music as a soundtrack – it’s awesome, it’s such a blessing. But I made sure that I appreciated the process. Last time with ‘Loose’ we didn’t film anything, there’s not a lot of photos or video from when we were recording it, I didn’t really get a chance to thank the people that worked with me on the album at that time. So with this album I really wanted to thank everybody in advance. Because you’re right, once the outside perspectives or judgements of the music come in it kind of becomes a different thing. I’ve decided on this album I’m probably not going to read any reviews good or bad. I think it’s probably going to be easier for me that way – kind of roll through and enjoy each moment. Whenever it happens, if I read something by accident, it will be fine. But I won’t obsess over it too much.
What do you think people want from you? There are lots of different Nelly Furtados who have released albums over the years, and each of those Nelly Furtados has got its own fan base. And I suppose in one way it might be tempting to try and please everyone at the same time but then you know loads of people are just going to start moaning anyway. So what’s the point of the album?
Everybody moans! That’s a guarantee! I know that I’ve worked so hard on it so it’s a good feeling because you’re ready for everything. It’s like, ‘wow, I don’t know how people are going to respond to it’. I think the music too has a really love/hate appeal and I love things with a love/hate appeal. It’s kind of my thing. I love when people either really love something or hate it because you never want that really mediocre ‘meh’ reaction. And I don’t try to do it on purpose but I do make things that have so much character that you really either love them or hate them. I think it’s more exciting that way, you know? I think it’s good to move people.
It is. But it’s not good to move people out the door and down the road. That’s bad movement.
Bad movement? What’s a bad movement?
People just leaving. Imagine you’re on stage and…
Oh my god!
…singing a song and everyone just goes down the pub or something. You can’t go ‘oh, at least I got a reaction’.
Well yes, you’re so right. I think there’s a difference. I don’t think you can be too self-indulgent with music. I think I’m aware that, okay, I’ve got a fanbase. The weird thing about my fanbase is that it’s all ages and all around the world, different kinds of people. I guess that’s because I’ve done so many collabos or done so many different styles. So I don’t really have a fanbase that’s so obvious. I know who my diehard fans are and I know them and they’re really supportive and everything but then in a bigger sense, there’s no real true sound that I have. I think my voice is the only real unifying part of it. It makes it harder each time because you have to reconnect with everybody again.
Well you wouldn’t have to reconnect if you didn’t leave it six years!
Rihanna has released five albums since ‘Loose’.
Oh my god! That’s amazing.
I suppose you, maybe unlike Rihanna, have this big emotional journey leading up to an album, then it comes out, then you have to almost rebuild yourself afterwards, don’t you? Whereas if you don’t stop you don’t need to look at what’s happening. You just keep charging through. That’s what she does.
(Laughs) I mean, it depends what kind of artist you are, right? I actually envy people like that.
It’s hard to sustain that. I don’t think as an artist you’d be able to sustain that quantity of output for particularly long. Obviously Rihanna doesn’t have a huge input in writing her stuff so she doesn’t need to get herself in a creative headspace to think about what this album is going to be about and blah blah blah. But I think even if you’re just performing and going out and promoting a record, and it’s an album a year, well you can’t keep that going for long, surely. Can you?
I don’t know. I think back in the day there were artists who were releasing every year. I think at one point Prince was. I went to a Prince show recently and I was just floored. I was very lucky, he invited me to the show and gave us literally the best seats in the whole thing. And it was like, oh my god, so good. And I’d just seen him four years ago and he was better than then. I looked at his whole history and I was actually shocked that he’d released so many albums one after the other but I think it’s because he’s so, so, so prolific. And I guess all he was doing was thinking, living, drinking music, right? And I guess because I’ve done other endeavours it’s been a longer process for me. I’ve been stopping to do A&R, have a label, do a Spanish album, be a mum, get some hobbies going. I find that when I’m touring and I look at a magazine and I’m more jealous of the people who took the photos and wrote the stories than the people on the cover, then there’s a problem, you know what I mean? I get so busy that I start envying people with normal lives and it’s like, I just want a new hobby. So I’ve just been taking time to do new hobbies and just get into myself. But you’re right, I think for artists who have the pick of the crop and get in a big room with all the biggest producers and writers, it’s going to be faster. What’s the term? I guess your goals are different. I don’t know if I have big goals. My poor manager! I’m kind of like a manager’s worst nightmare because first of all you have to re-find your audience every time you put an album out and second of all, there’s no real formula. Essentially at the end of the day, I heard my song on the radio two weeks ago and I said to myself, ‘what is this doing on the radio?’. I thought it sounded so different to everything else. But that’s okay because that’s not my job.
That’s the job of someone at your label who gets to visit radio stations with songs that don’t sound as much like ‘Maneater’ as people at radio might want them to…
But you know what though? ‘Maneater’ I don’t think belonged on the radio either, but it went Number One real quick.
Well ‘Maneater’ sort of felt a bit like it changed radio and changed pop at the time. It was the first big breakthrough pop track that you’d done at the time, and Timbaland too obviously. And then everyone just wanted a song that sounded like ‘Maneater’. I remember talking to a couple of people at labels in the UK at the time and they were just like, ‘radio want more songs that are like ‘Maneater’, all the pitches that labels labels were sending out to songwriters and producers were going ‘give us a ‘Maneater’’.
Really? Oh that’s great. You know what, the UK are always ahead of the times. They’re always a bit ahead musically.
Which is best out of ‘Maneater’ and being a mum?
Oh, um, jeez, I dunno. It’s funny because when you’re on stage you do have that ‘Maneater’ persona and you have this real power on stage. From my daughter’s perspective it’s probably really funny because the mum off stage is so different. When you go up there you become this whole other animal. But I like both to be honest. I find great escape in both. I’m kind of an escape artist.
‘The Spirit Indestructible’ is out on June 18. Single ‘Big Hoops (Bigger The Better)’ is out June 4.