By Alex Teitz
Nelly Furtado is one of the freshest talents to emerge this past year. Her music is a blend of singer-songwriter, hip-hop, with Portuguese influences. Furtado is one artist that ten years from now people will still be talking about. Furtado has been turning industry heads long before she played four Lilith Fair dates. What has happened from there has been a skyrocket to pure success.
Furtado was signed to Dreamworks Records at age 20, and her debut album, Whoa Nelly! has been talked about worldwide. Furtado has been nominated for six Juno awards including Best New Solo Artist, Best Songwriter, Best Single and Best New Pop Album. Furtado speaks quickly and her mind is always moving. She is vibrant, energetic with a touch of wild. FEMMUSIC had the chance to speak with Furtado, and here’s what she had to say.
For more information on Nelly Furtado visit http://www.dreamworksrecords.com or http://www.whoanelly.com
For more information on the Juno Awards taking place on March 4, 2001
FEMMUSIC: Can you describe your songwriting technique?
NF: Whoa! Songwriting technique. My songwriting technique is not always the same. I don’t like to pigeonhole myself in my songwriting form. On one hand, yes, I do kind of act like singer-songwriter sometimes because I write several of my songs on guitar. It’s nice to map out the chords that way and things like that…So half of the songs you here on Whoa Nelly were written that way. Such as “Turn Off the Light”, “..on the Radio”, and “I’m like a Bird” were mapped out on the guitar, and kind of structurally and that’s why they sound a certain way.
Then there’s those other songs on the record like “Legend” that sound a little bit more textural. Those ones I write melodically. I kind of come up with a melodic idea and I come into the studio then I co-write with Gerald O’Brien. We work on the music together. We work ideas together for arrangement and stuff like that.
And there’s another way I write where sometimes me and Brian (West), one of my producers on the record, we’ll kind of go record shopping at our favorite record store, go to the studio, hang out, play some of the records, get inspired and loop up a sample. Kind of build a track. And then I write to that. Kind of write a hook or get inside the studio and kind of freestyle, kind of like a hip-hop MC would. Again, I love collaborating with people same time I like writing at home with my guitar too. Sometimes things come clearly that way like “I’m Like a Bird.” But I think on Who Nelly you hear so many kinds of songs. I think from hip-hop to more traditional rhythm and blues like “Turn Off the Light.”
FEMMUSIC: What was the biggest challenge making Whoa Nelly?
NF: Biggest challenge, hmmm….That’s a good one. Probably, just growing in different ways. Kind of like remembering your producers are there because they’re helping you and kind of like just working through things. Sometimes you get scared. I got scared a lot, kind of “I DON”T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING!”, and you lose all your confidence. You have such a big vision for yourself at the beginning, and I went through this stage especially at the beginning where I didn’t know what I wanted to sound like.
The thing is I was thinking independent music for so long. Very experimental. I was in a hip-hop band. Very experimental called Nelstar. Basic house song. Doing very self-involved music not in a “pop” light. When I started to write popular songs on my guitar, I realized the type of record I wanted to make was a pop record with all these undertones underneath it. I guess it came with a certain challenge. Cause automatically you kind of get very attached to the old way you used to write. Very attached to the more counter-culture references in your old music so you have to so you sometimes have some trouble honing it and thinking professionally.
So basically, just learning professionalism. Learning about the studio. I learned a lot during making this record.
FEMMUSIC: How was it working with Gerald Eaton and Brian West?
NF: Gerald and Brian have been awesome not only helping me grow musically, but also almost emotionally, and kind of learning about the business. Because every time I would get scared or hesitant about the business, Gerald would kind of help seem a lot less scary.
I don’t know if you this but they’re in a band, The Philosopher Kings, Gerald is the singer of the band, and Brian is one of the guitar players. They’ve already made a couple of records so they’ve been through whole process and for me, again, making independent music for so long, I don’t have to worry about record labels and things like that. They kind of made the whole thing seem a lot less scary, and told me what touring was like, and different experiences.
They also helped me unleash my pop wings and made me a lot less scared of the hooks that I was writing. We had to write these big choruses and things like that. They made me fear that a lot less. Took the best things about what I did and honed in on them a little better. Made me focus on those things. Gave me confidence so it was really good.
FEMMUSIC: What was the best experience making Whoa Nelly?
NF: The best experience making the CD was, hands down, we actually had a world champion beat juggler, Little Jazz, somebody I know from around the city. We had him come in and scratch on “..on the Radio” cause there’s a strong hip-hop element running through the record. Just kind of a product of the music I’ve listened to all my life since I was 12. I was very infatuated with urban music. There’s a lot of scratching on the record. And what happened is, the studio which we recorded in in Toronto, underneath, on the first level, was a government funded agency for youth., for underprivileged youth to learn things like graffiti, breakdancing, studio technology, graphic design on the computers…There’s this great little group going on down there. I kind of came into contact with some of the organizers of the group. When I knew that Little Jazz was going to come in and DJ on this song, I kind of invited the DJ school downstairs to come up and watch him. About 8-10 kids came up to the room. They watched Little Jazz scratching on my song. The cool thing was, all the things kids were learning to do on the bottom floor, we were doing actually on the third floor. So it was very inspiring for these kids, and the moment Little Jazz started to scratch for “…on the Radio” which for me is a very empowering song about self-confidence and individualism, …their faces lit up and they were so amazed by his level on skill on the turntables and energy on the song. It was one of those moments where you go, “Ahhh.” I was ecstatic. That was by far the best moment making the album.