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Hello Nelly: An Interview with Nelly Furtado
by Gregg Shapiro
2004-02-04

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Folklore (DreamWorks), Nelly Furtado's eagerly anticipated second album, displays a wisdom that belies her youth, setting her apart from most of her contemporaries. Opening track, 'One-Trick Pony,' begins with a stunning string arrangement performed by the Kronos Quartet. Other guest performers, including Bela Fleck and Caetano Veloso, augment Furtado's exotic but welcoming tunes, allowing the young singer/songwriter to perpetuate her legend and develop her skills as a folklorist.

I recently spoke to Nelly while she was taking a break from filming a music video.

Gregg Shapiro: I want to begin by congratulating you on recently becoming a mother. Your daughter was born in September, and I was wondering if you think that motherhood has had or will have any effect on your songwriting?

Nelly Furtado: I think so. I think it gives me a different perspective on life, kind of shifts things around a little bit. You become a lot less selfish because you have to provide for somebody else, and you also take better care of yourself. In the future I think it's going to be there.

GS: The songs on Folklore were written in 2002—following the success of Whoa, Nelly and your tour. Like many songwriters do on their second albums, you have written songs in which you address your critics, the public, the media and other trappings of success. Do you feel as if you got that out of your system on songs such as 'One-Trick Pony' and 'Powerless (Say What You Will)'?

NF: Albums, for me, are like when an architect builds a house. You build a house and then move on to the next one. With writing, it's the same way. You just have to comment on your life and move on from your life and talk about other things.

GS: 'Powerless (Say What You Want)' sounds like it addresses the marketing techniques used to promote an image that someone else wanted for you. Did that motivate you to want to reclaim the heritage that those marketing your image were trying to conceal?

NF: It's not something that happened to me directly in the music business. The song is more about the sense of feeling of displacement or lack of connection that people get with images around us from looking at television and magazines and billboards. I think that's always been a motivating factor for me—to share my heritage and my identity.

GS: 'Fresh Off The Boat' combines a number of elements including dance, hip-hop and a Latin influence. What can you tell me about this track?

NF: That song is one of my favorites. It's a fun track. I've grown up watching my relatives live with one foot in Europe and one foot in Canada. They are different lifestyles, a different humility and modesty. But it's proud at the same time and it has a lot of integrity. I wanted it to be the basis for the song. Musically, it could be taken right out of an old church book from Portugal. I grew up listening to choir songs and stuff like that—they had a certain melodic strength. We also used this great bass player, Justin Meldal-Johnson, from the band I Am Robot, who used to play with Beck a lot, and built the track around that, too.

GS: I'm glad you mentioned Justin, because there is an amazing array of guest musicians on Folklore, including the Kronos Quartet ('One-Trick Pony'), Bela Fleck ('Forca'), Caetano Veloso (Island Of Wonder') and Jarvis Church ('Saturdays'). What was it like to work with these artists?

NF: Having a song with Caetano was amazing. He's one of my idols. I'm reading his book, Tropical Truth, right now. I think his music is kind of the best music out there in a lot of ways. I wanted to showcase some diversity on my album, maybe shed some light on artists that some of my fans may not have heard of. Working with Bela Fleck was really fun. He's a really nice. We like musicians who can take us to another level and make us feel a certain way. There are so many talented musicians out there.

GS: The use of the strings on 'One-Trick Pony' reminded me of another Canadian musician, Ashley MacIsaac.

NF: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

GS: I also read that you are an admirer of label-mate Rufus Wainwright. What do you think it is about Canada that produces such exceptional musicians?

NF: Rufus is in his own category. He's just incredible. I think that in Canada, we have perspective, because we're close to America, but we're far enough away to have our own spin on the world. We get influences from everywhere. We get the U.K. influence, the European influence, the French influence and a lot of Asian influence. We're not closed off from the rest of the world. We have our own identity. It's basically a bunch of cosmopolitan cities thrown about this vast country (laughs).

GS: Speaking of musicians from Canada, I detected a bit of Joni Mitchell in your phrasing on 'Childhood Dreams.' Would you consider her to be an influence on your work?

NF: Yeah. I kind of rediscovered her last winter or last spring, just before going into the studio. I think she's amazing. The texture and the energy of her songwriting are great.

GS: As a resident of Toronto, have you ever had occasion to stroll down Church Street and stop into any of the clubs there and maybe pay a visit to some of your gay fans?

NF: Yeah, one of my best friends lives down there. There are lots of great theaters and dance studios down there. I always wanted to participate in Pride week. I've been there before, but I've never really been a part of the floats or anything. I've always thought that would be fun.

GS: Finally, as a folklorist, an observer of the world, what would you like to see happen in the world to make it a better place?

NF: Oh, wow! I always talk about diversity. I always feel like if everyone in the world knew a little bit more about another culture, another way of life, another lifestyle. In general, I think that ignorance is the evil of the world. If people just stick to what they know, it breeds fear. I feel like if everyone knew just a little more about other cultures and other ways of life we'd be able to live a little more harmoniously.


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