Nelly Furtado is no one-trick pony

by Evelyn McDonnell

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

30 May 2007


Nelly Furtado has an explanation for why her third album, “Loose,” explodes with electric, bodily energy. It’s not just because she left her native Canada for the tropical metropolis of Miami to get busy with recording, or merely that sparks flew - literally - when she hooked up with super-producer Timothy “Timbaland” Mosley.

It’s also because two years after her daughter Nevis’ birth, she weaned her.

“I think I started recording this album the same month I stopped nursing my daughter,” Furtado says over the phone from the green room of “The Tonight Show,” where she recently performed. “Maybe I did feel liberated. I finally went, `Oh my body’s finally mine again - yippee!’ You have a lot to write about, too. That’s why the album’s ... like an emotional whirlwind.”

With its provocative hit club singles “Promiscuous” and “Maneater,” Furtado, 29, is the iconic “hot mom.” The CD’s free-spirited vibe is also shaped by the fact she separated from her daughter’s father, DJ Jasper Gahunia, before writing and recording. On “Loose,” she frolics in pleasure and freedom.

“Breakups are liberating, in a way, but then also motherhood’s liberating,” Furtado says.

Of course, this is easier for a woman who can afford a nanny and amicably splits custody with her ex to say than for the average working single mom. But the singer and songwriter says she relishes the relative challenges of parenting.

“I had a great schedule: I’d go to the beach till about 8 p.m. with my daughter, then I’d go to the studio till 4 a.m., then I’d sleep for about three hours. I went through this weird phase where I was sleep-deprived. Most of the times it’s funny, thank goodness.”

Furtado got her groove back in Miami, so it’s fitting the descendant of Portuguese immigrants is kicking off her “Loose” tour at there this week.

“Miami is a very alive city. I love the people, I love the Latin heritage, especially the fact that there are so many second- and third-generation families. It creates a really unique culture and society that doesn’t exist elsewhere,” she says. “It feels like its own country, its own nation. I felt comfortable in my skin because I am Hispanic.”

Furtado grew up in British Columbia. Her parents immigrated from the Azores Islands. At home she spoke Portuguese and English. “Loose” includes two songs in Spanish, a language she learned at 14: “No Hay Igual” is a reggaeton number, “Te Busque” she sings with Juanes (it’s a follow-up to their `03 duet “Fotografia”). On her second album, “Folklore,” she sang with legendary Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso. Furtado also recorded a song for the new “Bajofondo Tango Club” album. She’s talked about recording an entire Latin CD but says she’s waiting until she has more time.

“Singing in Portuguese or Spanish, I feel a little more in touch with my soul, a little more honest in my delivery,” she says.

Furtado began playing music at 9 and writing songs a few years later. After high school, she moved to Toronto, where she formed the trip-hop duo Nelstar. She left that and began working with producers Tr and Field. Her 2000 debut, “Whoa, Nelly!,” featured folky pop songs, including the huge Grammy-winning hit “I’m Like a Bird.”

For “Folklore,” Furtado got more experimental. Although it includes “Forca,” the official song of the `04 European Football Championship, the album sold poorly. The artist knew she wanted to try a different tack with her third recording.

“I wanted an iconic pop album that was a little more simplified and streamlined,” she says. “I had that vision for myself, I really wanted to see if I could do that. Almost like a personal challenge: `I wonder if people could like me if I didn’t layer the song with 10 different instruments.’”

She hooked up with some of the biggest producers in the biz, including Pharrell and Scott Storch. But it wasn’t until she went into Hit Factory/Criterion studio with Timbaland that something clicked - in fact, exploded.

“I saw Tim and it was like seeing an old friend, cause we hadn’t seen each other in five years. The first beat he put up caused the speaker to catch fire, because the rubber burned.”

They communed not only over their love of hip-hop, but also over vintage new wave and electro, like Blondie and the Eurythmics. Both were also listening to modern alternative artists. Coldplay’s Chris Martin joined them in the studio after 2005’s VMAs and co-wrote the song “All Good Things.”

“Tim has the same voracious appetite for music that I do. He doesn’t discriminate. He’ll use a jingle from a popcorn commercial if it sounded good. I like that innocence, because there’s a lot of pretension with any art form - you find pretension and you find purity. Timbaland’s all purity. He’s not jaded and he doesn’t have any laws that govern him. Kind of like an outlaw.”

Not surprisingly, some of Furtado’s more serious-minded fans have bristled at the pop grooves of “Loose.” The performer defends her taste: “We don’t value dance music in the same way, because it’s so basic: Oh, this music makes me dance. I think that’s why some really good electronic music is not taken seriously.”

She also says “Loose’s” success has freed her creatively. “It’s going to get really exciting for me in the future in terms of exploring other stuff. Under the pop umbrella, I think I’ve proven a lot with the third CD, and now I feel even more liberated as an artist. I can truly satisfy my whims.”

“Loose” came out last summer, but Furtado is just now promoting it with stateside shows. She says she’s been focusing on TV appearances and touring elsewhere; thanks in part to Furtado’s multilingualism, she’s a star in numerous countries.

Miami inspired Furtado so much, she’s using South Beach as a setting for her stage show: “There are white linen palm trees.” With dancers and costume changes, it’s her biggest production yet, but she still wants to emphasize the music. Unlike so many other pop divas who love dance music, Furtado is also an instrumentalist. She can play guitar, keyboards, trombone and ukulele.

“The tone of this show is fun and energy. I’ve become more confident, I don’t try to over-achieve onstage anymore. I don’t have as much to prove. I realize people come to see the songs performed. That’s what I’m going to try to do.”

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