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Q&A: Nelly Furtado

The Canadian songbird sets fire to speakers and hopes her mom doesn’t read this

Nelly Furtado

Nelly Furtado performs on stage during the 2006 World Music Awards at Earls Court on November 15th, 2006 in London.

MJ Kim/Getty

Nelly Furtado’s first album, the worldly, poppy Whoa, Nelly!, sold 5 million copies worldwide. Her second, Folkore, sold a fraction of that. Learning that music is a fickle business – and giving birth to her daughter, Nevis, now two years old – gave Furtado the courage to change things up on her third disc, Loose. “After having food thrown at me by a toddler in a crowded restaurant, I’m made of steel,” she says. Beat wizard Timbaland took the reins for this one, and during late-night jam sessions at Miami’s Hit Factory, Furtado turned up the sex and the funk, experimenting with R&B, reggaeton, Eighties dance pop and hip-hop. “He’s really a snake charmer,” says Furtado about her producer. “He really brings it out.” Studio guests included Lil Wayne, Latin crooner Juanes and Coldplay’s Chris Martin, who co-wrote Loose‘s closing track. The disc’s title reflects the vibe in the studio and Timbaland’s guerrilla recording techniques. “We kept the coughing, the laughing, the distorted bass lines,” Furtado says. “We wanted to take the mystery out of music. Reality TV is so popular, why not reality audio?”

You’ve worked with a lot of producers: Track and Field, Scott Storch, Pharrell Williams. Why is Loose nearly all Timbaland?
The first night in the studio with Tim, I knew we were going to do something really cool. I had been listening to Queens of the Stone Age and Death From Above 1979 and Peaches and Metric – modern rock bands that have this sexiness to what they do. And that was what I felt that first night: a really intense energy, really loud. Then we smelled smoke. There were flames coming out of the speakers. It was like an omen – like the burning bush, but a burning speaker.

[Q]At the VMAs last year in Miami, I saw you backstage talking to Chris Martin.
You witnessed it! We planned to hook up the next night. Tim was so excited about it – it was destiny – because all he played me for two weeks was Coldplay. He’d be like, “This guy’s sick, he’s the truth!” Tim kept calling Chris “Coldplay.” At first they were too nervous to sit down, so I said, “Don’t just stare at each other, let’s jam!” So we did, until 4 a.m., when Chris had to leave. At that point I said, “Why do all good jams have to come to an end?” Chris started singing the song “All Good Things (Come to an End).”

Did you see any of Coldplay’s Florida gigs?
Yeah, in West Palm. Great show. Tim and I were there, and they played a version of “Don’t Panic,” a really true acoustic version. Chris says, “This is dedicated to Timbaland, the greatest producer in the world!” Tim turns to me and says, “I wish he dedicated ‘Clocks’ to me” [laughs].

Growing up, did you and your boyfriends have special songs?
Oh, yes, for sure! New Edition’s “Can You Stand the Rain,” Janet Jackson’s “Again,” Boyz II Men’s “Water Runs Dry.” The tradition of playing “Stairway to Heaven” lived on through the Nineties at my high school. My boyfriend then, Brad Moore – our song was the Verve’s “On Your Own.”

Why am I reading in the papers about a romantic connection between you and NBA MVP Steve Nash?
On my first official song that includes my rapping [“Promiscuous”] I have to give a shout-out to my homeboy from Victoria [British Columbia]: Steve Nash. But that rumor is so bizarre. He’s married with children – I do a charity with him. We’re just friends. Thank God I didn’t wear his jersey in my video. That would’ve been overkill.

What do you like to listen to before, during and after making love?
I hope my mom reads this. I’ll give you one of them, the “during”: the Bloc Party remix album.

What’s the Hit Factory in Miami like?
It’s an amazing place. Cash Money and Lil Wayne work upstairs, and then there’s Timbaland and Scott Storch. You have Ricky Martin leaving the studio with fifty Latin journalists after a press conference, then Paris Hilton is working with Storch and a million paparazzi are hiding in the bushes, and then you’ve got rappers coming to Tim with briefcases of cash, and Tim going through his beats like a Rolodex. When you’re recording in Miami, you feel like you’re in a club, on the pulse of culture before it breaks.

You were such a hip-hop kid – that must’ve been a dream come true.
You’ve got to picture me: Thirteen years old, in my suburban Victoria bedroom with my walls plastered with all the posters I had ripped out of Word Up! magazine. I’d watch Pump It Up! with Dee Barnes religiously, listen to Seattle’s hip-hop/R&B stations, dress up like TLC for Halloween. I was obsessed!

Were you T, L or C?
We’d always fight over Chilli. I was T-Boz one time and Left Eye another. My cousin with the best hair always got to be Chilli. And you know how they’d wear condoms on their outfits? We had a joke store that actually sold colored, large-size condoms. So we’d get dressed and be like, “Bye, Mom!” Then we’d put the condoms on before we got to the dance.

Timbaland doesn’t come cheap. How much money do you think Loose cost to make?
It’s not that bad. Like, a million dollars? [Laughs] Hey, America, buy at least a million and I’ll be cool. 

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