Nelly Furtado Talks About Her Album The Spirit Indestructible, And Writing Her Songs

Nelly Furtado
Nelly Furtado

Three years after making a successful, platinum side trip with her Latin Grammy-winning Spanish language collection Mi Plan, Nelly Furtado found a clever and intimate way to make sure fans of her three previous hit albums would be on board for her new Interscope album The Spirit Indestructible, due June 19. Building anticipation week by week and mysteriously referring to the project as “TSI,” she shot and posted on her website and YouTube over 15 black & white videos featuring key moments from the recording sessions, plus interviews with her and some of the heavyweight producers involved. The Canadian-born singer/songwriter recently released the Rodney Jerkins produced lead single “Big Hoops (Bigger The Better)”.

True to the title theme of the new recording, Furtado has enjoyed an eclectic career as a recording artist, actress and philanthropist since scoring the Grammy-winning 2001 Top 10 hit “I’m Like A Bird” from her debut album Whoa, Nelly! By embracing different cultures and genres, and stirring up her sonic palette with an eclectic slate of producers (from Mike Elizondo to Timbaland and Rick Nowels), she has helped define musical diversity for a new generation. She followed her debut, which spawned four singles (including the hit “Turn Off The Light”), with her 2003 gold album Folklore, whose track “Forca” became the official anthem of the 2004 European Cup Football Championship. Her next release Loose (2006) sold over 10 million units worldwide and its two Billboard #1 pop singles earned Furtado Grammy nominations for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals (“Promiscuous”) and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (“Say It Right”).

Partially inspired by her Portuguese heritage–her parents were immigrants from the Azores–the singer began writing her next album in English and Portuguese but later switched to Spanish and recorded Mi Plan, which reached #1 on the U.S. Latin Billboard chart, swept Canada’s Juno Awards with five wins (including Album of the Year) and won a Latin Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Album in 2010. Towards the end of the Spanish sessions with Salaam Remi (whose credits include Amy Winehouse, Nas and Fergie), the two wrote and recorded an English language track together–which led them to work on more tracks that ultimately found their way onto The Spirit Indestructible.

The cover of Nelly Furtado's album The Spirit Indestructible.
The cover of Nelly Furtado’s album The Spirit Indestructible.

“Salaam and I have a really rewarding creative and personal relationship,” says Furtado, who co-wrote every song on The Spirit Indestructible. ‘He’s an amazing guy, a big teddy bear, and all the music he’s done, from Amy to Nas, has an authentic, classic and super soulful sound to it. The two of us really clicked.”

The singer has a similar affection for Nowels, who was a producer on Loose and also contributes to The Spirit Indestructible. One of the more amusing in the studio videos she posted has her jokingly calling her and Nowels’ relationship like macaroni and cheese. “I always call him the macaroni to my cheese, or I’m the cheese to his macaroni, I’m not sure,” she laughs. “He’s been around forever, from his first hit ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’ with Belinda Carlisle to his recent stuff with Cee-Lo. He’s a lot of fun to work with and he brings out a side of my songwriting that’s pretty epic. I really value all of my creative relationships. When you have a personal connection to these people, it makes the experience of working with them that much more special.”

Other songwriter/producer heavyweights that Furtado vibes with on the new album include Rodney Jerkins (Michael Jackson, Beyonce, Lady Gaga); veteran metal producer Bob Rock (Metallica), who according to one posted video inspired ‘butterflies’ in her before she met him; Dutch DJ and EDM producer Tiesto, who she claims is the only electronics master whose live concert made her cry; rock producer John Shanks; and Jamaican reggae producer Da Genius. A deluxe version of the album will feature several bonus tracks, including Furtado’s collaborations with Fraser T. Smith (Adele, Cee-Lo), producer and Passion Pit lead singer Mike Angelakos, and a track featuring the Kenyan Boys Choir that Furtado produced herself. Other guests include rapper ACE Primo and Portuguese world music singer Sara Tavares.

“I began writing these songs around the time I released my Spanish album Mi Plan,” Furtado says. ‘I was in a great headspace, feeling refreshed and ready to really deliver in English again. This album is all about positivity, youth, good energy, and the relentlessness of the spirit. I want people to live this music the way we did when we wrote it. I want them to jump, dance, scream, laugh, cry, love, and vibe to it, and to turn it up very loud everywhere.”

Though Furtado has worked with an amazing array of songwriters and producers and ventured into unexpected sonic landscapes in many different genres, she believes that everything comes down to the power of a great song. “What trips me out about songs is that you can write about something and someone else can listen and feel the song in a completely different way,” she says. “It’s so abstract, esoteric and multi-dimensional. Songs that endure touch on so many things–sounds, instruments, melodies, chords, tones and other dimension–that vibrate in people in different ways according to their collective and personal memories. They tap into our ancient DNA as well as our everyday life and conscious experiences. I never stop loving that multi-dimensional aspect of music. It’s such a mystery. Music is God’s language. It has to be, it’s so beautiful. Music’s always been able to take me away to a place I can’t describe. As a child, it transported me to another universe that was so happy and magical. As an artist, there’s nothing I love more than navigating those magical waters.”

Jonathan Widran is a free-lance music/entertainment journalist who contributes regularly to Music Connection, Jazziz and All Music Guide. He can be reached at [email protected]