The return of Nelly Furtado
Sometimes stepping back is the only way to move forward
Nelly Furtado found inspiration in the state of Texas for her new album ‘Ride’
Nelly Furtado has had highs and lows in her 20-year career in music: Grammys and hit singles, as well as a few more forgettable musical forays off the beaten path. Maybe it was too much too soon. But for whatever reason, Furtado had a crisis of confidence and stepped way back from a myriad of responsibilities associated with being a pop icon and running a record label.
“I literally started cleaning my own toilet, washing my own underwear,” she says.
“I was back at the Robin Hood Motel [in her hometown of Victoria, B.C., where she worked as a chambermaid for eight summers] as a teenager screaming over the vacuum cleaner.”
At one very memorable point, she found herself wandering the aisles of a Michaels craft superstore somewhere in the north of Toronto.
She had a moment, and that moment led her back to her car and straight downtown to Queen West where she parked in front of Cosmo Music. It was here that a mop-topped teenager who had moved to town from British Columbia would trawl the stacks for records to sample in the making of her monumental debut album, Whoa Nelly. The album sold millions and turned Furtado into an international sensation.
Her stardom reached even greater heights with her third album, Loose (2006), and the song “Promiscuous,” which became her first number one hit in the United States.
But since those heady days, when she was often called the next JLo, her career has been disparate and inconsistent.
By her own admission, she got too wrapped up in everything other than her own music. And a return to her old creative stomping grounds was just what she needed to regain some of her creative energy.
“I remembered the smell of the record sleeves, and something in my heart led me down there,” she says of visiting Cosmo.
“It felt so blissful, and the music was bringing me joy I hadn’t felt in years.”
So affecting was the visit, that Furtado asked the owner to let her work in the shop, which she did for a short time, including the time a couple came in to pose for their wedding photos amongst the vinyl stacks.
“They were like, ‘Are you that singer, are you Nelly?’ And I was like, ‘Maybe.…’ ”
In her time off, she also took different artistic classes, wrote, travelled and spent more time being a mom.
“I went through a really cool journey, you know. We let people take us on rides, let ourselves be taken, and we enjoy the ride, too,” she explains.
“For me, the last five years has been spent doing all kinds of things but started with me looking inward, and that’s the most difficult of all, the journey inward.”
Although being around vinyl went a long way toward helping Furtado find her way back, it was also working with a crew of musicians and the fertile artistic landscape of Dallas, Texas.
It started with Annie Clark, of St. Vincent fame, who Furtado worked alongside for a Luminato project a couple of years ago. And that, in turn, led to her current producer John Congleton.
“I dropped what I was doing and flew cold turkey to the Oak Cliff neighbourhood in Dallas, a very artistic kind of community, very eclectic,” she explains. “I worked with John in his studio in a converted funeral home on this quirky little street. It was a really welcoming community of artists and creative types.”
It was also in a Dallas neighbourhood that Furtado found the perfect setting for the video of her song “Pipe Dreams” while visiting an estate sale in the Lake Highlands district.
“It was this small house, and when I walked in, sure enough there was beautiful jewellery and art and ceramics,” she says. “I realized the lady’s name was Edna Sue. As I was leaving, I asked the woman who was there if we could shoot a video tomorrow, and that’d I’d give her a hundred bucks.”
It’s all come around again for the B.C. native who moved to Toronto in 1996 to live with her sister. Today, everything is different for Furtado. Gone is a record company asking Furtado to collaborate with the latest young stars. Gone are the pressures that come with running a music label.
“It really feels like a turning point, and it’s been really great to have a producer like John to help really focus on art,” she says. “I was like, wow somebody cares. Sometimes you just need one person to care.”
She was free to be, as they say. And she’s responded with Ride, out March 31, her most affecting and personal album to date. It’s a powerful stew of Furtado’s pop stylings and emotional songwriting with Congleton’s more punk elements.
“It’s not exactly like a mood album. I wouldn’t put it on at a party start to finish,” says Furtado. “But if anyone can relate to screwing up, they will like this album.”
Furtado, who describes herself as a “diehard Canadian,” is looking forward to touring in support of the album this summer.
“Oh my God, I’m so excited, I’m doing a bunch of festivals in spring and summer,” she says. “It’s very unique because I have three generations coming to shows now, which is cool. It’s amazing and so fun for me.”