Nelly Furtado loosens up on "Mi Plan," her first full-length Spanish album

TORONTO - Following the colossal success of her third album, "Loose," Nelly Furtado - that glam, midriff-baring seductress of "Promiscuous" - finally got the chance to hang up her custom-designed Yves Saint Laurent heels and just relax.

"I took two years off after 'Loose,"' Furtado told The Canadian Press in a recent interview at a Toronto hotel. "The first year, I literally wore rubber boots and velour track pants and stayed at home and made chicken noodle soup for my daughter. "

"And it was fun. I loved it. It was the first break I took in eight years of being a musician."

And yet, she still wound up spending most of her time working.

Furtado says her daily routine involved dropping her daughter, Nevis, off at school and driving to the studio. There, she crafted "Mi Plan" - her fourth album and her first composed of solely Spanish-language material, which will be released Tuesday.

Furtado said the decision to record in the language was borne out of a lifelong appreciation of Spanish pop and from Furtado's uncertainty on how to proceed after "Loose," which was certified platinum in 18 countries.

"After an album like 'Loose,' what do you do after that? It's hard not to think too hard, and overthink, and that ruins your inspiration," she said.

"I was like: 'Hmm, what do I want to say next in English? I have no idea, so let me try to say something in Spanish."'

For Furtado, a Victoria native with Portuguese roots, the transition was smooth. Her earliest performances as a child were in Portuguese, and she began learning Spanish in high school, when she was 14.

She included two Spanish songs on "Loose," one of which she wrote on her own, and she penned another Spanish tune for Jennifer Lopez that was included on the "El Cantante" soundtrack.

"Then I thought: 'OK, time for me to record an album in Spanish. I think I've done my homework here,"' Furtado said.

Furtado pegs her fluency in Spanish at around 50 per cent - she "can write a song but it won't necessarily be poetic." So she invited a multitude of musicians and songwriters to appear on the record, including Juno Award winner Alex Cuba, American singer/songwriter Josh Groban and Mexican crooner Alejandro Fernandez.

"The collaborations to me are what define the album, and I'm not afraid to say it, I think it's a community project," Furtado said.

But perhaps the most exciting feature about the record for Furtado was the opportunity to be truly honest in song.

"Loose," Furtado notes, was full-on theatre. While she had fun playing the role of the fiery femme fatale that swivelled heads and hips on "Maneater," for instance, the character bore little resemblance to Furtado, who in person is warm, bubbly and seemingly unaffected.
She says it was refreshing, then, to draw on her real life for "Mi Plan."

On first single "Manos Al Aire," Furtado oscillates between angrily confronting a lover and trying to work things out while a funky acoustic guitar keeps the rhythm behind her.

"I don't think I could sing that in English, I think it'd be too complicated, but in Spanish you can kind of straddle all these different things," Furtado said. "You can be super dramatic - kind of like opera where you can go from being super angry to really delicate in like two minutes."

On "Fuerte" - a snappy collaboration with Spanish singer Concha Buika - Furtado sings about summoning the strength to move on from a broken relationship.

Furtado says that she has, in fact, grown more self-assured through her years in the music business.

"For a long time I struggled with the idea that I thought I was a better writer than singer, and I thought people only liked me as an artist because I wrote my songs, and I didn't think my voice alone was an entity of any kind," she said.

"My confidence as a singer has grown. Now I'm able to explore other people's material and also just kind of collaborate in a more free way."

Furtado did find herself tossing aside some ideas for the new record that she felt didn't ring true.
"I remember trying to record a salsa song and it just felt false," she said. "I didn't grow up listening to salsa - I grew up in a Portuguese folk-dancing outfit."

So, when will she realize her dream of putting out a Portuguese-language album?
"My mother's told me she doesn't think I'll be able to record a full length in Portuguese until I'm 40 because I haven't lived enough life, and Portuguese music is very deep," said Furtado, who's 30.

"I kind of agree with her, because our main style of music is fado, and fado singers sometimes don't peak until they're 50 or 60, so you need some life in you, you need some heartbreak in you."

"The type of album I want to make in Portuguese is definitely going to be extremely personal ... not only lyrically, but musically. I'm gonna wanna put church music I grew up with, and all the cool-crazy folk music from the island my parents are from. I'm going to want it to be more like an alternative album, not a pop album."

Furtado recently launched her own label, Nelstar Music. She also says she would like to dabble in acting. But she does plan on returning to pop - English pop, no less - before long.

She recently reconnected with Timbaland, the hip-hop superproducer who locked in the ground-stomping grooves of "Loose," and she said they had "10 or 20 ideas" together in a matter of days.

She's also been recording with producer Salaam Remi, and figures she might have new English material out soon - though it might not arrive in the form of a full-length record.

"I think the 12-song album is on its way out," Furtado said. "I think we're going to see more seven-song releases from artists, and I would like to put out a seven-song release sometime in 2010, in English, for sure."

Indeed, Furtado has proven a creatively restless artist. It's tough to imagine exactly what direction she'll head in next.

"I don't really like to live in the past," she said. "I feel like the moment you try to duplicate, there's nothing real about that. You're just copying."

"I don't like to copy anybody and I sure as hell don't like to copy myself."
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