She’s been a bird who wants to fly away. She’s been a promiscuous girl who eats men. She’s even been a Spanish-speaking songstress, waving her hands in the air. It’s hard to believe it, but it’s been 10 years since Nelly Furtado released Whoa, Nelly!, and to celebrate the anniversary, she dropped The Best Of Nelly Furtado last week. Below, Nelly sits down with The Frisky to talk about putting out a “best of” album at the young age of 31, and to give us the dirt on working with dudes like Justin Timberlake and Keith Urban.
What are the “best of” albums you listen to most often?
Caetano Veloso. He has more than one. Ironically, he’s featured on my Best Of album on the deluxe version—I have a song with him called “Island of Wonder” that we recorded for my second album in 2003. He’s got some great collections because he’s had over 30 albums. Also Mary J. Blige. Madonna. Hello, Immaculate Collection. Oasis.
You’re 31, which is arguably young to put out a “best of” collection. How did the idea to do this come about?
It’s been 10 years. It’s been a decade. So it felt like a good moment, four albums later. I’ve got all kinds of duets that I know fans want to hear in one album. And there’s some stuff they haven’t heard—I’ve got a remix of “I’m Like a Bird” with a very famous East Indian icon. This album has got everything from my duet with Michael Buble to my first Spanish song that I ever did to my duet with Timbaland. I just wanted a chance to celebrate with fans and mark that 10-year period and then move forward. That’s why the first song “Night Is Young”—the new single from the album—is celebratory and has a really positive vibe to it. It’s about enjoying the moment, reflecting on the past, but also looking forward to the future. That’s what I’m doing right now.
You’ve gone through a pretty huge musical evolution. How did you go about picking songs and making everything meld into one album?
Well, it’s important to have the biggest hits on a “best of.” I also wanted key duets because people know me for my collaborations. I really see music as a community, shared effort. I grew up playing in concert band and marching band and jazz band—it’s never about you; it’s about the whole group. I’ve taken that approach in my career and it’s really payed off for me. All the people I’ve collaborated with have created a lot of opportunities in my career. That’s why there’s so many duets on there. There’s even a duet with Keith Urban that some people probably haven’t heard. It was a B-side.
How does it feel to play something like “I’m Like a Bird” 10 years later? Has it taken on new meaning for you?
Yes. When I put out Whoa, Nelly!, “I’m Like a Bird” was my first single and obviously everyone wanted to hear it everywhere I went. There was a point where it wasn’t my favorite song to play. But now it’s one of my favorite songs—I’ve grown to really appreciate the song. I’ve always loved it. I’m not one of those people who’s like, “Oh, I hate my big hit.” But now I love it more than ever. It sounds good so many different ways. People always respond to it. And my voice has matured, so it’s easier for me to sing now.
You’ve collaborated with some huge people. What’s the moment that sticks in your mind working with Timbaland?
The first day we hooked up in Miami, we hadn’t seen each other in five years. He put a beat on the speakers and I started writing to it. It was the loudest beat I’d ever heard—it was the music for “Maneater.” I started singing and we were jamming away. And then bolts of flames came out of the speaker and almost burned the engineer sitting there. Smoke started coming out of the speaker and it smelled like burnt rubber, and we were like, “WTF? Wow!” Then we were scared of the song. We didn’t touch it for two weeks and we moved on to other tracks. Finally, we went back to it.
What about Justin Timberlake?
He is so funny. I remember laughing my butt off at all his jokes in the studio. One good moment with Justin was when we were hanging out in the studio around the time I was mixing my album and he had just begun working on his. He played me some songs—“SexyBack” and “My Love.” He was like, “What do you think the first single should be?” I said, “Definitely ‘SexyBack.’ That’s your signature track right there.” I remember saying, “It reminds me a little of Jeff Buckley.” And he said, “I love Jeff Buckley—I named my dog Buckley.”
What about singing at the Olympic opening ceremony with Bryan Adams?
He has such a great life—photographer by day and musician by night. He makes jokes non-stop, so it definitely broke the ice a little bit—no pun intended—when we are about to get out and perform in front of a billion people worldwide.
Who is still on your collaboration wish list?
I’d love to work with Madonna—that would be really fun. I still want to work with Drake as well, because there’s a story that needs to be told in a song somewhere. We’re both Canadian, and I like the way he’s kept a lot of the same producers from Canada that he’s always worked with. It’s time that Canadian urban music got some shine. We’ve always had out own scene, but now it’s getting exposed a little more, which is wonderful.
I read that March 21st is Nelly Furtado Day in Canada. How do you celebrate?
[Laughs] It was a one-time event. The mayor put it together and the whole city came and celebrated. It was pretty overwhelming. I was humbled, but thought, “What do I do? What do I say?”
For your daughter, I’m curious—is she interested in music or is it a case of what your parents do just isn’t cool?
Option B. I already sing, so that’s not exciting for her. She’s more into being a lawyer or accountant. She likes music, but she thinks it’s easy—she can do it in her sleep. Music is in her blood, just like me. All my family were musicians on my mom’s side—my grandpa, my uncles, my great uncles are all composers and musicians. I can see it in her, too. I don’t know, maybe she’ll surprise me.
How does it change the touring experience having your daughter along?
When I started out with Whoa, Nelly!, I’d tour non-stop. I’d get home once in a blue moon and then shut the windows and sleep for 20 hours. Then do it again a few days later. It was so unhealthy. My roommate was like, “You need to sleep!” Even my father was like, “Nelly, slow down! It’s not good for your health.” Then I started a family and it became more about balance. She and I have done some serious travels. During the Loose era, we traveled like a gypsy family all around the world. It was great fun. Children become very social and open-minded from all that travel, which is great. Now I’m more of a part-time touring artist. It’s much more manageable. When she does get to come and hang out and go to shows, she enjoys it but, you know, she finds it boring too.
How do you choose a great onstage outfit?
Sometimes it takes months of planning. We just did the South American tour for Mi Plan and we took two months to design the wardrobe. It was almost like Latina gothic or something. First, we tear out pages from magazines. Then we talk to the tailor and source out fabrics, and then we work on cut and the detailing, like beading and sparkles and stuff. For my vocalists, I had them in amazing, Carnival-inspired, samba outfits. They looked fabulous. Then I had a lot of sparkles. I like to do my own thing. I don’t follow trends when it comes to stage clothes. For my first album, I had florescent everything: I bought a trunk full of florescent belts, florescent bandannas, florescent wristbands, florescent visors. I’ve definitely dabbled in a lot of styles. For Loose, I did glam—very glam. I had this fuchsia ruffled, long, glamorous Armani gown that I wore for the ballad section. And another amazing gown with a low back. We had to use a truckload of double-sided tape for the tour. It’s kind of fun when you change your clothes mid-show—lots of funny stuff happens. For my new stuff, I want to go back to something way more low-key. I’m feeling retro to Whoa, Nelly!. Really simple.