Nelly Furtado Talks "The Spirit Indestructible", Working Nas, Movies, and More

"In the studio, I let myself go there and really get crazy," says Nelly Furtado of recording her forthcoming fifth album, The Spirit Indestructible.

She's not kidding either. Due out September 18, 2012, The Spirit Indestructible is Miss Furtado's most wildly wonderful offering to date. It's got a swaggering hip hop bounce on the likes of "Big Hoops (Bigger The Better)", while it also boasts some of her most soulful singing yet during "Believers (Arab Spring)". In that sense, this Spirit soars as the singer and songwriter's best work yet. In addition, it's also one of the most enthralling, essential, and exciting pop records of the year. 

In this exclusive interview with editor in chief Rick Florino, Nelly Furtado talks The Spirit Indestructible, first single "Big Hoops (Bigger The Better)", movies, and so much more.

"Big Hoops (Bigger The Better)" definitely preserves your style, but you're also treading new ground.

Yeah, that's what I try to do. I try to keep myself entertained, first and foremost. Usually when you do that, people come along for the party. I was in a particular state of mind when I recorded that track. There were a few different elements. Influentially, I'd been listening to Odd Future or something a few weeks before [Laughs]. I was definitely into new music that was a bit grimy or visceral. When I hooked up with Rodney Jerkins, I didn't realize he had produced or had been involved in the scene of a lot of my favorite music from the early '90s. As a young teenager, I was completely immersed in the world of hip hop and R&B from watching Pump it Up with Dee Barnes to buying Word Up! Magazine and plastering my walls with pictures of everybody like De La Soul, Bell Biv Devoe, and Salt-n-Pepa. "Big Hoops" is an ode to that time in my life. I was around 14-years-old writing rhymes in my bedroom. I'd meet up with my friends in front of the wall and wear my big sister's hooped earrings. I felt like I was totally famous—although obviously I wasn't yet [Laughs]. When I was recording and writing the song, I went into that state of mind. Rodney had this nasty beat of course, and we let ourselves get carried away. A lot of times, that's what happens in the studio when you make something you feel excited about. It usually involves transporting yourself to another time. A couple days later, I walked the hallways and realized Rodney had been involved with some of the bands I'd referenced. When I say "No Diggity", he went on tour and played keys with Blackstreet early in his career. It was bizarre and wonderful at the same time. There was a lot of synchronicity in this recording process.

What's your take on The Spirit Indestructible as a whole? Is there a thread tying everything together?

I think the writing definitely comes from the same place. A large part of the album is about celebration, positivity, nostalgia, joy, and youth. Those are some of the themes, save for "Enemy". That was one of the first tracks I wrote with Salaam Remi. It's interesting, and I decided to put it on the album because I really believe in dark and light going together. You always have to honor the dark side to somewhat. I put the song there because it was one of the first songs for the album. Salaam ended up doing three or four tracks total, and they're some of my favorites. "Enemy" is very much about self-destruction. I almost detailed the process of self-destructing as an artist or tearing yourself apart in order to put yourself back together again, but it's near the end of the record and I don't really feel that way anymore. Much of the process, I didn't feel that way, but I thought it was important to go a little bit backwards. Overall, the themes are pretty positive and inspirational. A lot of it had to do with the fact I was in a really great state of mind when I started writing the record. I'd taken a lot of time off and I did some personal journeys and travels. Whether it was in nature or visiting Kenya to start working with "Free the Children", there have been some life-changing experiences for me. That's where the album title came from. I don't think it's different from the person on "Big Hoops", because that's the 14-year-old self. You have a sense of who you are at the age. Your initial fight or flight instinct is the same as when you're an adult. That instinct to find your inner mojo, I guess, is certainly present on all the tracks. There's a strong theme. When I did my Spanish album, Mi Plan, I was around so many awesome Latin artists. In the Latin world, there's an abundance of talent. A lot of the artists have been around for years because they're really good. The star system works a little different. Their songs are so direct. There weren't a lot of wishy-washy lyrics. They get right to the point and the meat of the song. I tried to do that more on The Spirit Indestructible. You know what I'm talking about right away—generally speaking [Laughs].

What's the story behind "Believers"? Was that a particularly special song for you?

It's called "Believers [Arab Spring]", and I wrote it with Rick Knowles. I wrote it around the time of the Libyan revolution and civil war. I was inspired by the rebels and the idea of people having to make really tough decisions in the eleventh hour. I was inspired by the idea of a young man or woman going into battle with one of their close friends. By the time the day is over, their friend has turned to the other side. That dilemma is something we could never imagine in the lives we lead. I found it inspiring people were going through those kinds of emotions the moment I wrote that song, so that's what I wrote it about.

What did Bob Rock bring to the track?

I've admired his work for a long time. I wasn't sure if he worked with a whole lot of pop artists until I bought Michael Bublé's Christmas album, Christmas, and I realized that he produced my favorite tracks. That's when I reached out. He was so kind, nice, and not intimidating at all.

Was the chemistry between you and Nas instantaneous?

It's funny. When you're a pop artist making records and their influenced by urban music, that question comes to mind a lot, "Can we get a rapper on this song?" I think every artist's first choice is always Nas [Laughs]. Nas liked the track and he got on it. It wasn't until I was writing the lyrics out for this album on the liner notes that I asked Salaam to send me Nas's rap. It's one thing hearing him rap, but when you see his words on paper, you realize just what a poet he truly is.

Is it important for you to tell stories with the songs?

I'm glad you picked up on that because I realized the most important thing is to tell a story. I don't know if it's because I've been around so many great storytellers in the last year or so or because I'd read a lot of books that inspired me before I wrote this record. At the end of the day, I realized you have to engage people and create a world for them to get into. I'm especially proud of the song "High Life" because I think it does truly tell a story from beginning to end. It's a thematic song, and I don't think I've played with themes like that before in my previous work. I allow myself to fully go into the story I'm telling, which is the story of chasing success, what happens when you get there, and how success isn't the end of a rainbow and you sit on the pot of gold. Success is living your life successfully on all fronts, and I think that's a lesson I've learned over the years. It was inspired by this emotional breakdown I had on stage during the Loose tour. Ace Primo is featured on "High Life", and he tells the story along with me so well. I think everyone can relate to that. We chase the dream, but what happens? Are you just chasing a dream finite and then you sit on it and you're happy for the rest of your life? It doesn't really work that way. That's why I wrote "High Life", but I didn't know it was about me until two months after I wrote it [Laughs].

If you were to compare The Spirit Indestructible to a movie or a combination of movies what would you compare it to?

I'm glad you asked. That's such a good question! It's a conceptual album in a way. We like the idea of music relating to people's lives. You write the music, and then it becomes part of people's lives. They listen to it in their cars, at home, in their bedrooms, in the club, and everywhere. Since January, I've been putting out trailers for the album on my web site. They show me recording and writing. Then, we did a real trailer which is a poem I wrote about The Spirit Indestructible. I got an actor to read the lines. We have this beautiful imagery. I do think albums can be like movies. If this was a movie, I think it'd be a bit like some type of world cinema whether it's Slumdog Millionaire or something with a lot of drama and breadth to it. Maybe Eminem's movie 8 Mile…there's drama and excitement as well as every day stuff. I'd say 8 Mile with a bit of Bollywood thrown in and some Marvel Comics action hero stuff [Laughs]. Let's thrown a bit of Breakfast at Tiffany's too!

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