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Nelly Furtado: she crossed more musical borders on her first album than most singers do in their whole careers. Now she has a new album that's once again full of surprises - Interview
Interview,  Nov, 2003  by Stephen Mooallem
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STEPHEN MOOALLEM: So, Nelly, I understand that you've been sort of busy lately.

NELLY FURTADO: Oh, why?. Because of the baby or something? [laughs]

SM: Yeah, yeah. Congratulations.

NF: Thank you very much. It's pretty incredible.

SM: You were pregnant during most of the recording of your new album, Folklore [DreamWorks], right?

NF: Yeah, my pregnancy is actually a big part of why the album is so mellow. But I'm looking forward to performing again--you know, wearing cool outfits, getting my hair and makeup done.

SM: Why is the album called Folklore?

NF: The original title was Fresh off the Boot, which came from a song I wrote about coming to a new place. Toronto, where I live now, is a very cosmopolitan city. A lot of people are transplanted here from other countries. My parents came to Canada from Portugal, and when I look at my old photo albums, I see pictures of their brand-new house, their shiny new car, their first experiences going to very North American--type places like Kmart. [laughs] When you have that in your blood, you never really part with it--it becomes your own personal folklore. The album captures that idea.

SM: One of the things about your first record, Whoa, Nelly! [2000], that people really cleaved to was that it moved through a variety of styles--pop, rock, hip-hop, bossa nova, R&B--but; the shifts seemed instinctual and never contrived. Folklore is more focused.

NF: About a year after my first album came out, I decided I wanted to make a modern folk record. As we started working, I began falling in love with all these stringed instruments--the banjo, the Portuguese ukulele, and the dulcimer, all of which are on this record. And we focused a little more on the songwriting than on frenetically switching genres five times in one song, the way we did on the last record. [both laugh] There's just something so pure about a guitar and a vocalist, or somebody singing in the street, so the idea was to take that essence and make a folk record for 2003, using new sounds and taking advantage of all the technology we have at our disposal. The idea of folk is there, but it's my version of a folk record. It still bounces.

SM: Now that you're established, do you feel a pressure to stick to a sound---or a look?

NF: You always want what you're doing to be authentic--I mean, I try not to be too over-the-top about things like clothes and videos because people can smell that coming a mile away. As long as the work is good, people will stick with you even if you have a new image or sound.

SM: Is pop culture a big thing for you?

NF: For sure! When I was a kid, my friends and I were really into mimicking famous people. We were obsessed with TLC for a while; we would dress up like them and do makeshift videos just like theirs. This is probably part of the reason why I write pretty catchy songs--my brain has registered all these pop songs I've heard over the course of my life, and I'm just regurgitating them. [laughs] Actually, a lot of popular music seems to have been made by people who have been listening to mainstream music their whole lives.

SM: That's the industry's dirty little secret.

NF: It's true. Nobody sits in a corner listening to Beethoven their whole life and then emerges onto the pop-culture scene. Don't get me wrong--I listen to crazy stuff no one's ever heard of, but I also get down to what's on the radio.

SM: As the child of immigrants, did you have a hard time finding people in pop culture to identify with?

NF: There were no Portuguese people on TV or in magazines, and it sucked. I'd be sitting there as a kid thinking, One day I'm going be on TV so all the little Portuguese girls can identify with somebody. There was also the experience of being Portuguese and having to bring these strange ethnic sandwiches to school that all the kids thought were really weird. [laughs] I have a song called "Invisible Minority" that deals with personal identity--the idea that you can still feel like a minority inside, even if you don't look like one on the outside. The first single off the album, "Powerless (Say What You Want)," deals with that idea as well--that we are inundated with images in the media of what we should want in life.

SM: You sing part of "Forca" in Portuguese.

NF: The idea came from when I was on the road and my Portuguese fans would yell, "Forcal" There really is no direct translation--it's a keep-the-strength sort of thing, like "Carry on!"

SM: It's in keeping with the tone of the album, which is reflective, but also upbeat.

NF: A lot of the music I fell in love with as a teenager had this wonderful melancholy that's missing today. Bands like Smashing Pumpkins, Hole, and especially U2 really captured that hopefulness that you hang onto when you're a teenager: You're tortured inside, but you're hopeful about life, and you have this really kick-ass attitude. There's definitely an agony, but there's also an ecstasy. To me, singing is just a hopeful act.

Stephen Mooallem is Interview's music editor.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Brant Publications, Inc.
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