nelly furtado on her musical evolution and working with dev hynes
The singer tells i-D why her forthcoming new album, 'The Ride,' is still pop, but weirder.
Nelly Furtado has been making a comeback recently. It started with "Hadron Collider," the hazy yet impassioned track she co-wrote for the recent Blood Orange album Freetown Sound, continued with her July single "Behind Your Back," and will culminate when her own new album, The Ride, drops in March 2017. Having joined forces with producer John Congleton, and swapped life lessons with collaborator Dev Hynes, Furtado is ready to start a brand new period for herself as an artist. Last night, during a high-powered set at the NYFW kickoff party, she also debuted a brand-new song, "Islands of Me." Afterwards, she sat down with i-D at the Top of the Standard to talk 90s influences, making new friends through David Byrne, and recording with Odd Future's Hodgy Beats.
In July, when you released "Behind Your Back," you tweeted that you were feeling nostalgic for your 90s heroes — who are they?
Well, I could start with TLC. I dressed up like them for Halloween almost three times. Salt-N- Pepa and Bell Biv DeVoe. But I listened to rappers too, like Paris, and DJ Quik I loved as a 14-year-old. Boyz II Men, I loved — that was my first concert. But a lot of my friends were listening to the really strong female MCs, like MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, and Yo-Yo. We had some really strong role models growing up. Also Mary J. Blige — her first records!
Will your new album have a nostalgic feel?
Not really, and that's why I put "Behind Your Back" out first because it doesn't really fit with anything that's on the actual album. So I just put it on the deluxe final, but I released it on Spotify so people could check it out. I think it's almost like a throwback track for me because it sounds a little bit like what I did in the beginning of my career.
It's interesting, the influences on the new record — the album is called The Ride. I made it in Dallas, Texas, and Dallas, Texas has a sound. So these guys I played with tonight, they're from Dallas. And a lot of people grew up playing in the church, playing gospel music, and there's a certain swagger to the way they play. John Congleton produced the entire record. He's got an incredible resumé. I met him through Annie Clark of St. Vincent. He produced all four of her albums. Annie introduced us, we really got along, and I just kind of cold-turkey flew to Dallas. Together we wrote this song called "Flatlines" that's on my album.
I would call the sound of the album modern pop-alternative. I write pop melodies, I've always written pop melodies. But John forces me to dig a little deeper and make sure that I'm coming correct with the lyrics. I was also in a really cool phase in my life where I was going through a difficult time of transition and that helped lyrically. I just had so much to write about. I think I grew as a songwriter on this album.
What was the creative process like with John?
John comes from a slightly punk background. He will approach a pop song that I've written and completely redo the arrangement so that it's way cooler and more interesting. When I asked Annie, "What's John like? I want to work with him," she was like, "Well, he's a Texas weirdo like me." And so it's a fusion of this happy-go-lucky girl and this kind of darker, weirder producer, and us coming together and trying to create something that's accessible but interesting. I'm really proud of the album.
How did you meet Dev Hynes and what was it like collaborating with him?
I love Dev. He's the realest. I've learned a lot from him. To me — and I've never told him this — he's almost been a mentor without knowing it. I met him through David Byrne because we did the Color Guard project together. In Toronto one night [on the tour for Color Guard], Dev and I got in the studio and wrote "Hadron Collider." That vocal that's on his album is a scratch vocal that I did. We were inspired by the Baz Luhrmann Romeo + Juliet soundtrack. There's a couple of moments that are really poignant in that film and in that soundtrack, so we were playing off that energy. That's why it has this sort of mystical energy to the song.
The way the name "Hadron Collider" came up was because I was like, "Dev, come on, let's do a band. Let's do a side project. We'll be a band and we'll call it Hadron Collider!" It was funny because neither of us knows a lot about physics. But then, when we released the cassette of the song, at the Apollo in Harlem in December when he did a fundraiser, all the guys from the actual Hadron Collider in Switzerland were tweeting us. One of them played the cassette inside the Hadron Collider.
Will there be any features on your new album?
Actually, no, no features at all. It's just me, kind of like my first album. It's kind of purist, I guess, but with John's production, it just kind of does all the talking. But I'll be collaborating a lot with other artists on other projects this year and remixes.
Who do you currently have in mind?
I've been chatting with Kaytranada about a remix. River Tiber and I just worked on a new song with this new singer named Mustafa Ahmed, who's originally from Toronto. And then I was in the studio with Hodgy from Odd Future. I met him at the Ace Hotel show that Dev did that I sang at, and we've started making music together. We're still mulling over our group name. We keep just sending each other ideas back and forth.
Finally, what's your go-to karaoke song?
Patsy Cline! Or something old.
Text Blair Cannon
Photography Madison McGaw/BFA.com