Her career has spanned two decades, reaching every part of the globe. Five albums. Over 16+ million records sold worldwide. Her name is Nelly Furtado, and the Grammy Award-winning, chart-topping luminary is back like she never left. Get ready for The Ride.
The year was 2013 when Nelly Furtado made a concerted effort to take a well-deserved hiatus from the spotlight. Her fifth studio album The Spirit Indestructible gave way to a world tour that stretched from winter of 2012 through summer of 2013. It was time to take a break.
“I was doing a lot of things I always wanted to do—like sewing classes, ceramic classes and playwriting classes,” the Canadian superstar explains. “I guess I was trying to distill my life a little bit. I was living in fast forward since I was 19.” The early aughts were massive for Nelly. In 2000 she released her debut album Whoa, Nelly! and every three years that followed she would deliver a new project, including Folklore in 2003, her pop smash Loose in 2006, her international debut Mi Plan, which garnered a Latin Grammy for Best Pop Female Vocal Album, and her return to mainstream waters with The Spirit Indestructible in 2012. Singles like “I’m Like A Bird,” “Say It Right,” and “Big Hoops (Bigger The Better)” barely scratch the surface of Nelly’s songs that have shape-shifted pop music as we know it. However, a turning point for Nelly was imminent.
Her independent label Nelstar Entertainment had a successful act she was grooming, inevitably pulling Nelly from her chosen path of creating. “I was wearing too much of a business hat and missed the artistic side of me,” she admits. “I also got to a place where I had a lot of people around me work-wise. Too many people.” Nelly opted to clean house, so to speak, and spend some time redirecting her career on her own. “It’s not because they were bad people,” she explains, “but because I wanted to do everything myself.” It included e*ding a major professional tie with a father figure who was there since she was 18. The road ahead was scary albeit exciting.
“What happens when you have a successful album and/or career, is you go, go, go, more is more, yes, yes, yes and no time for no,” she says. “That really took its toll on me and didn’t flow with my natural rhythm of who I am.” Mild depression set in, and Nelly settled into what she refers to as a low, dark place in her life. To pull herself out of it, she went back to her roots.
“I was having a crazy day and I drove down to my friend’s record store,” Nelly recalls. “They played me a Minnie Ripperton album along with other records. I said to him, ‘This is going to sound crazy but can I work at your store? That was the most joy I felt in years. I forgot how happy music makes me.’” So yes, Nelly Furtado worked at a record store. “I worked there a few days and realized what I was really missing was being around the real reason why I make music.”
She also took her writing process back to day one. “When I wrote most of the songs on my first album, I was cleaning toilets at the Robin Hood Motel,” she says with a laugh. “So I started cleaning my own toilets again. I started mopping my floor and using cleaning as a way to spread light. Through unstrapping and layering down and simplifying my life, I found the joy again in art.” And that’s when The Ride really got started.
The Ride is Nelly Furtado’s journey, living life through experiences that oftentimes felt like a carnival ride—one point it’s exciting and the next you want to hop off and regain stability. The project contains songs that are fragments of life’s moments that Nelly experienced along the way. “I let experience be the most important thing,” she explains, and that all came down to her wanderlust.
As an Ambassador for Free The Children since 2010, Nelly has enjoyed travels to rural Kenya, working with small villages to help build schools and music programs, as well as conduct songwriting workshops. She would bring along her daughter as well, and would perform for 2,000 children who had no idea of her celebrity status. “They just thought I was their music teacher,” she humbly advises.
The experiences birthed several songs that would join The Ride. The pensive song “Pipe Dreams” was written while on a water walk in Narok County, Kenya, learning how the local Kenyan women find water for their villages. “Palaces” was another, discussing feelings of disillusionment. “We are being sold a dream. The dream is not real,” she says. “None of this stuff matters.” When she returned from her trip, her mindset was permanently changed. “I was directly changing a lot of patterns in my life after that,” she adds.
A trip to Chile to visit her best friend also proved to be fortuitous, as Nelly penned “Magic” while sipping on wine in Santiago and reflecting on unrequited love. “Hopefully it’s the last unrequited song I will ever write,” she jokes. “That last little exorcism.” She pieced “Tap Dancing” together, following a visit to her former label Interscope with her new manager. After observing Nelly around the executives, he asked, “’Why are you tap dancing? You are who you are. You don’t need to tap dance for anyone.’ That’s when I realized I had been tap dancing probably for my entire life.” That moment fueled Nelly’s decision to release her sixth studio album independently through Nelstar Entertainment. “I’m so grateful that I had a major label where I could do so much,” she says of her previous label. “But I don’t like having a filter between my creativity and the finished product. I’m grateful that I can own my music and make something today and release it tomorrow.”
Nelly continued her journey on The Ride in rural England, connecting with producer Mark Taylor after a decade (the two worked together on James Morrison’s “Broken Strings”) penning “Phoenix” and its B-Side “Bliss,” along with the Taylor penned “Sticks and Stones.”
“I was in a place of thinking about when you’re really feeling low and you touch the bottom, but start coming back up again.”
However, the true glue of The Ride is songwriter and producer John Congleton of the band The Paper Chase. The two met through Annie Clark of St. Vincent and had a musical chemistry from the moment Nelly entered his Dallas studio. Together they formulated the heart of the album, including the emotional “Flatline,” “Cold Hard Truth,” “Paris Sun,” and the apropos “Carnival Games.”
“It’s kind of like the ‘oh f--’ moment,” she says of the latter track. “You’re kind of at a carnival and it looks fun, but fundamentally what is actually going on?” Working with John allowed Nelly to experiment with new sounds and arrangements, leaning on Congleton’s punk beginnings.
The result is a bold comeback project, signifying the return of an artist who lives unapologetically and is geared to bring everyone back on The Ride with her. Having global accolades and a music career that is nothing short of legendary, Nelly Furtado has indeed been on quite a ride. However, for her, that isn’t always about hopping on, but getting back off. It’s where her inspiration lives and she feels most at home. “It’s okay to maybe get off The Ride once in a while,” she says, “and reflect on everything you’ve experienced.”