Nelly Furtado Talks about what Makes Timbaland "The Greatest"


In the March 2007 issue of GQ, Alex Pappademas considers Timbaland, the influential producer who made Missy Elliott's career, crafted hits for Jay-Z, and helped Nelly Furtado get Loose. Here, Furtado talks about what makes the man so great. 


Timbaland produced your third album, Loose. I think a lot of people were surprised when you teamed up with him, but the album turned out to be a huge success both commercially and creatively. Why do you think you guys worked so well together ?

I think my career is all about unlikely collaborations, y'know. One day I'll do something with Timbaland, the next day I'll do something with Michael Bublé. The two don't really seem to have any thread that holds them together, but I like to be the thread.
The first time I met Tim, ironically, or not so ironically, was because he wanted to sample my music—a song called "Baby Girl" that I'd created with [producers] Track & Field. There's this whole vocal arrangement, that we spent hours on, with my voice totally layered, this very Brazilianinspired vocalpercussion riff that's a very big part of the song. He sampled that part of the song and created a whole song around it for one of his artists, Ms. Jade. And my label called me and said 'Hey, Timabland wants to sample you, but he wants you to come in and approve the track.' And I was like, 'Amazing,' because one of my musical dreams was to work with him.
This was, like, six years ago. So I went to the studio, and it was really like love at first sight. Musical love at first sight—literally within two minutes of meeting him, I was in a vocal booth with headphones on, and I was singing. That never happens. And it was really pure and real. I sang a whole improv section for the end of the song, and I ended up singing the chorus for the song, and doing the video and everything.


And y'know, since then, he was just a musical friend. We worked a couple more times in the studio, just doing remis and stuff. And we kinda lost touch for a while, like four years or something. And then when this album [Loose] came about, I started working with all kinds of producers—I worked with Track & Field, I worked with Pharrell, I worked with Scott Storch in Miami. I had a bunch of tracks, I had some good songs, but then finally the label was like, 'You know what Tim wants to do a track with you, and we think you should do it."
It hadn't occurred to me. We'd always talked about doing an album together, but I guess we'd been putting it off. It's kinda what everybody expected after the first album—that I'd put out a Tim album, like a hiphop/R&B album. I had showed my feathers a little bit, on different hiphop things I'd done with the Roots, and Jurassic 5 and Missy, and everyone was like, 'Okay, she'll go that way,' and I didn't, because I hate doing what people think I'm gonna do. So anyway, I flew to Miami. And it was a momentous occasion, cause I hadn't seen him in about four years, so when I walked in that studio it was like seeing an old friend, or when you go and see a relative you haven't seen in ages, and you've flown across the world or something. He's sitting there behind all these keyboards, cramped in the corner. And he was like, 'Hey—let's make some music.' And that very same day, I just had this feeling in the pit of my stomach like something magical was gonna happen.


So you wrote the whole album together in the studio ?

Oh, yeah, totally. These songs came out of pure spontaneous moments, just hanging, just vibing. That's why I named the album Loose. When we did the album, we kind of approached it like we were a band. We had these fabulous dreams of actually starting a band. I felt like I was in a band—like I was in Blondie or something. We decided to do a lot of this album in the mix room, just on the floor. I wasn't in an [isolation] booth writing it. We would all write and jam right in front of the board. We were all so passionate—we wouldn't stop to eat our food, we'd just record late at night, and go home so tired.
What was the process like Would he start by just throwing you a beat ?

Yeah. He has, like, skeletons of beats sometimes, on his keyboard. And he'll have, like, twenty things, and he'll just play me stuff. He's the only producer where I have a melody for absolutely everything he plays me. He just inspires me on a really basic level, like a primal level. Everything he plays really inspires me. He'll play a beat, and I'll start singing, and I'll come up with a hook. He's very picky, so it's great for me. It's a very Pavlovian experience, because every time he didn't like something, he'd just kind of leave the room and go do something else. [laughs] So I learned very quickly to only come correct with my hooks.

I totally know what you're talking about. When I was interviewing him, and he wasn't into a line of questioning, he'd sort of tune out ?

I know, I know! You gotta keep him interested. He's got a low attention span. But so do I. That's why we get along. It's kinda funny. Actually, though, certain songs weren't like that. Like "Promiscuous"—people always assume I wrote that song, because I write all my other material, but that's the firstever song that I didn't really write that much of. I wrote maybe 50% of the lyrics, but the melody is all Tim. And the whole "Promiscuous" thing came out of Tim's dirty little mouth. [laughs] He didn't know what he meant when he said it. He didn't know what "Promiscuous" meant, isn't that funny He really only learned what it meant once it became a really big hit. He was like, "Oh—that's what that's about."

I Guess He just knew it was something dirty...

He just knew it was a sexy word. Tim's kinda all about—when I say he's all about sex, I don't mean he's some kind of sexual fiend, but he's really a very visceral human being, very electric, very ofthisworld. I think he's extremely gifted. I think he's been abnormally blessed, by God, with a really special gift, to just really make people move. I always say it's like he's an extraterrestrial on the keyboards, because it's like he's beaming things in from outer space, but it's almost like he's beaming things in from the future, y'know He's always just five years ahead of everybody else, and that's just a fact, and that'll never change. It's just who he is—it's a part of who he is. He's just not satisfied with mediocrity, he's not satisfied with being like everybody else. And he doesn't even have to study that hard to do that. It's just in him. Some people are natural forecasters of public taste, or natural forecasters of culture. They're just ahead of their time. And I think Tim was born that way, and he'll always be ahead of his time.


When I tried to have the nutsandbolts music conversation with him, and talk about why he made certain choices, he didn't have that much to say. I got the sense that doesn't really intellectualize this stuff.

Yeah, not at all. He's the opposite

It's that directlinetoGod kind of musicmaking. 

It's funny, though, because it's so human. It's almost like his music really connects that world to fleshandbone humanity. And that's why this album of mine is the way it is. People are like, "Oh, this is different. It's very sexual." And I was at a time, too, where I was just getting kind of comfortable with real life and making mistakes, and not being afraid of the darker side of things. And I think it was a perfect moment for him and I to make that album, because it was me just really letting go. I had to get on that horse and ride that wave. He taught me how to let go of thinking too much. Because I think the only difference between my new CDs and my old CD is really that in the past, I think I overintellectualized my music, and when I work with Tim it's impossible to overintellectualize, because you just can't do it. He's just such a good meter of realness that it just doesn't happen. He's the type of guy who, I'll be like, "C'mon, Tim, let's bring in some musicians"—we brought in these wonderful Cuban guitar players, and we spent like five or six hours tracking this song, and he's like, "Aww, it's cool, it's cool," and at the end he just erased everything. He liked it better the way it sounded without it! He knows what he likes.


And you trust him on that ?

Yeah, I do. You have to. You can't let your pride get in the way. That's why the album sounds so rough. The label was like, "What's up with this mix It's so dirty. It sounds so raw and edgy. We don't like it. We need a more pristine mix," and I was like, "No, that's not the point." The whole thing is sonics, the whole thing is sound. That's what Tim does. He doesn't do what everybody else does, y'know And that's the way to change popular culture, really. Do something different, and lead people this way or that way. He's the leader of the pack. It's uncanny.
Did he work really fast on a lot of these songs Did they not take as long as some of the tracks you've done in the past ?

Oh, yeah. I've got a great story, actually. Y'know how he had no idea about "Promiscuous" being a risqué word He had put up another beat, which ended up being a song called "Do It." And I was sitting there in the hallway, writing the lyrics, and his beat was up, playing for like an hour, and I was like, "Tim, this beat's so good. It's been on for an hour and I'm not sick of it." And he's like, "Really What you got for it" And I sang it to him, like, "Oh, do it like you do it to me/Do it like you do it to me." And he's like "Oh, I like it, but I don't know—is it too risqué for, like, the _TRL_type crowd" [laughs] And again, this is after we did "Promiscuous."

Promiscuity is okay, but… 

…you can't say "Do it like you do it to me." [laughs]


via GQ Magazine
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