Pop star Nelly Furtado is not the first major-label musician to start her own label, but she is one of the few to do it with an indie. Furtado is launching Nelstar in cooperation with the Canadian independent label group Last Gang Labels.
The Toronto-based electro-dance band Fritz Helder & the Phantoms is the first act signed to Nelstar and will release its debut album July 7.
"Nelly just wasn't that interested in doing a OneRepublic/Timbaland type of thing," says Chris Taylor, president of Last Gang and Furtado's longtime attorney. "She's an independent spirit, and she wants to make sure we build the band at the right pace. It's also very important to launch a band with indie branding behind them and be able to build them brick by brick."
Taylor points out that Furtado has close ties to the band, noting that two members are her backup dancers.
Furtado says she never considered introducing the Nelstar imprint via her label, Interscope.
"I'm happy there, and it would be great if Fritz got signed there at some point in the future," Furtado says. "But I also think that it's best to start off an indie. When you are a new band and you sign to a major, you get thrown to the fire. Plus, I always secretly wanted to be an indie artist. When I was a teenager, I loved Ani DiFranco and hoped I could do something like that. A major turned out to be my destiny, but I'm enjoying reconnecting with the indie world."
Furtado adds that Interscope is aware of the project but says, "They have enough going on without my label adding to everything." Interscope didn't respond to an e-mail request for comment.
The model might resemble one commonly used in hip-hop, where a rapper signs his or her protege, then builds the artist up through a series of guest spots on tracks and promotional appearances, but Taylor says there are some differences.
"Nelly's not on the album in a meaningful way," he says. "She's in one of the videos, but that's really it. She's not like Puff Daddy in that respect."
But that doesn't mean Furtado has just signed the band and handed it over. "We had a meeting a few weeks ago to look at all the pictures, and Nelly was really concerned that (band member) Raquel Gil-Jimenez didn't look foxy enough," Taylor says. "She insisted we do reshoots, and we're going to send the new pictures to the Maxims of the world to promote the band."
The deal is also unique in that Fritz Helder & the Phantoms will remain signed to their own label, House of Helder, which will become an imprint of Nelstar. "We still have the label and we still control the creative aspect," Helder says. "Nelly is acting as a mentor, Last Gang will coordinate the distribution, and we'll still do the videos and things like that."
Helder and Furtado describe the deal as a long-term partnership. "It's a three- to five-year deal, with one or two albums," she says. "I'm doing this for a band I love, and I don't want it to be too restrictive."
Furtado adds that she's looking at signing a few other bands. "I'm busy enough right now, and I don't want this to get to a point where it's something I'm not passionate about," she says. "I want this to be something that really grows organically."