Your album's been in the works for a while. When did you start recording it?
"I guess I started recording it officially in 2007 while Timbaland was recording his Shock Value album, but there was so much going on it's hard to say exactly when. I was actually working on one of the songs when Justin [Timberlake] was doing FutureSex/LoveSounds back in 2006, but it was still unofficial then. The budgets hadn't been opened up for me at that stage."
How many tracks did you record in total?
"Over 150 - and there were songs from years and years ago that I kept in the arsenal just in case! Between the four of us - management, myself, Timbaland and (producer) Polow Da Don - we narrowed it down to a good 50, and then it was very difficult in the final hours to pick the ultimate 15. We all had songs we kinda gravitated towards."
Did the four of you disagree much?
"Oh yeah! Timbaland's so wishy-washy sometimes - he'll hate a song at first and then love it, and then maybe go back to not liking it as much as something else. 'Slow Dance', a track from the album which I co-wrote with Justin, was one of those songs for him. He liked it a lot at first and said it should be a single, but just as that was about to happen he called it 'bubble bath music'. But now he loves it again and thinks it should be a single! He'll really change it up on you."
The album's release date has been pushed back a couple of times. Has it been frustrating for you?
"Actually no. Every time it got pushed back I saw it as an opportunity to record more and top the last songs that I did. Every time I thought 'Good, the album just isn't ready yet' and considered it a blessing. I take everything as a positive because nothing ever goes as planned in this industry."
Why did you call the album In A Perfect World...?
"I called it that with the ellipses - dot dot dot - because it's an incomplete statement. We all have something about ourselves that we'd change if we could in a perfect world, be it our body image, our financial status, our relationship, whatever. I wanted to talk about how nobody's exempted from the realities of life and all those things."
The lead single over here is 'Return The Favour'. What inspired that track?
"Well, Timbaland called me one day and said, 'I've got a song that I think's better than 'The Way I Are'. I think it's bigger.' He had the track and we wrote 'Return The Favour' over it. I guess it was inspired by that conversational, back-and-forth thing we had on 'The Way I Are'. We got a great response from that that we wanted to do it again."
Why do you think you and Timbaland work together so well?
"We're both very much perfectionists and we both love what we do. Our passion is very pure and that leads us to disagree at times - it's not like our relationship is always perfect and streamlined. We bicker like a brother and sister and we don't agree on every song or every harmony or every track. But that's what makes us who we are - we're both very strongly opinionated."
You wrote 'Gimme More' and 'Break The Ice' for Britney and 'Wait A Minute' for the Pussycat Dolls. Do you ever wish you'd kept them for yourself?
"No way - and especially not those songs. Those songs were way more perfect for the artists we gave them to than they were for me. When I'm writing a song for another artist I purposefully make it not for me otherwise I get too attached. I mean, I don't party the same way Britney parties, we don't go to the same clubs and we don't have the same influence. If you tailor something to Britney, you know it's not going to be anything Keri Hilson would ever sing."
Were you ever worried you'd get pigeonholed as a songwriter and wouldn't be able to become a performer?
"No, but it worried other people - the label and certain spectators voiced their concerns. A few people said, 'I don't know if there's anything special about her as an artist. She might be better off writing songs for the rest of her life'. But they don't know what struggles I've been through to become an artist. I've had this feeling since I was a child - I'd cry as I watched performances because I wanted to be up onstage so bad. Songwriting was always my 'plan B'. I didn't even know that songwriting was a job until my late teens!"
Are you writing for any other artists at the moment?
"Well, I'm supposed to work on something for Estelle and I'm very excited about that because I'm a huge fan of hers. I'm supposed to collaborate with Robyn too - our management has been talking about the possibility of hooking us up. I'd love for us to duet, but I'll take it however I can get it! If I'm writing for her that's cool, if she's writing for me that's cool, if we record a duet that's cool. I'm doing a lot less writing at the moment because I'm doing a lot of promo for my record. It's hard to get in the studio but I'm always there on my Sidekick working on something."
'Return The Favour' by Keri Hilson is out now. The album In A Perfect World... follows on May 4.