DaHeala | The Gatineau accomplice of The Weeknd

If you’ve danced to a song by The Weeknd in the past few years (including Blindind Lights, number one of all time, according to the Billboard), you can thank the beatmaker originally from Gatineau DaHeala. A close collaborator of the Toronto superstar since his first success, Jason Quenneville, whose real name is, works “behind the curtain”. Nominated for the Grammy Awards, the American Music Awards and even the Oscars, the Quebecer based in Los Angeles is making his mark internationally, while being almost unknown here. The Press spoke to him.

When and in what context did you meet Abel Tesfaye (alias The Weeknd), which transformed your career?

I was around 13 when I discovered hip-hop. I started going to a youth center in Gatineau, it gave me access to a computer, and I downloaded programs to create music. I started out as a DJ, and around 2003 I became beatmaker. I met my friend Kareem [le rappeur montréalais], who I’m lifelong friends with, who introduced me to DTRACK, who introduced me to another guy, who introduced me to another… They introduced me to Massari [le chanteur R & B], and there, my career really began. I had my first single on the radio. It was the biggest album I had worked on. In 2007, I worked with Belly, who does a lot of featuring with Americans. In 2009, we made the song Hot Girl and Belly decided to put Snoop Dog on the song. It was a big deal. […] In 2011, at age 29, I was offered to move to Toronto. That’s where I met Abel. We always hung out together, we had parties, all that. Around 2012, I was fed up with music, I wanted to stop everything and find myself a 9 to 5, because it didn’t pay enough. I was on the verge of quitting, but my manager told me to give him a year of my life and that I was going to be glad I didn’t quit. And then, in 2013, Abel contacted me and I found myself in Florida making music with The Weeknd! My journey has been a little rough, but every moment has been needed to get me where I am.

From this first collaboration, Abel has always continued to call on you.

Yes. After 2013, we traveled: I toured Europe on tour with him, although I had never left North America. Abel came out Kiss Land [album sur lequel DaHeala a coécrit et coréalisé toutes les chansons]. Then we started to work together on the creation of the second album. We started working with a lot of people, big names. It was the top of the tops for me, it was really a big opportunity. To this day, I still have trouble understanding everything that happened. At the time, we were practically living in a hotel in Los Angeles. It was the very beginnings of success. It was just him and me. It really shaped my character.

All of this ended up leading you to the Oscars and the Grammys…

One morning, [Abel] texted me to join him. I had speakers, I did my set-up in his hotel room. We started working on a sound that became Earned It, For the movie Fifty Shades [of Grey], which was eventually nominated for an Oscar. Who completely revolutionized my life. It was like nothing else. A Gatineau resident who is nominated for an Oscar, that’s not something you often hear! I love Gatineau, I have it at heart, but there is nothing there! And there, you find yourself at the Oscars and there is Sylvester Stallone sitting in front of you and Chris Rock next to you! Then when [Beauty Behind the Madness, 2015] went out with Can’t Feel My Face, it broke records. There were the Grammys and all kinds of recognition. It was one of the great albums of its time. It ensured that he was recognized in his career, and me too in mine.

L’album After Hours, The Weeknd’s biggest hit, followed next. Tell me about its creation.

After the EP My Dear Melancoly, it was time to start the next album. Starboy (2016) was cool, I can say I have a song with Daft Punk, but I wasn’t involved in the same way. It was less personal for me. With After Hours, the real things have begun. We had to create an album like no other. We had to change the way people hear music. We had a vision of grandeur. It took two years to create it, and when it came out [en 2020], we had the song Blinding Lights, which is the biggest hit of the top 100 of all time according to Billboard. After Hours was quite an experience. […] Since then, I have taken a step back. Here I am, coming out of that break, where I wondered what I was doing next. The Scrapbook Dawn FM is out. Abel called me last year to go to the studio. We worked for 30 minutes and it gave Best Friends ! He continued to work on his album and I returned to my healing period.

You also have author credits on several songs. Is it something you’ve been doing for a long time, writing lyrics?

I improvised as an author by dint of being in sessions! For example, for Blinding Lights, we were Abel, Belly and me, in New York, with Max Martin in another room that was doing the recording of Abel to create a model. It started out as a Mercedes ad and it became what it became by chance. I was there while they were working on the lyrics. I threw out ideas and some stuck. I tried myself as a writer and it worked! You just have to try. The worst that can happen in your life is that it works out.

You’ve also worked with Future, Halsey, Lil Uzi Vert, Rick Ross and others. But it’s your collaboration with The Weeknd that is most central to your career. What makes it work so well?

I like to think it’s a matter of personality and character. We had somewhat similar experiences, so we understand each other. We were raised by single mothers. We are two Canadians and that explains a lot. Winter leaves an impossible mark on Canadian artists. Also, in Canada, in Quebec, we are respectful people. The interaction between Abel and me has always been respectful. We are people like everyone else, we are grounded, both feet on the ground, never forgetting where we come from. […] To be creative with someone, whether it’s with them or anyone else, as a director, I have to figure out how to create comfort for the artist to release all of their emotions. It’s really personal, it’s like a therapy session of making music in the studio with a director. We don’t open up the way we would in public. And it’s my job to write down the melody, the feeling, the inspiration and put it into music.

You clearly demonstrate this pride of where you come from, you seem to maintain a link with Gatineau. Moreover, the City’s account is the only account you follow on Twitter…

I followed them recently! I’m from Gatineau, I’ve always wanted my own city to recognize me in one way or another. I have formulated my intention for this to happen. I was just telling my buddy Kareem that I would like someone in Gatineau to mention me in the newspaper, something like that!

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