Living for The Weeknd: 'We're the guys behind him who make the machine work'

Living for The Weeknd: 'We're the guys behind him who make the machine work'

The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind The Madness album was one of the biggest selling albums of 2015 – and is still going strong in 2016. Music Week meets the production team behind its unique sound.

Jason “DaHeala” Quenneville and Danny “DannyBoyStyles” Schofield take possession of the SLS Hotel’s rooftop terrace – complete with swimming pool – as if it’s their home. They greet each member of staff with kisses and hugs, like they’re old friends. Obviously, they are well known around these parts.

Probably because they spent the best part of a year in this West Hollywood hotel, working on The Weeknd’s global smash album, Beauty Behind The Madness, even turning one of the rooms into a recording/production studio. Quenneville is from Canada, like Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd. He is known to his friends as DaHeala.

Schofield hails from Miami. Everybody calls him Danny Boy and he is identified through his production credit name, DannyBoyStyles or DBS. They interact as a unit, one finishing the sentences that the other has started, and it is not difficult to imagine them in a studio, with one starting an experiment in sound and the other one taking over.

Both Schofield and Quenneville refer to Tesfaye as “family”. Their relationship with him goes back to when they both worked on The Weeknd’s 2013 breakthrough album Kiss Land, with Tesfaye installing them as his key production team. Quenneville wrote or produced multiple cuts from Beauty Behind The Madness, including the No.3 US hit single Earned It, which also appeared on the soundtrack to Fifty Shades Of Grey and was nominated for the Best Original Song Oscar. Schofield co-wrote Often and also co-produced such tracks as Acquainted, Angel and As You Are.

They view their achievement as collective. When The Weeknd won the Grammy for Best Urban Contemporary Album, Quenneville says that Tesfaye “looked at Danny, and he looked at me, and said, We all won the Grammy, we are a unit”.

Quenneville was the last one to join this unit. Schofield was already in contact with Tesfaye when, on New Year’s Eve, as Schofield and Quenneville were partying, the phone rang.

“Everybody’s happy and Abel calls Danny and tells him he wants him to work on his new album and Danny’s looking at me and says, Hold on, what are you doing now? That phone call lit the whole fire.”

For three years, Quenneville and Schofield worked almost exclusively with The Weeknd to a point that, according to Quenneville, “we became an extension of what Abel is”.

“We touched so many lines of work,” he continues, “And we needed to know all the areas that he was dealing with. Abel’s main job is to be the image and the face of the machine. We’re the guys behind him who make the machine work.”

They also had to adjust to Tesfaye’s creative impulses, which tend to work around the clock and around the world.

“We worked mostly in hotels. We lived here for a year and had the equipment in the room,” says Quenneville, gesturing towards the terrace of the hotel. “For three years I was bringing 100lbs of equipment with me. I always had problems through customs! If we are in Berlin and Abel wants to record a song that will become a hit, we are not going to wait until it happens.”

“When you work with such a tight-knit circle, you do not really bring people in,” echoes Schofield. “Our job is to create, not to think.”

But as in most families, is there any tension?

“That’s family!” quips back Schofield. “We are like a band, but not on stage. I feel that we treat our relationship the same way we treat our music. I would not want to work with people who do not care about my music. Understanding how that works comes with some clashes, but it works in a good way.”

Both Schofield and Quenneville are signed to Universal Music Publishing Group out of Los Angeles. 
“I have been working with songwriters my entire life,” says Evan Lamberg, Universal Music Publishing Group’s president of North America. “The minute I met Danny Boy and Quenneville, I knew they were not just great songwriters and producers but that they were, themselves, special talents capable of not only writing hit songs, but also putting into motion a musical movement.”

Lamberg says two UMPG executives were crucial to the signing of the two producers: Jessica Rivera, EVP/head of East Coast operations, who championed Quenneville and Ethiopia Habtemariam, president of urban music, who championed Schofield.

“I met Danny when he came to LA to work on Kiss Land, and signed him to a publishing deal in 2014,” explains Habtemariam. “I had the opportunity to get to know him pretty well. I love his production style.”

Quenneville says that the business aspect of his career is not something he focused too much his attention on, but he admits that signing to UMPG has opened doors that he did not expect. 
“It gives us access to the rest of the world,” he says.

But both producers say the human factor was the clincher when it came to signing with UMPG.
“As much as there is a financial relationship to our product, it is the whole concept of us being a family,” says Quenneville.

“Me and Danny went to see all the companies, and it was based on the person we met. [Jessica Rivera] is the unimpressed bigger sister, and it was necessary to have that character. The fact that they have people representing us [around the world] is important and we have someone who pushes us. The family just gets bigger.”

Adds Schofield: “They care about music. Evan gives a shit about us. And someone has to collect the royalties too. Again, here, we’re working with our friends. We are a very close-knit group, but I met Evan and Ethiopia and sat down and we got to know each other before signing anything. It was important for me that they met all the people in my family.”

Habtemariam adds that, from a music publishing standpoint, Schofield has great versatility. 
“He is a great collaborator, who can attract and inspire talent,” she says. “He knows how to bring people together and it’s always about serving the music. He makes sure that the song is perfect, he is very meticulous.”

In future, Habtemariam sees Schofield working with a wide range of artists. 
“He loves to push boundaries and push things out of the box. He’ll challenge me and find artists that we’ve never heard of.”

Schofield’s production career took off in 2007 when he worked with rapper MIMS, for whom he produced the hit This Is Why I’m Hot and most of the Music Is My Saviour album. Soon after finishing, he met with Tesfaye. He’s also started an association with Canadian rapper/producer Belly, who is also in The Weeknd’s camp.

“He is the most talented person I’ve worked with,” says Schofield. “There’s not a project I go into without him. Belly has always inspired me to be a better musician and, most importantly, a better person.”
Quenneville hails from Gatineau in Quebec, the French-speaking province of Canada.

“I speak in English but my emotions are in French,” he says. “I am half white, half black, and I have the two cultures from my parents.”

His musical background follows suit, with him expressing similar veneration for French crooner and songwriter Charles Aznavour and Stevie Wonder (“My life soundtrack”).

His passion for music turned into a job when he met Schofield in Toronto and started to work as an engineer, learning the production ropes with him.

“I was the student and Danny taught me recording techniques, how to use Pro Tools. Danny had a No.1 and I was learning. And sometimes it is necessary for the student to surprise the teacher.”

Quenneville says the real game changer for him was that phone call from Tesfaye. 
“When Abel was brought into the picture, that was it,” he says. “In a year we went around the world. When we worked on Kiss Land, we did 10 songs in nine different countries. That’s why this album belongs to the world.”

When asked to describe their production approach, they pair look at each other and laugh.

“It’s trial and error, we try to hit the nail in the dark. And this is what this industry is. We don’t have specific training, but this is about soul,” says Quenneville, who adds that sometimes they both work on the same song on their own, only to end up in the same place, give or take 3bpms.

For the moment, there is still no confirmation of a new album for The Weeknd. Universal are continuing to work Beauty… around the world (it’s sold 279,930 copies in the UK), but Quenneville and Schofield know they need to be ready for the phone call.

At the beginning of the meeting, when he’s asked where he calls home, Schofield pauses, orders a glass of fresh orange juice and asks for some time to answer the question. Halfway through our conversation, he offers the following answer.

“Home is in my head, that’s it,” he says, pointing a finger to his head. “Man, I left my home so young and here I am now at 35 and I’ve accomplished so much.”
Quenneville steps in.

“Three years ago I did not know how important it was to make a home in your head,” he says. “Working with Abel was a learning curve because we were moving around so much. But I would not trade anything for what we experienced with him.”

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