Toronto R&B star The Weeknd is one of the most enigmatic figures in music today, shying away from media interviews and working with a select group of collaborators who rarely let outsiders in.
But Canadian songwriter/producer/composer Stephan Moccio was able to grow close to him and his crew while they made the Grammy Award-nominated hit album "Beauty Behind The Madness."
He says the singer, born Abel Tesfaye, is driven, kind and comes "alive, if you will, in the studio."
"He's one of the most gentle souls that I know and the nicest guys that I know," says Moccio.
"He's well aware of his brand and who he is and what he does, he's very sure-footed, and that's one of my favourite things about him.
"We're twin brothers in the sense that he has a very strong vision of what he's after and what he wants to do, and when he sets forth to do it, nothing sways him. But working with him, he gives all of himself in the creative environment."
Moccio, who has a slew of hit songwriting credits and acclaimed solo work, is named in three Grammy nominations for working with The Weeknd. He's up for album of the year, best R&B song for "Earned It" from the "Fifty Shades Of Grey" soundtrack, and best song written for visual media for the same track.
The "Earned It" nominations are shared with The Weeknd as well as fellow Canadians Ahmad Balshe (a.k.a. Belly) and Jason (DaHeala) Quenneville, while the album of the year nod has a slew of co-nominees. The Weeknd has seven Grammy nominations in total.
Moccio and the Weeknd 'collaborators for life'
Moccio, who grew up in Niagara Falls, Ont., says he co-produced and co-wrote about a third of "Beauty Behind The Madness." He was drawn to the edginess in The Weeknd's writing as well as his sound and beats. The Weeknd, meanwhile, was drawn to Moccio's classical music sophistication and the cinematic sound that he brings to songs.
The Los Angeles-based Moccio spent eight months working on the album and says making it "was really everything that you can dream of."
"When we started hearing the music and the songs that we were creating, we knew one thing — we knew we were doing something honest and something great and that people are going to react to it," he says.
"So here it is, now sitting with a nomination for album of the year. Every artist would dream of having a Grammy nomination for album of the year."
Moccio says he and The Weeknd also bonded in the studio, sharing personal stories. They now hang out together with the rest of the crew at various social and professional events.
Moccio feels he now has "collaborators for life."
"They have such a family in how they deal with their affairs and they're very loyal people, Abel's team and his group of collaborators and writers," he says.
"It's an honour for me to have, I guess cracked the code, if you will, to have been accepted into that club, because they don't let a lot of people in, and rightfully so."