How Pop Producer Stephan Moccio Gave The Weeknd His Biggest Hit Yet
Before Canadian-born Stephan Moccio produced what would be The Weeknd‘s Celine Dion moment for the bestseller-turned-blockbuster Fifty Shades of Grey, “Earned It,” he gave Celine Dion her moment with the comeback we’ll never forget, “A New Day Has Come.”
The classically trained pop producer then went on to produce the opening and closing track for The Weeknd’s Grammy-nominated album Beauty Behind The Madness, expertly piecing together “Real Life” and “Angel.”
We caught up with one of the busiest men in the pop industry about working with Celine Dion, The Weeknd, and what under-the-radar star he currently has his eye on.
Erika Flynn: I know you grew up around pianists and you were classically trained since you were really young, how has this shaped you as a producer working in modern pop music?
Stephan Moccio: I grew up in Canada… in Niagara Falls which is a border city. So, I grew up listening to Canadian radio and American radio. My mother being a classical musician herself introduced me to a lot of incredible music at an early age and I was fortunate enough to have parents who taught me to really practice with instruments. I was exposed to a lot of American music as a kid, so I was very privileged in that sense. I ended up getting my degree in classical music. But I really have this love for pop music. Great pop music is really amazing in the way it’s orchestrated and produced. That’s what’s deceiving! People think that pop music is easy to do. Fast pop music is easy, great pop music is not.
EF: I’m sure you’ve worked with a lot of producers throughout your career, but now, are there other producers who are classically trained as well or can you tell who is trained versus who isn’t?
SM: Off the top of my head, who’s classically trained, as well as who preceded me is David Foster. He was one of my mentors. But who’s in my world right now, at this moment, would be guys like Greg Kirsten, Greg Wells, who are both amazing producers. Also, Jeff Bhasker who just won Producer of the Year. I know he’s had classical training. It’s amazing that these guys and myself are all in a great place right now, but a lot of people don’t realize what that secret ingredient is.
EF: What was it like working with Celine Dion on “A New Day Has Come” and how did that come about?
SM: On an ethereal level, it was wild because I met Celine when I was eighteen years old and I told her that one day I would write her hit single and almost ten years later I did her comeback song. I got together with my co-writer on that song, and after we wrote the song, she got back to us saying she loved it and wanted to record it. It ended up being her first single since she’d taken a three-year hiatus after having her first child, and that was my real first international hit. That one was just massive on so many levels and at that time she was the largest selling female recording artist. The song was number one for 25 weeks. It’s really what put me on the international map. It’s amazing what a song like that does.
EF: I feel like “Earned It’ was Abel’s “A New Day Has Come.” I feel like that was really his Celine Dion moment because it was his first huge radio hit. When you got brought on for this, were you familiar with his older stuff that was much darker?
SM: I was. I’m a huge fan and we connected really fast, but Abel knew he needed to evolve. Not that there was anything wrong, his sound was iconic and he made a massive dent in music and his genre of R&B, but it was time to reach other audiences around the world. “Earned It” kind of fused classic jazz and old-school R&B. It also has strings. It has all of that going on. We all knew what we were doing with that song and we were lucky enough to have a massive platform like Fifty Shades of Grey as well.
EF: The song definitely does have a classical undertone. When you were working on it, were you thinking about how his voice was going to mesh with the strings and influence of the song?
SM: We knew we had something special before. It was definitely evident. It was one of those songs that happens fast, and there was nothing on the radio that sounded like that song. That’s what made it what it is. The juxtaposition of sounds was the perfect ingredient to making a perfect song.
EF: Then The Weeknd brought you on the album to work on a couple more songs, what was it like working on Beauty Behind The Madness?
SM: Yeah, we worked on “Real Life” which opens up the album and another song called “Angel” which closes the album, which is kinda cool. “Real Life” is kind of an iconic Pink-Floyd-meets-Queen fusion that creates that really unique sound. We worked on the songs for a while, but that’s how the process is with music and art. Nothing is an accident with him, and I, and most of our collaborators. We really are just a group of people who give a shit about music and really care, and we really want to do something that’s great… period. “Real Life” went through a few sketches before it ended up sounding the way it did. It was originally much darker, even though it still has a dark element, but it has a sense of hope to it as well.
EF: How do you think artists like The Weeknd who are more underground and not as “radio-friendly” can make that switch to being more accessible while still remaining true to themselves as an artist?
SM: Well I think [Abel’s] doing it right now. He’s very aware of the sequence of the album, the songs, and he’s definitely stayed true to the original crew as well. I was just fortunate enough to be apart of the handful of new collaborators he chose. He remains faithful to his fans for sure, and he’s well aware that his fans have elevated him and brought him to where he is right now. He never wants to disappoint them.
EF: You’re from Canada, and so is Abel. Do you have a favorite artist out of Canada right now, considering there’s quite a few? Are you a Drake fan? Be honest.
SM: It’s funny, I don’t really view artists as being “from Canada” even though I am myself. I mean you’ve got The Weeknd killing it, and Bieber’s killing it. I really admire Abel and what he does, as well as Noah “40” Shebib and what he does with Drake, and Illangelo behind The Weeknd. I view those guys as artists as well and they’re really sculpting sounds.
EF: Is there anyone in general who you’re listening to at the moment? Any up-and-coming artists who you’re into that maybe haven’t had their Celine Dion moment yet?
SM: Yes, there’s this artist Maty Noyes that I’ve been working with whose voice is featured on “Angel” on The Weeknd’s album. She has a really unique voice, it’s really different. It’s kind of a 180 degree turn from BBTM, but we’re using a fifty-piece orchestra, real brass strings, and an all-star cast of some of the best musicians in the world. To be honest, as a producer, my days can be up to 16 hours long consumed with the artist I’m working with. To clear my mind, I listen to classical music. I listen to the farthest thing from what I’m working on.
EF: So after the Grammy’s and BBTM, what’s next for you?
SM: Maty honestly has all of my attention right now. There’s so many great new artists out right now though and so many things going on, I’m getting to work on a couple films as well at the moment, which is awesome. But with artists like Abel or Maty, it’s like going in the trenches for months at a time. There’s so much work to be done.