It's generally accepted that the mysterious Toronto R&B act known as the Weeknd refers to vocalist Abel Tesfaye, an assumption based on his Wikipedia entry, since he won't talk to the press. But before the shadowy soul group blew up internationally, the Weeknd were a duo, at least according to the guy who came up with the name.
"When that first New York Times article came out, I literally put my fist through a wall," admits Zodiac, aka estranged Weeknd co-founder Jeremy Rose.
He's referring to the initial wave of press that quickly spread across the globe in December 2010 after Drake posted a couple of YouTube clips to his blog shortly after Rose and Tesfaye parted ways. Before the falling-out, though, the pair had set the template for the Weeknd's druggy downtempo R&B dirges in songs like Loft Music, The Party & The Afterparty and What You Need, which appear on the breakthrough House Of Balloons mixtape from March 2011. As Rose explains, it was the last of those tracks that first brought them together.
"I went over to my buddy's house and was trying to show him and his friends how to use the program Ableton. Abel was hanging out there just freestyling and moonwalking around the room, so I asked him if he wanted to go in on What You Need."
Rose already had the idea to take R&B to a dark and creepy place but hadn't found an appropriate vocalist until hearing Tesfaye's otherworldly falsetto and grim lyrics. He also thought of the Weeknd name, from which Tesfaye eventually dropped the last "e." (Smart, considering the number of bands using variations on "the Weekend.")
It quickly became apparent that Tesfaye was taking the lead on the project and that he and Rose had different approaches.
"At the time, he was really pushing to have more club tracks, and I wasn't feeling that," says Rose. "He didn't really care what I thought, but I was being stubborn, too.
"He was pushing me to work faster, but I wanted to make sure the songs were good. I take forever to get anything done, though."
Given the three-album trilogy the Weeknd put out in 2011, it's no real surprise that Rose couldn't keep up with Tesfaye's drive. And while we'd normally applaud any artist who aims for quality over quantity, Tesfaye has maintained the former by spreading the production workload over a growing number of beatsmiths.
As you can imagine, watching his former project become huge without him took the wind out of Rose's sails. He's since come to realize that what's good for the Weeknd might also be good for Zodiac. He's already turned down offers from prestigious labels to focus on finishing his debut mixtape, which will feature a variety of vocalists performing over his slippery underwater beats.
"There's no shortage of people who want to sing on my stuff, but I want to make a name for myself as an artist rather than just for producing other people."
But first he's concentrating on calming his nerves ahead of his debut live performance Friday at Wrongbar, as well as continuing to try to reopen the lines of communication with Tesfaye. As journalists across the world have come to realize, getting anything more than "no comment" from the Weeknd is next to impossible. And just as other sources have told us, Rose feels the mystery isn't part of a contrived marketing plan.
"He's just a goofy kid, really - a bit weird but just a kid."