Long before “Rude” took over airwaves around the world, Magic! frontman Nasri Atweh was sitting on his porch living off $100 a month when Donnie Wahlberg called.
The New Kids on the Block singer had discovered a bunch of Atweh’s demos and made it his mission to secure the tracks for the boy band’s 2008 reunion album, The Block.
“At the time I thought it was a bad decision, giving away all my songs,” admits the Toronto native, who eventually caved due to being a NKOTB fan. “But from there I ended up getting a big publishing deal and was able to get out of my financial situation, so Donnie changed my life.”
He explains how he went from eating with $25 a week to making six figures after signing. He not only used the money for his own needs, but to help his hardworking, family-focused Palestinian immigrant parents too. “I was able to give my parents some money and help people. That first opportunity, when you get it, totally changes your life,” he says.
In the decade since first signing, Atweh, 37, has helped Justin Bieber create hits like “As Long As You Love Me”, written for everyone from Michael Bolton to David Guetta and taken home American and Latin Grammys for his work with Brown and Shakira.
Atweh’s stint with NKOTB led to a six-figure publishing deal and he continued to put his all into music, spending each Christmas mastering a new skill, like drumming, and using his time in Los Angeles to “grow my art” rather than hit the party scene. Forming Magic! in 2012, the group shot to global fame with “Rude,” which topped the charts, was certified multi-platinum around the world and earned numerous awards and nominations.
To Atweh, the sudden accolades were no surprise. “I always knew that I would have a successful song because I was writing so many songs for so many people, but it just didn’t happen to me quickly,” he reflects. “I had my hit as an artist when I was 32. When it’s 15 years later and you finally get your hit, you know you did the work and how it happened.”
Since “Rude”, Magic! released 2016’s follow up Primary Colours, toured with Maroon 5, won various awards and helped Taylor Swift ring in the New Year on national television.
But 10 years since that life-changing call from Wahlberg, it’s the group’s new album, Expectations, which Atweh says finally allows fans to truly “meet” him for the first time in a “genre-less” musical journey chronicling his 10-year relationship with 37-year-old German singer, Sandy Molling.
“Rude” chronicled a young man approaching his lover’s father to ask for his blessing to propose, only to be rejected. In reality, Atweh has been dating pop star, Molling, for around a decade. The pair met when Atweh worked with No Angels – a girl group formed on German reality series, “Popstars” – and he’s now a doting dad to their 2-year-old son, Noah, and Molling’s 9-year-old son, Jayden, from a previous relationship. Just like infant Atweh, Noah “sings all day.”
It turns out the song “Rude” has nothing to do with his relationship with Molling. On whether he would ask her father for her hand in marriage he said: “Hell, no – I would ask her mother not her father,” he laughs. “I wouldn’t ask – I’d just be like, ‘Just letting you know…’”
But Atweh explains they’re “not in a rush to be married. We don’t have anything against marriage; we’ve just been living so separate. She lived in Germany for six of the years, so we just haven’t had the real time together, so now this is a whole new path.”
“This whole album came from the fact that she moved here and I’d become domesticated,” he continues. “All of a sudden I couldn’t go play basketball at 2 a.m. with the boys like I used to. I have two kids and have to be up at 6:30 a.m., so the whole way I lived changed. Expectations is all about our relationship. It starts positive with ‘Kiss Me,’ then gets darker, like most relationships can go.”
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Meanwhile, reggae hungry fans will be pleased to hear that the band, who will tour in 2019, have already started their next reggae record, inspired by the success and fun of playing recent reggae-heavy sets in Hawaii.
Atweh also continues to work with other artists, having carved out an eclectic songwriting career transpiring the worlds of EDM, rock, R&B and pop, most notably with Justin Bieber.
Atweh describes fellow Canadian Bieber simply as a talented musician who never shows any limitations: “Justin’s been here and done some sessions and we have such a long history that I cherish his friendship even more than the musical stuff.” Atweh also worked on the song “Never Say Never” with the 24-year-old fellow Canadian: “He’s a very funny guy in person – he’s hilarious. The biggest misconception about his is that he’s arrogant. He’s not. I don’t like it when people say he’s arrogant because he’s the opposite, so sweet and super-attentive, in real life.”
Bruno Mars, Adele and Usher remain on Atweh’s collaboration wishlist.
As for whether he’d get back in the studio with NKOTB, he believes if he ever did he could easily “beat” the tracks which captured Wahlberg over a decade ago: “I didn’t really know what I was doing back then – they would sing songs that I wrote then hung out waiting for the next one to write. Now, if I sat with them or anybody I could design the track, engineer their vocals, do the harmonies and produce the whole thing. I’m 1,000 times stronger than I was. When I work with Justin, we’re sitting making music together with a much deeper understanding of what pop artists need. So, I think if we got together again they’d be pleasantly surprised!”