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From the Weeknd to Magic!: Canadian musicians before they were famous

Melody Lau

Sometimes musicians strike success right away, but oftentimes it takes several tries and perhaps a few transformations. Whether it's a completely new sound or a wild, new style, some of Canada's biggest stars have lived some interesting past lives.

From the Weeknd's "nerdy" group to Feist's old gig that involved a sock puppet, below are 11 stars and what they were like before they became famous.

Magic!’s Nasri

Before Toronto reggae-pop group Magic! topped charts with its ubiquitous 2013 single “Rude,” lead singer Nasri performed as a solo artist. Nasri released a handful of singles — including the bouncing R&B number “Go” — and was scheduled to release a solo album called Invisible Walls but the album never came to fruition. (“Go” even echoes some of the marital themes of “Rude” with lyrics like, “Call your daddy/ let me ask him for his blessin’.”)

Nasri also worked alongside songwriter Adam Messinger as part of the writing and production duo the Messengers, and together they worked with artists such as Justin Bieber, Christina Aguilera, Jason Derulo and Pitbull.

Emily Haines

Before Metric formed in 1998, lead singer Emily Haines released a solo album called Cut in Half and Also Double (which celebrated its 20-year anniversary in January). Whereas Metric combined rock and synth elements together, Haines's solo material had a heavier emphasis on guitar-driven rock (both electric and acoustic). Haines would later revisit her solo career with the 2006 album Knives Don’t Have Your Back.


The ‘90s was a decade of experimentation for Leslie Feist. Years before she appeared in an iPod Nano commercial, Feist performed in a number of bands including Calgary punk act Placebo (no, not the British band), the still-running By Divine Right (which also included a young Brendan Canning at the time) and, most famously, Broken Social Scene. Feist also served as a hype woman for her then-roommate in Toronto, Peaches. She’d often join Peaches onstage with a sock puppet and went by the name “Bitch Lap Lap.” She also became friends and played shows with pianist and then hip-hop performer Gonzales. Some fans may be familiar with this amazing clip taken from a popular venue in the U.K. While they don’t live in the same city any more, Peaches, Gonzales and Feist still find time to perform and have fun onstage (and in a pool) together.


When electro-rocker Peaches first learned how to play music, she learned by picking up an acoustic guitar. In an interview with 89.3 KPCC, Peaches revealed, “I had a girlfriend at the time and she played acoustic guitar and we ended up having a folk trio actually because another friend joined us … and it was called Mermaid Café.”


Toronto DJ/producer Deadmau5 released his debut album in 2005 but he was creating music well before then. A few years ago, a number of old Deadmau5 demos surfaced online including this track from 1995 — when Joel Zimmerman was just 14 years old.

Avril Lavigne

Avril Lavigne first broke out with her 2002 single “Complicated,” but just a year earlier, she was performing country songs in a local bookstore. Watch below as she covers the Dixie Chicks’ “Wide Open Spaces” and LeAnn Rimes’s “How Do I Live?”

Carly Rae Jepsen

Some Canadians may remember Carly Rae Jepsen before her first hit single, "Call Me Maybe." She was one of the few stars to emerge from Canadian Idol, our very own version of the hit American reality show. After her third-place showing on the show, she released an album called Tug of War. The album featured an acoustic duet between Jepsen and Marianas Trench frontman Josh Ramsay, who would go on to co-write Jepsen's breakout single.

Tobias Jesso Jr.

In a 2014 profile on Pitchfork, it was noted that Tobias Jesso Jr. served short stints as the bassist in a band called the Sessions and for an “Avril Lavigne Lite wannabe pop star” named Melissa Cavatti. The latter released a music video for her single “Passenger,” and while it’s unclear if that’s actually Jesso Jr. in the video, the man wearing sunglasses and a big beanie hat to the singer’s right does bear some resemblance to the tall, shaggy-haired Vancouver singer-songwriter.

The Weeknd

Before the Weeknd’s Abel Tesfaye became an OVO-approved up-and-comer, he worked with a production group called the Noise. He was also part of a duo called Bulleez N Nerdz with his high school friend JesseRay. (JesseRay explained the name in a Pigeons and Planes interview: “We were bullies, but we looked like nerds.”) Fans have since uncovered and released a number of Tesfaye’s old songs on a compilation called The Noise EP.

Justin Bieber

By now, many of us are familiar with pop star Justin Bieber’s rise to fame. Before he sold out stadiums around the world, Bieber won people over by busking on the streets of his hometown Stratford, Ont., and by posting covers of Ne-Yo and Justin Timberlake on YouTube. The online video site was eventually where his manager, Scooter Braun, discovered him.


Even back in his Degrassi days, Aubrey Drake Graham showed a strong interest in music. First, he played guitar in a band called Downtown Sasquatch. Later on, he jumped onstage during his friend Ashley’s performance to freestyle some lines.