Hailing from Charleston, South Carolina, Carolina Liar’s Chad Wolf knew that if he was going to make it in the music industry and for his songs to be heard, he would need to grab his guitar, board a plane and head to Los Angeles. Once there, Wolf had to make ends meet by holding down a string of odd jobs working as an extra on a Celine Dion video, cleaning toilets in exchange for studio time but eventually landed an internship with renowned songwriter Diane Warren. It was then that Chad honed his own writing chops while anxiously absorbing any and all advice that Diane had to offer. "At the time, my sound had no relevance," he recalls. "Diane told me, 'You've got to go to Europe. They'll be able to relate to what you're doing and help give you some focus.' But, at the time, I really didn't have the means to get out of the country."
The affable Chad
eventually networked his way to a job at a small label, and through new relationships in the industry, found himself house-sitting for a friend of famed Swedish producer Max Martin
’s date with his destiny had finally arrived. Fast forward to 2008. Carolina Liar
’s debut album Coming To Terms
is released to much acclaim and Carolina Liar
’s fan base grows rapidly while the profile of the band rises. Wolf
’s hard work and belief in himself and his music is finally paying big dividends. On a recent and very brief promo tour of Australia, where the album is saturating the airwaves, Joe Matera
sat down with Chad Wolf
and guitarist Jim Almgren Gandara
for this interview.
UG: When it comes to your songwriting, you’ve worked with some A-list songwriters such as Diane Warren. What sort of helpful advice did she offer you?
Chad Wolf: I only worked for Diane as an intern, where I was doing some studio stuff for her. I never really got the chance to write with her, I just sat back and watched her work. The big turning point came via my friend Tobias Karlsson, one of the co-writers on the album. He really started cracking me down and telling me, 'man, this what you’ve got. You’ve got this many notes and with that you’ve got to tell a story’ Now, I was a sort of muso kid, I had gone to jazz school thinking that I was going to be a jazz guitar player at one point. But I could never be that as I simply didn’t have the chops. But I was always thinking that way and playing all these big major seventh chords and fancy voicings and things like that. But then Tobias said, 'man make it a rule, only have four chords and a little melody in the song and stick to that formula and get everything you’re trying to say into that’. And that changed my whole mindset. What it really boiled down for me was, in getting down to the heart of the song.
What did producer Max Martin bring to the recording process?
|"We do that live because it’s a full on '80s style dance number."|
Chad: Max is a goal oriented guy. He’s got always something in mind for a song. For example, I’m Not Over, when we got in the studio initially, the original version of that song had these bar chords that had the chorus hook notes -de do do - within the chords and was at a slower tempo. But then we started thinking about it more together in the studio. Max had all these wonderful amps in the studio, mainly Fender amps like Princeton amps, a Bassman as well as a couple of boutique amps too. There was also an AC-30 there. Anyway and for some reason, Max had those all miked up. Max grabbed this acoustic guitar that he had, a really nice Martin acoustic and began to do a line check playing the little chorus riff to the song but playing it really hard. And the sound coming out was amazing. It was so compressed because there were so many channels. And suddenly the song changed because of that idea. From originally being a soft and mellow song, he had turned it into this big rock song.
Was there a sense of experimentation in the studio?
Chad: Yes. For example, there’s this keyboard part on the up beats of the song’s breakdown. While we were tracking drums, we had found this old, really cheap white colored thing that was similar to a Farfisa organ that was gathering dust in one of the corners of the studio. We plugged it in and played the upbeats on it and we liked it so much that we kept it. It was one of those things where a lot of the production stuff would come out of just that type of experimenting.
The sound of album at times reminds me a lot of The Killers and U2 in varying degrees. Did you have a sonic template in mind from the outset?
Chad: Our thinking at the time we first started to record was influenced a lot by The Killers stuff that was around then. We thought that vocally we needed to get that kind of nasally thing too. And some of the keyboards parts that you can hear on Last Night is very much Killers influenced. But as we progressed, it changed because we got Michael Ilbert the mixing engineer who did The Cardigans and The Hives and as he has got this neat kind of rawness to things, he brought his whole approach to the process. He brought that cool element to it all. And Michael also did a retouch on I’m Not Over with Rob Cavallo who did Green Day, whom also brought some of that stuff into there too.
Was there any extra material recorded during the recording sessions that didn’t make the album?
Chad: Yeah there were extra songs recorded. We had like six or seven more songs that were really good. We actually perform one of those live. The song is called My Best Friend’s Girl. And that song might be coming out in this movie, though we’re not sure exactly, but the movie is called My Best Friends Girl.
Jim Almgren Gandara: We do that live because it’s a full on '80s style dance number.
Chad: Some of the songs will be kept for B-sides and some of them may be good enough to keep for the next record. There are two B-sides available on I-Tunes. They’re really good songs too. We just ran out of time in the studio really. If we get lucky enough to do another record, the songs will still have the mindset of where we came from on the first record.
There are a of cool Fender guitar tones on the album?
Chad: Yeah, Peter Svennson from The Cardigans let us cherry pick some of his guitars as his collection is amazing. He has got all these Telecasters, Jazzmasters and even Marshall amps. We used a Fender Jazzmaster mainly but a lot of the guitars were mostly pre-1964 models. The Jazzmasters were fitted with P-90s so they sounded so loud yet clean. Every string was so there and you could hear every single note clearly. One of the biggest gifts of working with Max was also his guitar collection. He had this '59 Jazzmaster which features predominantly on the album too. The Jazzmaster went through a Fender Super Six Reverb, which is a six speaker cabinet that houses 6 X 12”s. It is a huge cabinet on wheels. So we had that and a '59 Bassman. And it was so loud but also, very beautiful sounding.
Jim: We also used this weird guitar, an old Olympia guitar that was made in the 1980s in Japan. It was a real shitty guitar but somehow sounded great. A lot of that guitar is on a lot of the stuff on the album. I think you can get real slick if you get too many nice guitars.
How did you find the set-ups on those older guitars as some of the older guitars seemingly suffer from a lot tuning problems?
|"What it really boiled down for me was, in getting down to the heart of the song."|
Chad: Everything was really cool man, as we went through everything and got it all dusted up.
What about when you’re playing live what do you use?
Chad: We just scored a sponsorship with Fender and recently went down to the Fender factory to pick out some stuff. But we were already using Fender before hand.
Jim: I play a Black Fender Jaguar and a Squier Telecaster that is fitted with Humbuckers. The guitar is really good for the heavier stuff and if you want to play the guitar cleanly, though it is good, we certainly need to make the sound better. But it’s my favorite guitar. I play those guitars through a Fender Super Deluxe 4 X 10” amp.
Chad: I use a '64 Jazzmaster which was given to me as a gift, a birthday present. I love that guitar. I was at restaurant and Max and a friend brought this guitar in as a present for me. When I got it, I nearly got up and left the restaurant to put the guitar in my car and go home because I so nervous having the guitar just there with me in the restaurant! Amp wise, I use a low wattage Deluxe with a single 10” speaker in it. One of the other guitar players in the band uses a Mesa Boogie Lone Star and that is really cool as it’s got the ability to change the tube settings and wattage. It’s pretty fancy but the two of us only have really these basic setups.
Jim: And I only use one effect pedal called, the Little Green Wonder [overdrive pedal]. I’m thinking of maybe getting some more pedals and reverbs in future though.
Chad: I don’t use any pedals at all. I just use the drive channel on the amp and volume and that is really it.
As a songwriter, what do you think are some of the important elements to a good song?
Chad: I tend to look for stories and the songwriters that have influenced me are those whose songs have these like, one liners in them. The lines in the songs where all of a sudden, you realize, that there is something completely different in there that you hadn’t realized before. There is this one Bob Marley song called Could You Be Loved and there is this one line in the song that goes; “A-yin the darkness there must come out to light”. I was always confused by that line as it is open to many interpretations. But it always made me stop to think, how do you get darkness and light and all this kind of thing in a love song like that? It’s like there is something else going on in this song. It’s got this whole personal thing going on. So anytime that somebody writes a song that could mean something to somebody else even though it’s their story, the listener will also find themselves in there somehow too. And that is really important as it’s a way of connecting to your audience.
The album came out in the States back in May. How has the response been so far?
Chad: It has been great. We got the final mixes back for the album right around January of this year and we did the final vocals on When You Are Near right before Christmas of last year. That was the last one we did vocals on and the final mastering was done in March. Since the release of the album, things have been moving really fast ever since.
Interview by Joe Matera
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Carolina Liar Music