Carolina Liar Living Out Tall Tales
Written by Chrissy Mauck
|Carolina Liar frontman Chad Wolf
South Carolina native and Carolina Liar frontman Chad Wolf knew at an early age that he was destined for California — two imaginary friends told him so.
“I don’t know if I ever told you guys this story,” Wolf says while looking over at his band mates, “but I had these two imaginary best friends whose parents had passed away and both of those guys were from California. I had no idea what California was but these imaginary friends told me I needed to go to California.”
One can only guess as to whether or not Wolfe was being truthful about his imaginary friends; after all, his band’s moniker originated because of his retelling of tall tales from home.
“Carolina Liar really came from this producer I was working with in Santa Monica,” Wolf says, from the comforts of a black leather couch in his backstage trailer prior to a show. “He never believed any of the stories that I had from this neighborhood I grew up in. I would tell him about people shooting each other with rock salt — my mom would update me on these stories — and he never ever once believed any of it was true. He always called me the biggest liar he had ever met.”
Wolf’s guitarist, Rickard Göransson of Sweden, picks up the conversation, saying, “Funny thing with the name, now we all have turned into storytellers, or at least that is what our dear friends back home think of us when we tell them what we do. They are like, ‘I don’t believe you.’”
Their doubt is understandable given the band’s roots. It’s not every day that three Swedish instrumentalists wind up in Los Angeles with a band whose lead singer hails from Charleston, S.C.
“Well, it’s a pretty funny story,” Göransson says of how the band got together. “I had the same thing, but in Sweden; I wanted to go to L.A. because I had this imaginary friend’s parents…”
For the true answer, one would need to rewind back to Wolf and South Carolina, where as a third grader, he bought his first record ever, a 45 of Duran Duran’s “A View to a Kill,” that he took to show and tell.
His older sister had turned him on to new wave music, and years later also helped him get to California.
“I didn’t really have any money to do it, but my sister gave me a credit card,” recalls Wolf.
“Wow, she either really believed in you or wanted to get rid of you,” interrupts Göransson.
“Yeah, one of the two, yet to be determined,” laughs Wolf before returning to his story. “So I took my first flight ever to Los Angeles when I was 20. The first night I stayed at this Holiday Inn on Hollywood Boulevard and Highland, and I remember just staring at the window thinking, ‘Someone is going to get killed out on that sidewalk before the end of the evening.’ It was scary.”
Wolf made it through the night and in short order used the credit card to enroll at the Musicians Institute.
“I wasn’t sure if I could get into music school,” he says. “I didn’t really have sight reading skills to get in. I kind of faked my way through the audition; somehow they let me in.”
Over the years, Wolf scraped money together by playing nightly at coffeehouses and taking on side jobs like being an extra in a Celine Dion video and a runner for Miley Cyrus.
Cyrus “was actually quite nice,” Wolf says. “Her family was pretty cool. But whenever you are in a place where you want to do your own kind of work and you are having to go and get pizza, there’s always some type of angst about it. I don’t think you can ever really be comfortable in a situation knowing you really want to be on the other side.”
At one point, Wolf found himself out of money and on the verge of either adding to the Los Angeles homeless population or returning to South Carolina. Like a fairy godmother swooping in, good friend Alexander Kronlund offered him a place to stay.
Kronlund’s best friend just happened to be famed Swedish producer Max Martin, who also befriended Wolf. Eventually Martin offered the singer a plane ticket to Sweden to check out the World Cup.
“Max and I became friends, but I never wanted to bring up music,” Wolf says.
Before leaving for the long flight, Wolf picked up a notebook to do some writing.
“The first thing I wrote in this notebook was ‘Coming to terms, starting to learn this isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,’” says Wolf. “I put a few more things down and put it back in my
Wolf returned to L.A. and forgot about the line until one day when he was hanging out in the backyard with Swedish songwriter Tobias Karlsson.
“He was like, ‘Let’s try to write a song,’ and as he’s playing these three chords for it, I was like, ‘Man, I know exactly what that is,’” recounts Wolf. “I ran and grabbed the notebook and literally just sang that first part of writing out of the notebook.”
Kronlund sent the song off to Martin, who offered to help the singer out if he could come up with two more.
“We wrote ‘Show Me What I’m Looking For’ and ‘I’m Not Over’ in the same week,” says Wolf. “Max called and was like, ‘The only way we can do this is if you come to Stockholm. Get over here and we’ll start working on this thing and see what we come up with.’”
Martin pulled out all of the stops en route to Carolina Liar debut album Coming to Terms, including conjuring up the services (and instruments) of Cardigans guitarist Peter Svensson.
|Carolina Liar guitarist Rickard Göransson.
“Max and Peter have this wicked, wicked collection of guitars; all of these great amps, and we got to use so many cool things,” says Wolf. “On the song ‘California Bound,’ we found this old Fender Super Six amp and we managed to get this pure California sound. That was the cool thing — working with both of those guys, they had such an idea as far as vintage sounds that we were looking for, still using a lot of modern stuff too, but most of the guitars we were using just sonically — where their references were — really kind of gave us this character that is not on a lot of records.”
During the album collaboration in Sweden, Wolf began adding his supporting cast — first drummer Max Grahn, then keyboardist Johan Carlsson and finally Göransson.
According to Grahn, Wolf bribed him into joining the U.S.-bound band with big bags of Turkish pepper (black licorice with pepper and salt).
Candy wasn’t required for Göransson or Carlsson, who readily committed.
“He just asked me, ‘You want to change your lifestyle a little bit and move to Los Angeles and go on an American tour?’” recalls Carlsson. “I said, ‘Sure, why not?’”
So there you have it — the real deal on how Carolina Liar’s lineup actually shaped up. And over the past two years since coming stateside, they’ve set out to prove that their music is also legit.
Carolina Liar’s anthemic “Show Me What I’m Looking For” recently earned the band its first gold digital single, a result of heavy radio play and its inclusion on television shows Gossip Girl, The Hills and The Biggest Loser, and in a Late Show with David Letterman skit. The band was also invited to perform the tune on 90210.
“Before I joined this band, I was writing music for commercials and I remember when I saw my first song on TV, it was the coolest thing,” Carlsson says. “I didn’t know what to do. Two years later, to be on a television show in America — trying to tell your parents, ‘Mom, I’m actually on TV right now’ — they never get it. But, it’s pretty cool.”
Carolina Liar’s television success has continued with “California Bound” showing up on The T.O. Show and title track “Coming to Terms” appearing during a recent episode of The Vampire Diaries.
“It seems like every other week, it’s being used on a different show — it’s impossible to keep up with,” says Wolf. “It’s been incredible exposure for us.”
And though touring consistently since 2007, Carolina Liar just came off its first time on an actual tour bus as openers for Rob Thomas during his fall tour.
“It was our first real North American bus tour and most of the shows were sold out,” Wolf shares. “It was so nice playing in front of that kind of crowd, especially with the work that he’s done and the kind of fans he’s got — they are so loyal.”
Drawing comparisons to the Killers and Kings of Leon, Carolina Liar is also starting to build a loyal following of its own.
“We’re starting to see more people showing up at our shows and singing the songs,” Wolf says. “It’s been steady pounding, but eventually things are coming to pass. You never realize how much work it actually takes. Someone says, ‘Oh, you are an overnight success,’ but it’s like, ‘You’re crazy.’ Whatever night that was, it was a long one.”
Thirteen years have gone by since Wolf spent that long and lonely first night in Los Angeles, but with steady television placements for Carolina Liar’s music, a headlining tour of their own coming up in 2010 and another album currently in the works, those long nights are finally paying off. As Wolf sings in “Beautiful World,” “It’s a beautiful world. Here it comes in the morning.’”
For more on Carolina Liar, watch this Fender Vision video.