I say down with Carolina Liar vocalist/guitarist Chad Wolf at the Mansfield, MA stop of the band's tour with Kelly Clarkson and The Fray. We discussed the tour, co-writing music, the differences between major label support vs. self releasing and more.
Can you begin by telling us your name and what you do in the band?
I'm Chad, Carolina Liar. I sing and play stock guitar parts. Nothing too fancy.
You've been on the road with Kelly Clarkson and The Fray for about a month now. How are the shows going so far?
Everything's been good. By about the third song in for out set, I'd say at least a little over 50% of the people are here for the evening. Usually, that doesn't happen for opening bands at venues this size. Their fans are extremely enthusiastic about coming out to an entire show, so it's been an experience to get to learn how to play in front of that many people every night.
And you've received a good reaction, even though it's a different type of music?
Yeah! It's cool, because it's two different bands, with Kelly and The Fray, and then they put us in there, which is, I don't know, a hair metal band with synthesizers [laughs]. I think we're a nice little bridge between the two, something that's kind of aggressive and crazy in the beginning. It's been working pretty well. Their crowds seem to take us in pretty nicely. They've been really, really nice to us.
How did the tour come about for you guys?
Honestly, I think what happened was we were doing a show on the west coast, and opportunity came about to go and play a show with Kelly in San Jose, but we didn't have a crew or really anything together at the time. We had a Toyota Prius and we rented a cargo van, put our gear in it and drove up and played. And after that show, they decided that we could be a part of the tour. We had a show in Wenatchee toward the end of that other tour. That was the night everybody got the confirmation that we were on the tour. Everybody was just like, "Are you kidding me?"
The funniest thing was, all of us stopped at our old record label the other day. As we went into the label, they were just as shocked, because they thought we bought our way onto the tour. They were like, "Well, didn't Max just call in and you guys paid for your way onto the tour?" And we're like, "No, he was just as shocked as we were that we got this tour." So it was kind of funny, and yet kind of appalling that the label thought that we had to buy our way in [laughs].
What do you have planned for when the tour wraps up in a few weeks?
We're not sure yet. I think we're going to get a little EP out, like a four-song or a five-song of a bunch of stuff we worked on this year, and just let it go. Let it stay in that kind of indie, not too processed state. Just see how it reacts, and maybe next year have another full-length record that comes out.
Have you been doing a lot of writing?
Yeah, we write a lot. Rick, Johan, Peter, all of us write for this, Caroline Liar, and for other projects too, so everybody's working all the time.
You self-released your last album, Wild Blessed Freedom. Tell us about that experience.
From doing it with the record label, this was fulfilling. But it's a different level of work, and musicians aren't necessarily known for working as hard as they can. So for us, it was a different kind of thing, realizing how much work was involved in getting something out like this, to get us to a level where we could do this kind of tour. It took a year for us for what would normally take a major label 3 or 4 months. That's kind of what the difference is between a major label and an indie - unless you have something just spikes.
With this new material, do you think you'll put that out yourself or are you shopping around for a label?
I don't know. Now we've seen both sides of it, and there are some real benefits to being on a major label that you just can't argue. They have a system of leverage and a way to find opportunities that you, as a layman, you're just not going to see. But now, with us being out doing it our way and not thinking of it as a traditional record label, you've seen that there's other opportunities. Like right now, our bus is wrapped by Aloft Hotels. We did a promotion with them, which is really beneficial to both parties. We use hotels all the time, so that was a no brainer. And they're doing a music program, promoting all these other indie acts, and that's great. We get a 40-foot billboard on the side of a bus with our name on it, so it all worked out. We would have never been able to pull that off on a label.
Strange enough, when we were in Vegas doing these shows with Kelly, there was a bunch of guys at the pool just talking big record exec talk. I kind of knew the language and I saw the guys, and they all fit the parts, being these promo guys. They were talking about how this is the right way to do things and that's the right way to do things. Eventually, I was just like, "I'm so sorry, I'm eavesdropping on everything you're doing. Are you promo guys?" And they're like, "Yeah, we run this label and this one." We started talking, and they asked how we were affording to be able to come out on tour like this, and I told them that we got the bus wrap. They were asking me how we did it. These were real label execs saying, "We could never have pulled that off. How did you do it?" I still don't know exactly, to tell you the truth.
A little bit of luck?
Yeah, it is luck. And the craziness to be dumb enough to ask, not to go into it thinking it just won't happen. We were just taking the approach like, "What's it gonna hurt to get turned down? At least we tried."
And it paid off. Now I know the other guys are from Sweden. Do they still live there?
Everybody lives in West Hollywood now, but they're Swedes.
How is that transition from your perspective?
Oh, it's great! We were talking about it the other night. I was saying that one of the coolest things about having a Swedish band is that they use our language the right way but in a way that we would never use it. It's a really cool perspective when you're a word guy. I love hearing that, just flipping phrases. The one that I always come back to is that they would always say, "Can you feel the smell?" Speaking English your entire life, you would never say that, but of course you've had those things where you walk into a room and you react to the way the smell felt. It's like, "Man, this is dangerous." Those kinds of things, and there are other phrases that come up. That's one of those lessons where you can use it immediately and it will work.
And they have a different perspective of the country. That's where a lot of this new Wild Blessed Freedom came from, living with those guys on the road and me seeing our own country in the perspective of people who have never been a part of this. I'd have to explain things like why things work the way they do. You kind of take it for granted that that's just how it is. They're like, "Well, why do you have such a homeless problem? Why is the city so trashy? You're the richest country in the world. You guys could easily fix that lamppost, but instead somebody's just put some duct tape and wire around it. Isn't there a better way?" Yeah, of course, but we just don't. It's funny, you see those things that you just don't think about, because it's somebody with a new set of eyes around you all the time.
With all of the big names you've shared the stage with, can you share your favorite tour story?
Rob Thomas has been one of the coolest guys. One of the funniest stories with him, it might have been in Detroit. He was really cool about setting up these hang areas. At every venue, there was always one room that was just a room for everybody, so every single band could come in and hand out and be with each other, instead of the kitchen. He set this thing up one night, and everybody's in there having a good time, and then all of a sudden this spontaneous conga line, but not really a conga line, fired up. Everybody's just beating on each other [flails arms]. You have to keep tapping. Anybody that came in the came, they just started tapping on each other. It made no logical sense at all, and it went through this entire two or three songs. And when the song stopped, we all just stood and looked around at each other and were like, "What the hell was that? [laughs] Why were we even doing this?" It made no sense.
This tour has been nuts. We were in Orange Beach, Alabama, right on the border of Florida. Kelly bought a two-story, inflatable water slide and brought it out to the venue and parked it out by the venues with a snow cone machine. We had alcohol-infused snow cones and a water slide. People were having the time of their lives. It's funny when you see a bunch of grown adults, and we're already kind of getting to still be kids by playing music full time, but that was even better. People were doing the craziest stuff, because you couldn't get too hurt on the thing. They were canon balling down it and going down head first, just doing everything all the signs said not to do, so of course that's exactly what everybody was doing [laughs].
And everyone came out unscathed?
Yeah, no injuries, believe it or not!
Good! You mentioned that working on other projects outside of the band. Could you elaborate on that?
We're always writing for anything that comes up. I'm always writing for songs to pitch. I'm a bit obsessed with writing. Once I got the opportunity to not have to go to a day job anymore, I took the responsibility of trying to the fill the time with writing. Before we left for this tour, I was writing with different artists and other producers and other writers just to write songs. A lot of them don't necessarily have any direction. It's more like two people that may never know each other come together in a room, and it's like, "Today we're gonna write a song. I don't know you from this person, but by the time we leave this afternoon there will be a song finished or something started." It's kind of a fun challenge.
Are there any particularly good experiences that have come out of that?
We wrote one song that may end up being one of ours with a guy who did a lot of the stuff with Shinedown. It was an idea that I had for probably 5 of 6 years, and nobody ever got it before. I played it for him, and he immediately was like, "I know exactly how to take this thing and make it work." It got pretty cool, so now we've pitched it a couple people who liked it, but they haven't committed 100%. So if they don't, we're just gonna release that one for ourselves. Let it be. We've done some funky country songs too that we've pitched. I never thought we'd be a band that would be writing country songs, so that's kind of an interested niche.
How is it stepping outside the box like that?
Oh, it's great! It's like picking up an instrument that you've never learned how to play, and you have to figure out something. One of those things like in musical class where the teacher says, "Okay, you're playing the triangle today." Well, I've never played the triangle before. What am I supposed to do with this? Somehow, nature teaches you what to do. It may not be the right thing, but at least you're finding your own voice. I think that's kind of what we did with these country things. We're not country writers, but we found a way to keep who we are inside the rules of what country music is.
You've done this notable tours, you've had hit songs and you've been featured on a number of TV shows. What's next for Carolina Liar?
There was a really cool thing that came up the other night that I haven't thought about for a while. We were just talking about giving back. They have things to prevent people from going hungry at some concerts and kind of rebuild the country, those kind of things. While we're at this position where we can go out and be a part of something and raise awareness about about a few things without being too political, I think that's a goal for us; to get back in and give back. We've had almost five years now of being able to live this thing. Now it's starting to come around where I think we can flip things a little bit. There's a couple of campaigns, like the Fallen Whistles, I'd love to be able to do stuff with that and keep that going.
And release some more music. Maybe get into doing more co-writes with some other artists. I think one of our goals is to go back to something a little more rootsy-er on the next record. We're gonna get back into that kind of thing, just playing like what we did tonight. There was no programming, no tracks, nothing. It was all whatever sounds were in his keyboard, whatever my guitar can do for the evening, and whatever Rick's guitar and the drums, and that's it. We're just trying to get back to being as raw as possible. Taking that perception into everything we do for the next years - give things back and to go back to the roots of everything that brought us this far - that's the goal.