A Swedish connection pays off for Carolina Liar

Growing up in a double-wide in the Deep South while watching the comedic and criminal comings and goings of trailer-park denizens sounds like the perfect rock ’n’ roll boot camp for any all-American, guitar-strumming, longhaired dude.

For Carolina Liar frontman Chad Wolf, it was a colourful upbringing that provided enough material for a lifetime of lyrics about love, lust, losers, and creative drug trafficking.

“There were parts that were white trash, so you never knew what you were going to run into,” explains the 32-year-old native of Charleston, South Carolina, on the line from Tucson, Arizona. “We used to live by some prostitutes that lived in one of the trailers, and they had these drug dealers who were using fish to carry drugs. They used to gut the fish to get the drugs out of their bellies and then throw the fish in the back ditch behind the trailer. It smelt horrible. It was crazy.”

Living alongside the park’s rotating cast of skanks, creeps, and pushers provided Wolf with a foundation for life in America’s other underbelly: Los Angeles. He was happily living in L.A., working on the kind of material that provides soundtrack music to coffee-shop conversations, when he had a chance meeting with a big-name Swede who had produced the debut album by the most famous trailer-park progeny of all, Britney Spears. It was an encounter that would change everything.

“I was hanging out at the Four Seasons Hotel in L.A. and Max Martin was staying there,” Wolf recalls, noting that he was living with a group of Swedes at the time. “I was hanging out with a bunch of people [the Swedish guys] and they were saying that I should come to Sweden for the summer.

"Then Max came outside and said that I should check out Sweden for the summer. I said that there wasn’t much that I could do, that it was a money thing. He said not to worry, that he’d buy me a ticket. He said just call this number for his travel agent.”

The next morning, Wolf took a chance and called the agent on a card Martin had given him the night before. To his disbelief, the agent said she had a ticket ready for him. The subsequent trip to Sweden had more to do with watching the World Cup with Martin than with making music, but that all changed a few months later, when the producer reached out from across the pond and offered to help put a band together and produce a few tracks for Wolf.

Little more than two years later, Wolf’s Swedish-American outfit, Carolina Liar—which includes Rickard Gí¶ransson and Jim Almgren Gandara, keyboardist Johan Carlsson, bassist Erik Hí¤í¤ger, and drummer Max Grahn—has a major-label debut, Coming to Terms, and is touring nonstop on the summer festival circuit.

Although Wolf’s affection for old new wave is evident in the occasional use of moody synths and disjointed guitar riffs, the record is undeniably Swedish pop-rock by design: simple and uncluttered. It’s a style of writing that Wolf says eluded him in his coffee-shop days, and one that he owes to his newfound affinity for a nation that couldn’t be farther away from the toils and troubles of the Charleston trailer park.

“What I’ve learned from the Swedish guys is how to get to the point a lot faster and to just simplify. Focusing on the melody and message instead of getting caught up in all the showboating is sometimes the best thing.”

Carolina Liar plays Pemberton Festival on Saturday (July 26).