He boarded a plane for the first time at the age of 22, and the kid from Charleston, N.C., who grew up on his big sister's new wave record collection hasn't looked back since.
Now Chad Wolf is a man of the alt-pop world, having traveled all the way to Sweden — with a long stopover in Los Angeles, where he made a few lucky connections — to acquire a big-time record producer as his mentor and a band to back him up.
His sidemen are all Swedish, but the band was dubbed Carolina Liar, and under the Midas-like hand of Swedish studio wizard Max Martin (Katy Perry, Pink, Avril Lavigne), Wolf and company crafted “Coming to Terms,” a collection of 12 radio-ready songs that mixed the dramatic sweep of U2 with the tuneful, new wave-influenced snap of the Killers.
Atlantic Records snatched them up in 2008, and tracks such as “I'm Not Over” and “Show Me What I'm Looking For” spun into regular rotation on modern rock and alternative stations nationwide, the former reaching No. 3 on Billboard's Modern Rock Chart while the latter logged more than 600,000 downloads as an iTunes Single of the Week. Their songs became featured favorites on the soundtracks of shows such as “The Vampire Diaries,” “Gossip Girl” and “One Tree Hill.”
But Martin wanted bigger and better. He wanted stadium-size songs. Alt-rock anthems with indelible choruses. And that's the order that “Wild Blessed Freedom” was designed to fill, with such cinematic showpieces as “Miss America,” “King of Broken Hearts” and “Drown,” bearing the production polish of Martin, Shellback (Usher) and Tobias Karlsson (Kris Allen).
“Oh yeah, man, this is such a different record,” singer-songwriter-guitarist Wolf said with a laugh, as Carolina Liar's tour bus skirted Lake Shasta in California's Shasta-Trinity National Forest on its way to a show in Portland, Ore., last week.
“It was really a different ride for us,” he said of the band's sophomore album. “The first record was a real kind of indie approach and then the second one was when Martin and everybody decided, ‘Look, we just gotta go for broke and write the biggest songs that we possibly can and the biggest productions we can go for.' So that's what we did.”
But for some reason, Atlantic didn't sympathize with their vision.
“We had had this record finished for quite a while, at least what the skeleton was of the album,” Wolf said. “It needed to really be mastered, and they just kept holding it. They didn't have the same vision that we had. You know, it just kinda came down to shaking hands and saying, like, ‘Can we have this record back?' You know, we still have a good relationship with everybody but we just wanna go out and put it out ourselves and not wait any longer.”
Of course the band soon discovered that things didn't happen as quickly or easily without the financial muscle of a major label to shoulder the expense of releasing, distributing and promoting an album, not to mention the costs of touring.
“It's taken about a year to work this record before it's really started to connect, where a major label might take three to six months,” Wolf said.
But patience — and Martin's savvy guidance — have led to gigs such as Carolina Liar's current opening slot on the Kelly Clarkson / The Fray tour.
“He's the beacon,” Wolf said of Martin. “We just go in and do the work.”
The band is even finding time between the arena shows to squeeze in a few headlining dates on their own, like the one Friday night at the Conservatory, where the band will get to play a full hour-long set instead of the 45 minutes allotted to them as an opening act.
“It's taken a while for us to get some momentum goin' with everything, 'cause we're doin' it on our own,” Wolf said. “And now it's kind of all coming together at the same time because we've been pushin' radio and tracks on our own and getting things licensed for movies and things like that, and at the same time working to get on tours.
“The whole thing based off of this ‘Wild Blessed Freedom' at first was kind of scary, going into these pop-album, anthem rock songs. But it's paved the way for us to get into stadiums and play for a lot of people.”
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: The Conservatory, 8911 N Western
Tickets: $12 at Ticketstorm.com