During the summer Karl Wolf is often on the road. And 2016 is no different, says the Toronto-based singer-songwriter/producer/recording artist, admitting he’s had very little sleep. Not surprisingly, he’s keeping very busy, which seems a perpetual and normal state for Wolf.
Always prolific and driven, Wolf began his career as a songwriter and producer before stepping into the limelight in the early 2000s as lead singer for the pop band Sky. With Sky’s Antoine Sicotte, he collaborated on Quebec’s hugely successful Star Acade?mie reality TV show and two subsequent albums, Star Acade?mie I and II, the first of which went five-times-platinum in Canada. Since then, he’s won multiple SOCAN Awards, including two for his international hit version of Toto’s “Africa,” from his 2008 album, Bite the Bullet.
The success of “Africa” propelled his career to new heights. In all he’s released six solo albums prior to his latest EP, The Export Vol. 1 – the first of three EPs scheduled for release on B.C.-based indie label Cordova Bay Records. And among the markets that have embraced him are all of those he’s called home; Canada, obviously, but also his birthplace of Lebanon, and Dubai in the UAE, to which his family fled in the 1980s to escape Lebanon’s brutal civil war, and where he lived until emigrating to Montreal in 1995.
Currently Wolf is riding high on the success of his co-write (with Jenson Vaughan), of OMI’s international hit, “Hula Hoop,” but that’s no reason to take a break. Instead Wolf has thrown himself into the creation of The Export, writing roughly 40 songs over the course of late 2015 and 2016 to draw from for the EP.
“I feel it’s important to show my cultural heritage in my music.”
The result is a record that, while focused on Wolf’s desire to express a positive worldview, also reveals much about him as an artist and individual. “I wanted a little bit of a journey, a story, for the EP, and really these six songs are an expression of my story,” Wolf says.
The songs that make up The Export Vol. 1 tread the line between emotional tracks that offer candid glimpses into Wolf’s life and history, and all-out party tracks; songs he collaborated on with his producer, Mastertrak, as well as others, including Brandon Unis, Kardinal Offishall and Jenson Vaughan.
The blend of tracks, Wolf says, is a testament to what he believes people need to hear; a mix of tunes intended to lift listeners’ spirits, while providing fans with insights into his own life.
Nowhere is that clearer than on the album’s title track, “The Export,” a tune Wolf says reflects his life’s journey from Lebanon, to Dubai, to Montreal and, ultimately, to Toronto. It underlines the fact that he feels he doesn’t necessarily belong in one place, but in many.
On The Export Vol. 1, Wolf blends Middle Eastern and Western musical influences in a way that’s calculated, but subtle. “That’s crucial for me,” he says. “I feel it’s important to show my cultural heritage in my music. It grounds me, but there’s definitely a balance; it’s really East meets West… It has its own sound.”
Beyond that, the recording displays Wolf’s desire to move forward, both professionally and personally. The first single, “Amateur at Love,” being a case in point, a tune he considers one of the most genuine he’s ever written, and in which he admits he may have a bit of an issue committing to one person.
He’s included two versions of the song on the record, both the original single and a re-mix featuring Kardinal Offishall. “The re-mix I did at the same time and I put both out there because my gut feeling was we need to have something a little lighter,” he says. Both tracks speak to listeners, but in different ways, something Wolf values. He realizes that by altering a song, it can provide similar emotional weight while offering a different kind of vibe for listeners to identify with. As for the re-mix, Wolf says, “It’s catching fire in Canada and on Spotify… We’ve got over 11,000 plays a day.”
Again, it being summer and Wolf being on tour, he’s letting loose, having fun with friends, and so the greater questions seem less important, for the moment. “Now it’s time to just be happy and push some good vibes out there,” Wolf says.
But, that said, his personal experiences have always informed his songwriting. Given his early life was characterized by war and displacement, and the fact that with so much darkness in the world, people now seem to need a lift, he’s currently aiming at putting songs out that will make people happy, make them move and hopefully help them to forget their problems for a time. “I want to be one of those artists that spreads the light,” he says.