Karl Wolf stares at the gold and platinum awards that adorn the walls of his Montreal-based Lone Wolf Management and Record label and wonders aloud why people in Canada’s record industry still consider him to be a one-hit wonder cover artist.
“It bothers me that this industry looks at me as a cover artist,” an issue he will address with the August release of his next record, titled “Stereotype”. “Yes the remake of Toto’s `Africa’ has been my biggest selling single but I’ve had other gold and platinum selling records and my remake of `Africa’ wasn’t just a straight cover. I re-wrote the lyrics, re-produced the song and played most of the instruments. The end result was that `Africa’ was as much my song as it was Toto’s.”
Having integrated himself into Montreal’s hip-hop music scene as a writer-producer having arrived there from Dubai at the age of 17, the former Lebanese native, performed with top hip-hop band Dubmanique and wrote two hit songs for Quebec songstress Gabrielle Destroismaison – winning two LADISQ music awards in 2001, feats that drew attention from Antoine Sicotte, one half of EMI recording duo Sky. Sky had been a high priority act for EMI in 2000, winning a Best New Group Juno for their debut release, “Piece of Paradise” which produced one major hit single `Love Song’.
However when partner, and lead singer James Renault quit the duo, just as they won their Juno Award, Sicotte was scrambling for a replacement. First he brought in Anastasia for Sky’s second album; “Travelling Infinity” in 2001 and when that failed, he attracted Wolf’s involvement for the 2003 release “Picture Perfect”. “I appreciated the opportunity but the reality was that James (Renauld) was super talented and the band’s fans didn’t appreciate someone else coming in and filling in his shoes”.
Wolf maintained a working relationship with Sicotte to launch the highly successful Star Academie reality TV show in Quebec spawning two to-selling records; Star Academie 1 and Star Academie 2, the first release being Quebec’s biggest selling record in 2003 which added further platinum records to his office wall, success which encouraged Wolf to release his debut solo English record, “Face Beyond The Face” on the indie MapleMusic label in 2006.
Yet despite some decent radio exposure for tracks like `Desensitize’ with Choclair, Wolf found himself over $250,000 in debt when he went to record his second album. “I had this idea for `Africa’, I knew it would be a hit and I spent two years securing the rights to the song,” explained Wolf. “But when I went to my business partner to secure another $60,000 for money to shoot the video, he turned me down flat”.
Refusing to take no for an answer, Wolf struck out to record the track himself, only to be turned down by every one of Canada’s major labels, so Wolf hired his own record promoter, `Africa’ started getting major airplay and then, and only then, did Deane Cameron, president of EMI Records Canada, called to table an offer. “Considering that I had no money and no label when I first recorded Africa, when you get pushed into a corner, it’s amazing what you can achieve.”
On the strength of “Africa”, Wolf’s EMI debut “Bite The Bullet” made a name for himself in English Canada but by the time he recorded his third release, “Nightlife”, Wolf was hearing rumours that EMI was about to merge company’s. “Deane (Cameron) was very understanding, we had lunch together and he offered to sign me to a U.S deal but I had heard all the rumours and I told him I wanted out.” Ironically, Universal Music, the label that signed Wolf for his next record, the 2012 release “Finally Free”, ended up merging with EMI.
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With the likes of Halifax’s Classified and Drake dominating Canada’s hip hop music scene, Wolf feels he has the incentive to establish himself domestically. The video for the debut single off “Stereotype” is a polished effort titled `Magic Hotel’ which also features Timbaland and BK Brasco and Wolf is currently on a national club tour where he will be performing his new track live in the clubs.
The video and tour, sponsored by Playboy, is geared towards generating radio airplay but it doesn’t hurt to get paid by the venues for making personal appearances.
“I know I’m not the Big Shit, I might have been briefly, but I am continually working in the studio, producing, recording and improving my techniques,” confessed Wolf. “I go back to my old records and I am still impressed with what I wrote then. It’s just that recording techniques have improved so much since then. It’s in this area that I feel I am consistently evolving. Just being able to produce yourself, engineer yourself and play all the instruments makes so much difference when you are recording.”
“It’s annoying to hear some bimbo who doesn’t know she’s doing, record stuff that sells a lot more than me, and yes, there are times I question why do I bother – why don’t I just turn over the production to someone else,” questions Wolf. “But then I wouldn’t be honest with myself. When you here one of my records, it is totally me. I do everything, it’s totally my creation.”
“Stereotype” Wolf’s forthcoming record is a fun record but the content is personal, he concludes. “There’s a definite change in direction but nothing too drastic. The key thing is always to connect with your audience – if you lose that connection, you’re not going to work.”