Karl Wolf On His New Single “Wherever You Go” And Creating His Own Sound
With an intriguing fusion of traditional Middle Eastern sounds combined with contemporary R&B beats, Lebanese-Canadian singer Karl Wolf is certainly a unique performer. The 37-year-old musician, who was raised in Dubai and came of age living in Montreal, recently released a new single. Titled Wherever You Go, Wolf’s latest song is a soulful, passionate tune which immediately catches the ear.
On the eve of his single’s release and on the heels of his recent Toronto performance at the 2017 Motionball Toronto Gala, Real Style spoke to the talented Wolf (who was born Carl Abou Samah). From incorporating his cultural heritage into his art to performing for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the proudly Canadian star shared the story behind his sound.
Real Style: What can you tell us about your new single?
Karl: It has a Middle Eastern twist to it. I try to put my culture in all my music, as much as I can. I feel like I’m bringing something back from the Africa days, that energy. I’m excited, it’s a new album.
Real Style: Speaking of which, your song Africa was such a hit when it was released. How did you feel after the success of the song?
Karl: I was kind of surprised that it’s actually happening to me. I remember always aspiring to be a singer, trying to make it happen. People know you from Africa, from the big hit. I was a work in progress for about ten years prior, as a producer and songwriter, hustling and grinding.
Real Style: You’ve had another hit recently, as the co-writer of Omi’s song Hula Hoop. How was the experience collaborating with Omi?
Karl: We actually wrote the song in Toronto, myself and [composer] Jenson Vaughan. He’s worked with Britney Spears and Armin van Buuren. We co-wrote the song and sent it to Omi, and he loved it. We made it to the second single to the big launch of Cheerleader. Cheerleader was the first single, and then Hula Hoop was the second.
Real Style: Who are your biggest musical role models and icons?
Karl: Obviously Michael Jackson, and Stevie Wonder (he’s still alive, so that’s cool). From the modern people, I would say Akon would be one of my go-tos, on my playlist. These guys inspire me.
Real Style: Are there any musicians who you haven’t worked with who you would like to create music with?
Karl: Some artists from the past for sure. I would say Earth, Wind and Fire and Sade would be good. I like my 1980s music. That’s why I would bring that back, in a new kind of way, for the people of today. Those are my inspirations.
Real Style: Tell us more about discovering music, while growing up in Lebanon, Dubai and Montreal.
Karl: I was born in Beirut, Lebanon, left when I was three years old. We went to Dubai, so I graduated high school in Dubai and came to university in Montreal. I studied in Montreal, and now I’m in Toronto. My parents are musicians, not by trade or anything, but my mom is a piano teacher. Music was part of our household growing up, and that’s kind of how it started taking off. I started writing and producing for artists in Quebec, went platinum and [worked] with an artist called Gabrielle. We sold about a billion copies as a producer and songwriter, and from there on, I just started writing my own songs for myself. I had my first album, Face Behind The Face, which had Butterflies on it- one of the songs that had an Arabic twist. The rest is history.
Real Style: It’s truly interesting how you combine elements of your background with modern elements, as a Canadian performer. How do you mix these cultural influences?
Karl: Trying to make your own sound is hard. When I was producing for other artists, I could just produce and write songs as a normal songwriter, and almost make them generic. The artists themselves, whoever is singing that song, can put their own twist on it. When it came to my own material, I had to really dig deep, because I was just writing generic stuff. It sounded like everybody else, like Justin Timberlake, like Usher. I never wanted to sound like someone, that’s when you know it’s not going to work. I started going through all the old cultural Arabic folk and Middle Eastern music, and [mixing] that with something commercial, R&B and pop. I got a deal in Dubai because of that, and Butterflies is the song that spearheaded the start of Karl Wolf.
Real Style: What are some of the biggest challenges of working in the Canadian music industry?
Karl: Prior to being a Canadian, I’m also Middle Eastern. There are also some hindrances there. Definitely at the beginning, there were some hesitations from record companies to kind of take a chance. But now being a Canadian artist, it’s a different system. The States is looking toward Canada as well, for the next superstar. Ultimately, look at Drake, Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes and The Weeknd. They’re all making big noise around the world. All eyes are on us. However, Canadian artists in Canada, if you’re not doing something big internationally, they definitely don’t give us super big respect right away. You have to really earn it. In my opinion, that’s what makes us Canadian artists stronger. By the time we are out on the world stage, we are so prepared.
Real Style: When you are on stage performing, what kinds of emotions or thoughts are going through your mind?
Karl: One of my most emotional and memorable moments on stage was when I was performing with Kardinal Offishall. One of our songs is called Turn It Up, [we were performing] for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Canada Day. It was on the main Canada Day stage. We were opening the Canada Day show. That moment, just before the curtain went up, all I could do is think of my parents being immigrants, coming to this country and look where I am. I’m an immigrant here, and I’m in front of the Prime Minister and the Governor-General of Canada, watching me perform.
Real Style: Do you have a favourite city to perform in?
Karl: I grew up in Dubai, all my friends are there and I’m so used to it. It’s such an over-the-top kind of place. It’s really fun to perform there. I bring my team there and we have so much fun, we go to the beach and go meet my friends.
Photo: Karl Wolf
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