The Federal Empire - a duo comprised of Grammy-nominated songwriter McKay Stevens and Carolina Liar frontman Chad Wolf - has an impressive resume in their brief tenure. They've scored numerous sync licenses across multiple platforms and they've toured with the likes of Cage The Elephant and Angels & Airwaves. Wolf and Stevens both carry imposing personal resumes, but there's something special about what they're creating together. Alternative Addiction talked with Wolf about all things Federal Empire; among them working with Stevens, playing shows under the moniker, and how he moved away from Carolina Liar to the buzzing indie/alternative act that's his focus now.
"It's a long story, but ultimately what happened was it wasn't making money anymore," said Wolf talking about his transition between Carolina Liar and The Federal Empire. "The guys in the band couldn't afford to do it and the guys in Max Martin's world couldn't afford to keep supporting the project either. IT was all just melting down. At the same time, I was going through a crazy divorce and a lot of personal stuff. It was one of those things where the band had to be done because the environment was there to nurture it anymore."
"After that, I kind of lucked out because my management at the time also represented McKay Stevens," added wolf explaining how The Federal Empire started. "He mentioned getting a publishing deal. He wanted me to work with McKay to see if we could write together. McKay and I got together and we kind of just had a vibe. We met up again a week later and McKay brought another producer with him, Keith Varon. That day we started writing song that would become the first set of Federal Empire songs. The first song we wrote was "I Never Saw It Coming." We also wrote "Perfect Strangers" pretty early too. The idea was to push these songs to other people and see what happened with them. The first couple of things we got back didn't feel quite right, so we just decided to move forward as a band."
Wolf and Stevens have a lot of key things in common, that might be why they work so well together. By music industry standards they're both older guys. They were both brought up in middle class families. Most importantly, when they started working together, they both needed something good to happen in their lives.
"We have pretty similar backgrounds," began Wolf. "He grew up in L.A. with a middle-class background. His mom raised him by herself, it was a tough upbringing, slightly religious. I was brought up kind of the same way. We both had the same sort of struggles. We're both single men, both aging. When we met, we had both kind of landed in the same spot and that's what brought us together. I had a quick understanding of what he was going through because I was going through it too, and it was the same way the other way around. Then, just being in the music business as long as we both have, that kind of creates a brotherhood."
Wolf's experience in the music business is with Carolina Liar. That act had most of their success over a decade ago when their debut album, Coming To Terms came out. Hits like "I'm Not Over" and "Show Me What I'm Looking For" lifted that record to a successful cycle for the band. Wolf's rise with The Federal Empire is vastly different than it was with his previous band.
"It really is a different animal. We're really hands on with this. Carolina Liar was managed so much outside of the band regarding pretty much everything. We used to have to wait forever to put a song out. We put 'Show Me What I'm Looking For' out and we did a promo tour for that song for 18 months. The way it works now, we can post a playlist of things we're listening to with some singles that were released before we signed our deal."
"It's interesting because everything has such a life cycle now. It's blended away a lot of labels. It's blended away a lot of brands. It's all kind of just one big mix tape. You can put out your stuff as one big block of work. Music isn't refereed to the same way as it used to be. So, you take advantage of what there is and don't stress about what there isn't. There are so many TV shows you can work with. You can release music pretty much whenever you want. Commercials pay for sync licenses now. There's access to so much out there as an artist. When you add all those things up, it's big."
The true test for The Federal Empire will come this year. Last year they inked a deal with Sumerian Records and released an EP and a couple of singles. This year they're looking to release a full-length album and then push it as much as they can. The album is called Road Through Hell and fans can expect to see it sometime in the first half of 2020.
"'Road Through Hell' is the whole story," said Wolf. "There are about six or seven songs that we haven't released yet. Some of them we have been playing live. The album is the story of how we came together and how we were reestablishing ourselves who we were as humans at the time. For all three of us - me, McKay, and Keith - we all went through the decimation of relationships."
"I had my success with Carolina Liar. McKay had substantial success writing songs. Keith was really starting to rise with what he was working on. But what we had going had all just kind of started falling apart. We were all just trying to hang on to what we had any way we could. This album really goes into that story of what it's like to think you have your dreams in your hands, but you just can't hold on to them. That's what 'Road Through Hell' is about. The lyric where the title comes from is 'the only way to Heaven is a road through Hell.' That's what this album is. It's the underlying theme of the album. “
As they ready for the album to be released, Wolf and Stevens are also readying for their next big tour. They’ll hop out on the road with the Unlikely Candidates for a run of dates beginning next month.
“It’s cool to play these kinds of venues to see people get rowdy,” said Wolf on the prospects of the upcoming tour. “I’ve been in the pop world for a while and it’s nice to be in the rock world again. That’s where my roots are. It’s nice to go and see live shows and get mixed up in that.”
The Live show is always changing with The Federal Empire. Stevens and Wolf both have a lot of friends and connections in music. They can pick up a drummer or an extra guitarist for a tour. But because they're both immensely talented, they don't always have to. Wolf finished out the interview talking about plans for the lie show and their ultimate goal with The Federal Empire.
"We're always looking for ways that we can sustain a tour and make things more comfortable. Sometimes it's just the two of us because we can play a lot of tracks and double things back and forth that way. If we have a proper rock show, we'll carry a drummer and an extra guitar player so we can push harder and do more harmonies."
"The thing about these songs is that they're supposed to be gang vocal songs. Eventually, if we can keep the train rolling, we want to sell little hymnal books where people have access to the lyrics at the shows and they can sing along. I want everybody to sing along with us and have a good time, forget about the world for a bit." -aa
The Federal Empire | On tour with The Unlikely Candidates: