Interview: Chief State Takes Softcore Rain-Drenched Pop Punk Back to Basics with 'The Acoustic EP'

Written by Lacey Pattie, Photography by Mike Millan

Vancouver-based pop punk band Chief State released The Acoustic EP on April 5th, 2024. The five track release features re-imagined acoustic versions of their previously released songs “Team Wiped,” “Deciduous,” and “Metaphors,” as well as new track “Living Out a Lie” and a cover of Mayday Parade’s “Jamie All Over.” Originally founded by Fraser Simpson in 2015, Chief State has previously released two full length albums and an additional EP, which garnered quite a following through a unique sound they’ve dubbed “softcore rain-drenched pop punk.” In an interview with Tower Records, frontman Fraser Simpson spoke about the creative process behind "The Acoustic EP," overcoming imposter syndrome, bringing songs to life through music videos, and the band’s main artistic inspirations.

Lacey: I saw on the Chief State Instagram that you started the band through Craigslist in 2015. Could you tell me more about how Chief State came to be?

Fraser: Yeah, so I was actually living in Japan. I left the UK in 2013 and lived in Asia and traveled and stuff, and then I was in Japan from 2014 to 2015. Kind of coming towards the end of my time there, I decided that wherever I was going to go next, I really wanted to focus on music and start a band. So I was between cities and kind of narrowed it down to either Melbourne in Australia or Vancouver in Canada, and Vancouver won out due to its proximity to the US. Obviously, that's kind of good for touring and stuff, so I started an ad on Craigslist based in the Vancouver region looking for musicians, and Nick was one of the original guys that reached out. We had a few other guys that got in touch, so by the time I moved to Vancouver in October 2015, we already had a lineup. We practiced a couple of times, and it all fell apart, but me and Nick just kept going. It took about a year after that to get new members and to get a few songs together. It was just about January 2017, maybe December 2016, that we finally launched as Chief State, but it all came through Craigslist which is funny and whilst I was in Japan and whilst Nick obviously was in Vancouver.

Lacey: How did you choose the name Chief State? 

Fraser: There's a mountain just north of Vancouver called The Chief and we were struggling for names. I still think that's one of the hardest things about getting a band going. I hate thinking of band names because it's so important. Don't get me wrong, I think this name has its issues – one of the key things I wanted was something that was clear to understand when I said it. We were like “Chief State… that kind of works. Yeah, that works.” But still, people are like “What? Cheesesteak? Cheapskates?” So there's definitely issues with the name, but it came about when we were struggling between a few different ideas. Then one morning, I was having breakfast at a cafe with my then girlfriend, and we were overlooking the mountain ranges. I thought it was quite fitting being from Vancouver that we should be named after a mountain. I looked up the few different mountains around and one was called The Chief. I thought that was cool. Then obviously there's no states in Canada, but Chief Province doesn't sound very much like a band, so we decided to flip province for state. That's how the name came to be.

Lacey: How would you describe your music?

Fraser: I think generically, we fall under the term pop punk. There's not really a negative connotation with that genre by any means, but I think there's been a few different developments of that genre as a whole, and so there are some kind of offshoots. Some people would say new wave pop punk, sort of the 2010s era that we are very influenced by. Bands like The Story So Far and Trash Boat and Neck Deep – a lot of people will refer to that as new wave. We've played around with a few terms and tried to coin a couple of phrases. Softcore was one because we're not exactly hardcore; we're not easycore, but we thought softcore would be funny. And another one we played around with was prog punk because we had a couple of songs that weren't particularly generically pop punk sounding. We were using jazz chords in a few songs and just playing around with a lot of rhythms, and we thought, well, let's play around with prog punk. I think the overarching term would be pop punk, but we play around with a few ideas in terms of genre.

Lacey: Being that the EP is acoustic, it will definitely have a different sound from some of your previous works. What sparked your interest in releasing an entirely acoustic EP?

Fraser: We all really love acoustic music. I listen to band music, pop punk, hardcore, that sort of thing, but a lot of the time, I actually listen to folk music, and that's very heavily acoustic based. We've always enjoyed that instrumentation and the kind of basic aspects of an acoustic song. In 2019, we released a song called “I'll Be a Mess Without You,” which was an acoustic song. It was very successful for us. It was probably at that time our most successful song in terms of the amount of people that it reached. We were at the point last year of a few member changes, and we weren't really sure where we were heading. Instead of solely focusing on an album (which we have been writing for our second album), we decided to kind of almost do a stop gap and release an acoustic EP with acoustic versions of previously released songs. We have the single which is a brand new song, and we're also doing a cover as well. There are a few different contributing factors to why we decided to do it, but mostly we just love it; we thought it would be cool, and we think people would enjoy listening to it. It's definitely a different sound to what people might be expecting from us. We feel like the songs stood really well on their own two feet as an acoustic version, so we're pretty excited about it.

Lacey: What inspired you while you were creating this EP? 

Fraser: The cover song that we did is Mayday Parade’s “Jamie All Over.” At the time, I was definitely listening to Mayday Parade a little bit. There have been a few other bands that have done acoustic EPs as well. Hot Mulligan was one that I was listening to when trying to get inspiration. And then Home Safe Another, they released an acoustic EP I think in 2020. So those were kind of the influences at the time when piecing this together and trying to get sounds and ideas for elements to add to the acoustic. As I mentioned, there's one cover and then there's three reimagined versions of previously released songs. It's just the one new song. I've had it for a few years, so it has been kind of sitting around. It was written at the time as I was going through a breakup. A lot of the feelings and inspiration come from actually quite a while ago. The other major drawing point to doing this EP was "Metaphors," which is the second single. We released that song in 2021, and to date, we still feel like it's one of our best songs ever. It didn't quite do as well as we were hoping. It really didn't reach as many people as we were hoping it would, and we kind of felt like we owed it to that song to give it a new lease on life. An inspiration for doing this acoustic EP was that song alone, to give it another shot at reaching people and going out into the world. 

Lacey: What was your creative process like when you were reimagining these acoustic versions?

Fraser: We've worked with our producer Tim Previston for everything we've ever released, barring a couple of cover songs and that sort of thing. We've worked with him a lot, so our process is very streamlined at this point. Me, Joe, and Justin did a lot of work back in the summer of 2023 just hashing it out in my house here with an acoustic guitar, trying to decide which songs that we wanted to redo, and just getting a feel for what's going to sound good. A lot of time was spent just the three of us playing around on an acoustic guitar, and then when it came to actually creating it, I recorded it at home and started adding MIDI elements like strings and bass and piano. We played around with drums and 808 drums, which was kind of fun. None of the 808s made it onto the EP, but that was kind of the creative process — all of us just chipping away on a computer after we had decided the songs on an acoustic guitar. In terms of actually recording and laying down, we had Tim fly in from Toronto in August, and we spent a week just locked in a room. I would say it was a stressful experience because acoustic guitar is less forgiving than electric guitar and perhaps distorted band music in general. You can almost get away with certain performances on the recording because you can edit, you can clean up and that sort of thing, but with acoustic music it is naked. It is bare, and it relies heavily on a perfect performance. Joe recorded all the guitars for this EP. He usually plays bass in the band, so although he is initially a guitarist, it's not an instrument that he is playing every single day of his life. So I think if you asked him how the experience was, it would maybe not be a great answer because it was a very tough time trying to get the songs perfect. Thankfully, he persisted and put in a lot of work. Even after leaving the studio and going home, he would spend a couple more hours practicing the song that we were recording the next day. He really was a trooper for this, and Tim, the producer, was very patient with us. We got there in the end, and we're very, very proud of how it sounded. I think in retrospect you can appreciate the pain of getting perfect performance because it really does sound very good in my opinion. I think the EP sounds great.

Lacey: In the press release for "Living Out a Lie," you mentioned struggling with imposter syndrome. Have you had any interactions with fans that have helped you push through those feelings of doubt?

Fraser: Yeah, it's a weird situation with our band in general because, you know, when we started this band, yes, we wanted to be successful, and, you know, how do you measure success? It's a range, of course, but we didn't really expect to be where we are to some extent. We were aiming for as high as we could go, but it's still surprising. Sometimes we'll get a message from someone whether that be directly on Instagram or a comment on YouTube or things like that that just kind of take the wind out of you a little bit. It's crazy to think that songs that are in my head and words that are in my head that I put down on paper and we record and release to the world actually reach people and actually have an impact. I think that's a lot of where the imposter syndrome probably comes from, of not really knowing how we got here and what's going on, but it's very rewarding to receive feedback like that. It's just crazy to think that music can affect people positively and help them through situations. By all means we are not a professional working band – this is not our main source of income. We're all dudes still working day jobs and essentially just doing this out of passion and love, but that's not to say that our music doesn't reach people. We do have an amazing fan base of people that do care about our music. It is a good push to receive kind messages like that. It definitely humbles me to some degree of just being grateful for being able to do this and being able to reach people. 

Lacey: Could you share your favorite lyric on the EP and what it means to you? 

Fraser: Pretty much all of our music is written by me or Nick for the most part. Obviously all the guys bring in their own elements and their own instrumentation and things get switched up, but the bones of songs are usually me or Nick. I think "Metaphors" is a very strong song, as I mentioned earlier. Nick actually wrote this one, and this is one of the few songs where I hardly touched any of it. Usually, you know, pretty much all the lyrics are usually me, and then the structure and instrumentation is quite often my bones to a song as well. But in this song, Nick pretty much did everything, and I think he did an incredible job of it. I think the lyrics that really resonate with me are in the song "Metaphors." It's the first main verse: “Heavy chains shackle me to my bed / I can't get up / I can see another breakdown coming / So sick and tired so I'll just do nothing at all / Complacency sets in / I've heard it all before / I'm sick of wasting my time looking through photos online.” These words particularly, everyone can feel that sense of monotony and being glued to the phone and just having no motivation to do anything. Everyone's going through their own struggles, and at times, life can be pretty difficult. It's so easy to just get drawn into not being productive and just scrolling on Instagram or on TikTok and then the guilt afterwards like, “I've just wasted two hours of my life. We only have a certain amount of hours in this life, and now I feel like shit because I've just wasted them.” This entire song, “Metaphors,” is about that feeling of having zero motivation to be able to do something and then the guilt that comes with that, with not doing anything. 

Lacey: What was it like creating the music videos for "Living Out a Lie" and "Metaphors"? 

Fraser: We worked with Lindsay Blaine. We worked with her a couple of times before. She actually did our first acoustic single back in 2019. She did the video for that, “I'll Be a Mess Without You,” and we really loved how that video came out. The way the story was portrayed was very well done. That song was about the passing of my grandmother. We really wanted to capture that story, and I think she did an amazing job. When it came around to “Living Out a Lie,” we had another story to tell, and we wanted it done in the same kind of vein, so Lindsay made perfect sense to work with again. Similarly, she really killed it with this video. As a person to work with, it's just a breeze. It's very nice and easy. We actually had a last-minute cancellation for the actress that we got for the storyline. The person we initially had contracted COVID the night before, so it was a last-minute addition to get Risha in as an alternate, and thankfully, she did come through and save the day, and it just ended up being a very fun shoot. The two guys for the storyline were both very fun to work with. The video itself, we tried to depict the sense of imposter syndrome being in a relationship and not knowing where it's gonna go. I feel like [Lindsay] managed to capture it very well. She got her story across. We deliberately left the last shot without the answer to the proposal question to keep the audience guessing. It was just an overall very good experience. The other video that we have out [is for] Metaphors, which is the second single on this EP. For that, we worked with Kyle Pigo. It was our first time working with him, so it was a very nice experience to get that opportunity. He's a videographer in the area that we've wanted to work with for a number of years. I think both of these videos, but particularly that one, were just a step up in terms of production from anything we had done before. Whenever we needed storylines and actors, we typically roped in friends in the past to fill those positions. This is the first time we had hired actors and the difference was incredible. It's a music video so there's no speaking parts. Videographers can do a lot to get their shots, but just having professional actors do parts, it is another level. We did notice that and we were just very pleased to see how the story was coming together. Shannon Davies was the main female actress in the video for "Metaphors." It's a video about her partner. Perhaps we leave it a little bit open-ended, but the idea is that they've passed away. It's difficult without speaking lines or more context to get a story across, but the way in which she was able to act and create that understanding of just how sad the situation is and all the things that happen whilst the story kind of unravels was a very incredible experience. It really was a very eye-opening experience to work with professional actors. 

Lacey: Do you have any plans for playing this new music live?

Fraser: It’s a difficult one when it comes to acoustic music. We are a full band. We by no means have any intentions to turn into an acoustic act, and we've definitely had this situation in the past when we released “I'll Be a Mess With You” in 2019. We weren't sure what we should do in terms of live. We went on tour immediately when that song came out, and I think we played it for some of the shows we did that year. It's a different experience. We set out to be a band, not to be an acoustic act, so you almost feel naked on stage when it's just an acoustic song. As much as I'd love to say that yes, we will be playing these acoustic songs, I'm not sure that it's going to be a common thing that we'll have in our set. This was more of a one-off experiment almost to give fans something that we've not really done before: reimagined versions of these songs. With that said, I would love to at least perform them all once. How we do that I'm not sure, whether we do a release show and just an acoustic show for it or if we do perhaps a recorded live studio session. That would be really cool. It's definitely something that we've considered and will consider, but there's no guarantee. 

Stream The Acoustic EP here. For more information, visit

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