State Champs’ upcoming EP is an ode to some of the great MTV Unplugged sessions made famous by bands like Nirvana and Alice In Chains. When the band chose the Unplugged tag, they executed the label and style very loosely. But if it sparks a conversation that is exactly the point, because these days State Champs is making it their business to care just a little bit less, guitarist Tyler Szalkowski explained.
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The six-track EP, features four new songs and two revamped releases from previous albums. The new songs gave them the opportunity to deviate from what they would normally write and deem as acoustic or unplugged, by including new song identities and even some clean, electric and amplified elements just to really mix up the majorly unplugged EP, for a true, casual take on the theme.
“When we used to write acoustic it would be pop-punk acoustic stuff, but lately we really don’t care about filling those shoes or being what people wanted us to be,” Szalkowski told American Songwriter. “We wanted to make an EP that was acoustic music with variety. We made sure each of the new songs had their own identity. We went with Unplugged because we didn’t want it to feel too serious. We wanted to make a good EP, we didn’t want big branding or names or to make it feel like something too epic, we wanted it to be casual.”
The most accurate representation of the EP’s title is “Crying Out Loud”, one of the new tracks that is truly acoustic, using just two guitars, while other songs like their most recent single “10 AM” include small subtleties of synths weaved in with drum loops and clean guitars. The two remaining new songs, “A Thousand Hearts” and “The Recipe” are sure to surprise listeners as well.
“It’s just variety in a small package,” Szalkowski said.
“A Thousand Hearts” serves to open the eclectic EP and was a bit risky because it was a longer song on the record. When choosing the song to introduce the EP, State Champs considered how “badass” of a song it was while also returning to their focus of trying to be a little less picky over the tracklist and EP overall, while also taking hints from other artists they respect, that also led with lengthier songs outside the three-minute radio standard.
“It’s not that we don’t care but we just thought it was badass and we loved it,” Szalkowski said. “We spend so much time stressing about the tracklist and we finally collectively said ‘shouldn’t we be having fun? Let’s try to get rid of the things that aren’t fun, like stressing about that nonsense.’ I think it’s a great track one, it just feels good. It’s almost like when Taylor Swift put ‘State of Grace’ early on her record, it’s a really long song, but I respect it.”
One of the revamped songs “Criminal” took from their 2018 release Living Proof, got a dense transformation as the group went a different direction entirely, away form the pop-punk tag.
“We went folk on that one with a kick, snare and slide guitar,” Szalkowski said. “We really wanted to step outside the box and give our fans something more put together.”
When recording the four new songs and other unplugged renditions, State Champs chose to go all digital, instead of analog with tape, as is the trend lately with acoustic music especially. They knew what worked for them and digital was tried-and-true, plus it emphasized their whole attempt to stress less about the process and just go with what works, while also avoiding the kitschy persona that sometimes comes with analog and tape only fanatics.
“We’re pretty comfortable being a modern band,” Szalkowski said about their digital take on the EP, “Tape sounds great and all that and there are great ways to add saturation to the mix without the level of pretention that comes with that. But it was cut and dry we just built it out in Pro Tools. All the acoustics were played by me and Ryan. It’s just tried and true.”
State Champs also revisited the jam method of writing together for the EP, which served as a huge advantage when it came to sifting through topics and lyrics, making the whole process more efficient and speedier in the end.
“I think writing together helps us be more concise,” Szalkowski explained. “If you have one emotion and you try to write about it, one person will see it one way, but if you get stuck someone else can show you their perspective or what it means for them. I think we just work together really well. I think this helps make our songs concise when it comes to our lyrical process. When it’s all of us writing we can all contribute and pick the best and most effective statements and that’s what makes the difference on these tracks.”
You can listen to the varied tracklist on State Champs Unplugged EP, their most honest, and lax attempt at a stripped-down, version of themselves, everywhere including Spotify on August 14.