Indie-pop fans take a shine to Portland’s Chipped Nail Polish

By Prakruti Bhatt (OPB)
Jan. 12, 2024 5:28 p.m.

With a new release on Friday and a show at Holocene on Sunday, a band born out of the pandemic is drawing fresh attention

When Chipped Nail Polish’s Jill Sullivan first started writing music, she set herself a goal to perform a single house show before she graduated from the University of Oregon. Today, she and her indie-pop band have played venues like Portland’s Mississippi Studios and Kelly’s Olympian among many more.

The band is also one of the faces of this year’s Portland Music Month, now underway. On Sunday, the band is gearing up to take the stage at the Holocene. Chipped Nail Polish is also set to release the band’s rendition of “White Flag,” originally by Dido, this Friday.


“Writing songs doesn’t always make me feel better, but it just makes me feel like something,” says Jill Sullivan, the lead singer of Portland-based band Chipped Nail Polish. “And sometimes, that’s what you need to get through.”

Watch Chipped Nail Polish perform “Say Something”:

In that spirit, when the COVID-19 pandemic shut the world down Sullivan wrote a collection of songs as a way to process her emotions. Those songs later came together to form “Bottom Feeder” – Chipped Nail Polish’s 2023 EP fronted by the deeply relatable single, “Rut.” The four-track-strong EP is delicately layered with vulnerable lyrics over the strums of a ukulele. As Sullivan told Willamette Week, the band’s sound is very much like “crying in a mosh pit.”

But a lot has changed for Sullivan and Chipped Nail Polish since then.

Sullivan sat down with OPB’s Prakruti Bhatt to talk about the band’s origin, “Bottom Feeder” and how the band’s sound has evolved over the years.

Below are excerpts from the interview, edited for clarity and length:

Prakruti Bhatt: Chipped Nail Polish —that’s a very interesting name. Can you tell me what was running through your mind when you chose this name?

Jill Sullivan: It actually started way before I even started playing music. When I was in high school, I went to a lot of punk shows. And I just was hanging out with my friends one day. My nails always have been and always will be notoriously chipped. And one day, I just looked down at my hands and I was like, “Chipped Nail Polish would be kind of a sick band name.” And then five years go by.

I didn’t even play any music at that point. But then things kind of changed in my life. I picked up the ukulele. I started writing some songs and I gathered some friends and I said, “I already have the band name. I already know what that’s going to be from five years ago in high school.” It’s a funny story, but I think now it represents just a feeling of imperfection and not being too serious.


Bhatt: How did the band officially start?

Sullivan: It’s a two-part story. I started writing music in college after I went through a really tough breakup, which is so cliché. But I was kind of originally writing songs for myself as a way to process what I was feeling. It was kind of a new way for me to do that. I had never really experienced something like that before, and I knew that I needed a new way to process. ...

So it was originally just me, and then I took my songs to my friend, who was getting into producing. ... He was like, “These are really great, we should record them!” So I originally thought it was going to be a little recording project.

But then I was so steeped in the house show scene in Eugene at the University of Oregon. I had so many friends in bands, so many friends who played house shows all the time, that during my senior year, I made it a goal for myself to play one house show before I graduated, and then I thought that was going to be it. So I gathered some friends and we played a couple. We ended up playing two house shows before COVID hit and everything shut down.

But yeah, that’s kind of how it started. I was doing this cool project for myself and then I was like, “Let’s do something fun. Let’s play a show.”

Bhatt: What inspired you while you were creating “Bottom Feeder” and its lead single, “Rut?”

Sullivan: “Rut” was the first song that I wrote from “Bottom Feeder.” I think that song encapsulates the whole feeling behind the EP. That was a COVID EP. That was me living at home, living with friends, kind of trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life... It seems like a very shared experience, but I was just feeling really lost.

I knew I loved live music. I wanted to work in live events after I graduated from college, and I had all these things lined up. A lot of my background in college was booking shows on campus and bringing music industry speakers to campus. I was very much in that event space. So when that shut down, I was like, “Well, now what am I going to do?”

So yeah, it was kind of born out of feelings of — I wasn’t really reaching my full potential — feeling stuck. Feeling like I just graduated and had all this potential, all these dreams that were coming to fruition — and then they just didn’t. That was the feeling behind that EP.

And also finding, I don’t know, some solace in there as well. Turning a bad time into something that felt productive. I feel like that’s kind of what I tend to do with music. Writing songs doesn’t always make me feel better, but it just makes me feel like something. And sometimes, that’s what you need to get through.

Bhatt: How do you think your sound has evolved since then?

Sullivan: That’s a good question. Again, it’s kind of a two-part thing, with production and then the live band. ...

My band has changed so much throughout the years, which has been really cool. It’s all been good friends of mine that have jumped in. Everyone plays in other projects too, so sometimes people just get too busy or things happen and they can’t commit to my band as much.

But with that, everyone’s brought something a little bit different and that’s been special and cool to explore. Also, it just makes it less boring for me, playing these songs after all these years. Everyone has their own little flare. I feel like we’ve gotten more refined, too. A little more polished.