"I really don't like dogs," laughs Sincere Engineer's Deanna Belos. "I think they're gross and loud. You can be standing there, and a dog will come up to you, but if you try and shoo it away, the owner will get mad at you for trying to get rid of it.
"But I love how mad people get when you're on stage and say you don't like dogs. It's like you've murdered somebody. I mean, people booed – and I thought it was really funny. I love saying stuff like that to see how mad people get over stupid things."
Deanna Belos has something of a reputation for awkward stage banter, but doubling down on a dislike of man's best friend in the middle of Florida's punk rock mecca Fest is a whole other level of awkward – and having witnessed said patter first-hand, the results were just as funny as Deanna attests.
Yet such anecdotes tally perfectly with Sincere Engineer's lyrics, which push self-deprecating humour to the fore, even if they mask some serious themes. For example, 'Trust Me, the lead single and opening track from second album 'Bless My Psyche', blasts into life with the line, "This is my grand introduction, I'm lying face down in the street, for the second time this week." Deliberately placed, it’s a bold hello to all the new listeners the band have picked up thanks to the enormous jump in profile following their switch from DIY stalwarts Red Scare to punk rock institution Hopeless Records.
Like The Beths' 'Future Me Hates Me', 'Trust Me' also contains a knowing nod to self-control and regretting future decisions. "I put too much trust in future me, but she can't be trusted, please trust me, everything she says is such a lie," sings Deanna, acknowledging that bad choices lie just around the corner – especially when she just wants to go outside and ride her bike.
For Deanna, such observations come from the difficulty of juggling a band and a day job in animal welfare and relying on yourself to make good decisions, so you don't get burned out or do both jobs to a poor standard.
"I feel like I joke about everything, but with this record, I had an exhausted, overworked mindset, and I think that carried over," she says.
"I work on music stuff in my free time, but the hours for my day job are six til' two, so when I come home, I'll eat some dinner, and even though I'm super tired, at the back of my mind there's this thought going about, 'Well, I have this music thing, and I want to do that, too'. So, it's about fighting through the exhaustion to get what you want, and not just working for The Man."
The beauty of moving into the punk rock big league is that Deanna might soon have far more time on her hands to devote to music as the band continues to grow in stature.
However, throw in a pandemic, and it has been far from an overnight success for the group. Debut 'Rhombithian' arrived in October 2017 – meaning it's been nearly four full years between albums. While Sincere Engineer have toured solidly in the intervening years – including a mid-afternoon sell-out at Fest's 450 capacity High Dive – four years is still a considerable wait for a new album.
"The pandemic has definitely added a year," considers Deanna as we discuss the delay. "And it has been hard to juggle the day job. I'd be taking vacation time from work to do the touring – so that would be to tour solo, and we did a couple of full-band tours – then the pandemic hit.
"The record was already written before the pandemic, but then we couldn't get into a studio. Then, when we did, we said we should wait until we could tour again before we put it out. Then we signed to Hopeless, and that took time to get the business side of things sorted…
"Like, no-one ever tells you all this when you start a band," she laughs. "I feel like I've been flying by the seat of my pants when it comes to the business of the band. I wanted to be a dentist, but I didn't get into dentistry school, and I had no intention of doing this. But all of that's part of it [the four-year wait], because I've not had anyone pressuring me to put out a record, so I could really take my time over it."
The results speak for themselves, too. If 'Rhombithian' was a brilliant but occasionally messy debut, then 'Bless My Psyche' is a fully-realised return, with sharper hooks and softer edges. Moreover, it builds on the success of the debut, stretching Sincere Engineer's sound, particularly in the first half, before delivering pop-punk hit after pop-punk hit during the second.
There's also a liberal sprinkling of punk rock royalty throughout, with The Hold Steady's Franz Nicolay adding keys to several tracks, which helps to add depth and heft to Sincere Engineer's buzzing Midwest punk sound.
Such collaboration only came about after Sincere Engineer supported The Hold Steady in Chicago, with Nicolay offering up his skills should Deanna ever think they would be useful. "He heard we had a record coming, said if we wanted him to play on it to let him know, and that was it. It really was as simple as that," laughs Deanna.
"He's a genius, though," she continues. "I originally just asked asking him to do a couple of songs but told him to listen to the whole album and just to do what he thought would fit, and he killed it. Some of his parts are my favourite bits on the record."
While clearly humbled by Nicolay's involvement – and in appreciating his ability to tune into what's needed and not become the star of the show – in her acknowledgement, Deanna taps into the Midwestern trait of being enormously modest.
It's a similar story elsewhere – whether discussing the support of the wider Chicago scene or the input of her bandmates. In both cases, Deanna is warmly appreciative of the help she's received along the way. "When I started, I didn't have a clue what I was doing, but everyone was so supportive, and they didn't need to be," she says of the Windy City's famed punk scene. Or, perhaps more pertinently, when discussing her bandmates, she'll lavish praise on them for their 'professional' musical background while joking that she's just the "Idiot who writes the songs."
Of course, while it's an entirely self-effacing response, it does provide an insight into the mindset of Deanna – even if it doesn't do any kind of justice to just how great her songwriting is. What it does prove, however, is that there's nothing false about this Sincere Engineer…
Taken from the October issue of Upset. Sincere Engineer's album 'Bless My Psyche' is out now.
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