Sincere Engineer

Last month, Sincere Engineer released its debut full-length on Red Scare Industries, titled Rhombithian. We recently met up with singer/songwriter Deanna Belos to discuss the album, including what its recording process was like, how the band’s other musicians came together and the story behind its title. We also spoke about Sincere Engineer’s pairing with Red Scare and how that partnership came to be, as well as what some of the record’s songs are about, future touring plans and more. Rhombithian blends elements of Chicago punk with a subtle emo undercurrent, providing a distinctive backdrop for the introspective lyrics and dynamic vocals. By any measure, it’s a noteworthy debut and one that’s likely to leave listeners eager to find out where Sincere Engineer goes from here. Also, be sure to get tickets for Sincere Engineer’s record release show this Friday at Township, with the Brokedowns, Two Houses and The Usuals.

Bill – You recorded Rhombithian with producer Matt Jordan, who’s known for his work with You Blew It! and Dowsing. How would you describe your time in the studio?

Deanna – It was a pleasant experience. Matt is very knowledgeable and he taught me a lot about the recording process and helped me become an overall better musician. He’s also a goofball, so we laughed the whole time. It took so long though and I kept getting antsy. We’d work a couple days a week after work and it went on for about nine months. We recorded in a couple places, mostly at Matt’s studio and then we did two days at Atlas Studios, to tie up loose ends, add some percussion stuff and record the acoustic track.

Bill – With recording for that long of a time, did you always know that you were building towards a full-length?

Deanna – Yeah, I had the songs done before we even started. When I met Matt, I was probably only six songs in. I knew he was pretty professional and I didn’t want to waste his time messing around with stuff, so I told him I’d reach out to him when I was ready. I had self-released EPs in the past, so I wanted this one to be a full-length, especially since I was going to be putting so much effort into it with Matt’s help.

Bill – Did you have a label in mind at the time or were you planning on figuring that out once you were done recording?

Deanna – I mean Red Scare was the dream, but that wasn’t even my thought. I just wanted to do this because I had the songs and stuff. As we got more into it and I’d post about it on social media, Toby, (Red Scare owner) would ask about it and ask how things were going. I’m pretty good friends with Toby and have known him for a long time. He actually gave me my first show, opening for Brendan, (Lawrence Arms frontman Brendan Kelly). So there was kind of an idea in the back of my head that he’d want to hear it at least.

Bill – At what point did it become official that Red Scare was going to put out the album?

Deanna – Right before we did the last two days at Atlas. We were getting the masters done and I sent them over to him and it kind of just happened. He said, “Congrats and condolences,” (laughs). I think he was referencing that now I was a part of the Red Scare shit show too. We just started planning from there about ordering vinyl and stuff like that. And obviously working with him has been awesome. He’s been a friend to me for a while, so I just get to talk to him more now. It’s been crazy going from being a fan of the label to being a part of the label. I went to that Lawrence Arms, Falcon and Sundowner show at the Metro in 2007 and I was like 14 and my mom drove me. Now I’m 24 and on the same label as all these people…it’s crazy.

Bill – That’s awesome. What’s the meaning behind the album’s title?

Deanna – It’s sort of an inside joke with me and a friend about how I never leave the four-cornered shape of Illinois on a map, like a rhombus. Then I was drunk and playing around with the word and came up with “Rhombithian,” like I’m the Rhombithian. I hated it for a while, but it just kind of stuck because before it came out if you’d type it into Google nothing would show up, because it’s a word I made up. Now that it came out, only stuff about the record shows up, so that’s what sold me on it.

Bill – A lot of your shows are just you playing acoustically and obviously the record features a full band. How did that all come about?

Deanna – That was mostly Matt, the producer, it was his idea. I always thought the songs were very personal to me and that adding other people to it would take away from the super personal story or whatever. But after the first song was recorded with the full band I was like, “Oh. This is way better.” Matt did most of the lead guitar work on the record, except Evan Weiss from Into It. Over It. played lead guitar on “Here’s Your Two Dollars.” Kyle Geib did all the bass parts and Matt Jordan played drums. In terms of the live band that we have now, Kyle plays lead guitar, Nick Arvanitis plays bass and Adam Beck drums. It’s a little unconventional, but it all worked out. Matt’s an amazing guitarist and Kyle is really good at writing bass parts.

Bill – The record’s first song, “Corn Dog Sonnet No 7,” clearly incorporates humor in its lyrics, and this is something that’s present throughout in terms of mixing a lighthearted side with more serious topics. Where do you think this influence comes from?

Deanna – That’s just kind of how I am. I don’t take anything too seriously and I’m kind of a goofball, so it shows through. It’s always good to laugh at yourself and sometimes when you take yourself too seriously it sounds lame. When songwriters mix seriousness with humor it always sticks out to me. I feel like the Lawrence Arms do that and they’re one of my biggest influences.

Bill – “Ceramic Tile” is a classic hangover anthem. Was there a particular incident that inspired its creation?

Deanna – There’s no real particular incident, but that’s not to say it hasn’t happened a few times. I took different parts of that song from different places. The line about the floor being “cold against my face” came from a show called The Norm Show. There was this part where Norm MacDonald’s character got super drunk and told his friend he’s gonna go home and lie down in the bathroom, because the floor has linoleum and it’s cold against his face. The rest of it kind of just fell into place. I feel like I have a lot of talk of teeth and feeling sick on the record, this song being an obvious example. There’s also the mention of hitting my forehead on the front door in “Corn Dog…” and then the line that mentions getting “forehead kisses from the floor,” like kissing wounds to make them feel better. My writing style is very unorganized so it’s hard for me to explain. Sometimes if I’m working on a new song I’ll use parts that I wrote many months prior, if I can figure out a way to make them work.

Bill – Tell me about the video for “Shattering” that you recently released.

Deanna – That’s just a live performance at our practice space. My friend Alex filmed it. It was a couple hours of us playing the same song over and over. I like that the video is kind of us in our element and it shows everyone in the band. Those guys are way more talented than me, so they absolutely should be on screen. I like the way it was shot too. It makes you feel like you’re at a show and kind of getting pushed around. A lot of people were pushing for that or “Overbite” to be the single and I fought basically everyone about it. That’s why “Ceramic Tile” came out first. I always thought “Shattering” would be the first one because everybody likes Chicago and there’s the line about Lake Michigan. And I think Toby told me that was the song that made him think he should sign me. Back when I decided to do “Ceramic Tile” first I still had “Shattering” in the back of my head because of what he said, but it all worked out.

Bill – When you go back and listen to the album now, what aspects do you like best?

Deanna – I like that it sounds so big. There’s a lot to take in. I think that Matt’s guitar work sounds amazing and I think it’s my favorite thing to focus on when I go back and listen now. It’s so much different than the stuff I’d recorded on my own, that was so low-fi and there was no editing or mixing whatsoever. So to hear it so fully produced and so much larger than what it used to be is really cool. I think to have something to show for nine months worth of work, to have it actualized is really special. We put so much effort and time into it I think it shows. I hope it does. It wasn’t something we just slapped together.

Bill – What was your experience like at this year’s Fest?

Deanna – I had a blast at Fest. It was overwhelming, actually. I felt like all of Chicago was in the audience and I was surprised by how many people, (strangers included) knew the words to my songs and sang them back to me. It was really special and I’m honored I was given the opportunity to be a part of it. That was my first time ever attending/playing Fest. I’m going again next year for sure!

Bill – Tell me about your upcoming record release show at Township.

Deanna – I was fortunate enough to get my dream lineup to play. I love The Brokedowns and then my favorite local bands, Two Houses and The Usuals. It’s going to be a full band show and I’m really excited. If I wasn’t playing it would be a show I’d definitely want to go to. We’re still practicing and need to tighten up some stuff, but we’ve got some time. I’m a little scared, but it’ll be fun.

Bill – Having played shows all over Chicago, where are some of your favorite places to play locally?

Deanna – Quenchers is definitely the place I’ve played the most and the place I’m most comfortable at. I usually get the best show out of me just because I’ve played there so much. The sound at Township is good so I like it there. Schubas was cool, I played there once. I played at the L&L once and that was amazing. They set up like a little amp, but I don’t think they do that regularly. Double Door is actually my favorite, but that doesn’t exist anymore, which is sad. Subterranean is cool, the downstairs part. It was at one time my goal to play all the main venues in Chicago. We’ll see if it happens.

Bill – What else do you have planned in terms of shows or touring in the near future?

Deanna – At the end of the year I don’t really have anything scheduled. I have a full-time job, so I’m trying to save up my vacation time and play out of town as much as possible next year. Whether that’s solo or full band, I’m not sure yet. My plan is to get to the West Coast and East Coast next year. Not like a full-fledged tour, but more weekends and stuff. That’s the plan. Maybe write another couple songs, but that’s so terrifying to me right now. This record took a lot out of me. With writing, you can’t turn it on or off, it just kind of happens. If it doesn’t happen anytime soon that’s okay. I’ve got a little bit of time.