Q&A: Sincere Engineer talks Chicago’s punk scene, Riot Fest and corn dogs

Sincere Engineer's Deanna Belos. Photo by Randy Michael Korwin

Performing under the moniker Sincere Engineer, Chicago-based singer-songwriter Deanna Belos has taken the Windy City’s punk scene by storm with her raw, passionate vocal performances and introspective lyricism. Her debut album, Rhombithian, has been well-received by critics and fans alike since it dropped in 2017 — stream it on Spotify here.

Mixed Mantra caught up with Belos to discuss her rise to punk prestige, her upcoming performance at Riot Fest and — you guessed it — corn dogs.

MIXED MANTRA: How did Sincere Engineer come to be?

SINCERE ENGINEER: I was in college and kind of playing guitar and writing songs a lot and not really focusing on school too much. Toby Jeg (owner of Red Scare Industries) somehow caught wind of me having some songs and offered to let me open for Brendan Kelly of The Lawrence Arms. I took the show because that guy’s like my hero. I was like, “I can’t say no to that.” So I just practiced a lot and made sure I was ready for that. After that, I would every once in a while get offered another show and I decided to start taking it a little seriously because it was super fun.

MM: What was it like coming up in the Chicago punk scene?

SE: It’s definitely super responsive and supportive. You could have a really bad set and there would still be people there that are cheering you on. There’s a lot of opportunity to practice and show off the songs you have. There are shows every night here.

MM: Is there a story behind your band’s name?

SE: I took it from something Brendan said in an interview once in like 2008 or something. It struck me, so I wrote it down and made it all of my screen names and stuff. When the time came to name this band or project or whatever, it made sense to do that. I had the Instagram handle already.

MM: We’re really interested in songwriting processes. Can you walk us through how you wrote “Corn Dog Sonnet No. 7”?

SE: I was kind of drunk. I kind of wrote it as a joke. I sent the first couple of lines to my friend and he was like, “You’re not trying hard enough.” I was like, “No, man. I think this is really funny.” I kept going with it and the chorus part sort of tied it together. It’s very mundane. You can tell I wrote it in one room of my house not doing anything that day. It was very in the moment, like “This is what’s happening. I’m not leaving this house.”

MM: Was there an actual corn dog that inspired the song?

SE: I wrote that when I first moved out of my parents’ house, so I was grocery shopping on my own and stuff. I went through the frozen food aisle and bought a box of corn dogs because that seemed like a good idea. They were awful. That box sat in my freezer for like two years before I threw it out. So that’s where that came from.

MM: What’s been your most memorable show so far?

SE: We opened for Alkaline Trio at Metro Chicago in January and that was a dream come true show for me. That band was one of my first favorite bands. I was totally obsessed with them. We just played Pouzza Fest in Montreal a few weeks ago. That was pretty insane. The crowd was super into it, so that made it more fun for us. We played this 350 Brewing Fest out here last year and there were a bunch of huge bands on it, like Descendents and Smoking Popes. We’ve been very fortunate.

MM: How psyched are you to be performing at Riot Fest?

SE: This is our first time. Really, really excited. I’ve gone like every year. Well, that’s not true. I went to the first couple. This is a bad answer. I went to the last five years in a row. Let’s leave it at that. It’s always a huge, drunken mess of a time, but it’s awesome.

MM: Do you have any new music in the works?

SE: We’re going to be releasing a new song next month. I’m still working on writing the second record, but it’s about halfway done. Over the course of this year I think we’ll release two or three more songs. We play this new one live now, so if anybody comes to see us they’ll hear it. It’s called “Dragged Across the Finish Line.” It should be out in June or July.

MM: A lot of your music is kind of self-deprecating, highlighting low points in your life. Will your new music carry on with those same themes?

SE: Yeah, I would say so. Like this song that’s about to come out — it’s hard for me to say because I wrote them all, so I can’t really take a step back and bunch ’em together. I think it sounds like an extension of what that first record was. Some of the other songs, I’ve been told, sound a little more mature, which I guess is good. Sometimes that’s not good though. I hope it sounds more developed but I don’t want to lose too much of what our original sound was.

MM: Which stops are you most excited for on your upcoming tour?

SE: Personally? I haven’t taken the full band out anywhere other than Midwest shows, so it’s going to be super cool to be in California and stuff with them. I toured the West Coast by myself last year. It was super fun and I got to tour with The Lawrence Arms, but it’ll be cool to have my friends with me. And I don’t have to drive the whole time. We can split it up between the four of us. It’ll be more like a little party instead of like work. I’m definitely excited to play San Francisco, Los Angeles and Denver.

MM: What’s the average day in the life of Deanna like?

SE: I work a full-time job, so that takes up a lot of my time. I work in a lab taking care of lab mice. I play guitar a lot when I have free time. Nothing too exciting. Hang out, usually with my bandmates. I’m not too big on watching TV or anything. If I have free time, I’ll be playing guitar.

Check out Sincere Engineer on its upcoming tour:

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