Sincere Engineer
by Interviews

Sincere Engineer are one day away from releasing their stellar third album Cheap Grills. The album is chock full of infectious hooks and references to Chicago as the band explores growing up, anxiety, longing, burnout, and more with Deanna Belos’ signature lyricism that is both heartfelt and humourous. Cheap Grills will be out everywhere on September 22 (tomorrow!) via Hopeless Records. Deanna Belos will be playing a handful of solo acoustic shows this month and Sincere Engineer will be touring the US as a full band starting in October.

Punknews editor Em Moore caught up with Deanna over Zoom to talk about the new album, baseball, corn dogs, and so much more. Read the interview below!

You recorded Cheap Grills at Ghost Hit Recording Studio in Massachusetts. How did you decide where to record? What was the recording process like?

We worked with our producer Mike Sapone and he picked it because he loves working there. When we got there we fell in love with it, it’s such a cool setup. It used to be a church and then it got converted into a recording studio so the live room is where church happened and stuff. Right outside is a graveyard, which was creepy. The vibe was really cool. We did some pre-pro in Chicago with Mike and then we went out there for two weeks and worked really fast because that’s not a ton of time. [laughs]

Was there any paranormal activity?

No! [laughs] The owner, Andrew, said that bands do have that and a couple bands have told the same stories so it’s definitely a thing. But we didn’t have any weird stuff.

Which song did you record in the bathroom?

It was kind of a thing to layer in backing vocals. We did it on a few songs but I think “Anemia” was the main one. [laughs]

Get the best acoustics.

Yeah, for sure! The echo and stuff. [laughs]

The cover of the album is a photograph of someone grilling steak. What’s the story behind this photo?

That’s my dad! We finished recording and I was racking my brain trying to figure out what to name it. A lot of the songs happen to touch on old photos. I was cleaning out my parents' basement and garage so I was going through a lot of old stuff and memories. That’s kind of why I think the record has a house feel, there’s the grilling in the backyard, and I mention the garage and the bedroom on “California King”. Subconsciously that was a theme. During the cleaning-out process, I was going through pictures and I found that picture and was like, “Oh my god, this is so cool! It’s gonna be the cover”. The pun Cheap Grills came to me after I saw the picture.

You use family photos in the “California King” video too. Are they the same?

Yep, totally! I didn’t ruin my actual family pictures, I took a picture of them and printed those because my mom would’ve been like, “What are you doing!?” [laughs] That was a tie-in for sure.

Do you have any grilling tips?

I don’t! I’m kind of afraid of pressurized tanks. [laughs] The grill on the cover is not a propane one but I don’t like touching that stuff, I’m always worried that it’s going to blow up. My tips are more about eating rather than making it. I’m a bad cook. [laughs]

Just make sure it’s cooked, that’s it. [laughs]

Yeah, exactly! No salmonella.

Do you have a favourite grilled food?

Hot dogs, probably. Keep it simple. [laughs]

The un-corned dog.

Yeah, exactly! [laughs]

How would you describe your songwriting process?

I write all the songs so I sit with an acoustic guitar and I usually play guitar in my garage, it’s just a thing to not keep my parents up at night because I do it late in the night. I’ll write a chunk of songs and then I won’t write anything for 3-4 months and then I’ll write another chunk. In between there, if I have ideas I jot them down. It just kinda has to come to me. I’ve learned that if I force it, it’s not as good. I could work on stuff for weeks. Sometimes I completely change gears and try something new and that’ll be the song that actually gets finished. I’m always working on lyrics and stuff. It’s a more casual thing, like what happens happens.[laughs]

On “Inside My Head” you talk about feeling overworked and losing your motivation. What do you do when you feel overworked?

I just try to chill out and not sign myself up for too much. I do stuff that I like. So instead of working on stuff, I’ll go to a show because I actually enjoy music for what it is. Ride my bike, hang out with friends, have a drink on a patio, and try not to think about it.

All the good stuff. Restore the will to live.

Exactly. Then do it all over again. [laughs]

“Code Orange” is one of my favourite songs off the album. What’s the story behind that song?

I had to take my dad to the hospital because he had a kidney stone. We went at 11 p.m. and didn’t get home until 7 in the morning because of the American health system. [laughs] That was the imagery I was going for. It’s not about anything in particular but waiting around and the hospital theme. I used to work in a dental office so I had that experience of clerical work behind the scenes of a health office. “Light a match/burn all the files” that was like, you know when you make a mistake at work and you think it’s the end of the world and then you look back and you’re like, “I can’t believe I wasted any energy on that”, that’s where that idea came from. It’s another overwork song. That’s one of my favourites too. The chorus is strange but I dig it. [laughs]

“Blind Robin” ends the album and is named after a bar in Chicago. What did this place mean to you?

It was where I was when the Cubs won the World Series. That line about “I left the TV on at home” is about my boyfriend’s grandpa. He comes from a family that was obsessed with the Cubs and that’s a very common thing in Chicago. His grandpa died in his house and when they won he was like, “I gotta go call my dad. I left the TV on at home. I don’t believe in ghosts but if there is one, he’d want to see the game on TV”. When he said that I was like, “Oh my god, that’s beautiful” and it inspired me to write that.

That’s a really nice story. That makes sense with all the baseball references in the song too.

I don’t know where you’re from but there’s a lot of Chicago references too. The Red Line and stuff like that so it might not completely hit with people not in Chicago but I’m sure there’s similarities in other cities.

I’m just outside of Toronto.

Oh, cool! I love Toronto! It’s basically Canada’s Chicago. [laughs] I’ve played there twice and I want to go there on vacation sometime.

You recently threw out the first pitch at a White Sox game. What was that experience like?

It was pretty surreal. I’m from the south side and my boyfriend’s from the north side. That’s also in “Blind Robin”, the “My side always said” thing. It was surreal. They played “Anemia” over the speakers and I almost teared up. I blew the pitch but it was still fun! [laughs]

You made it over the plate.

I’ve been told that that’s all that matters. A bunch of friends and a bunch of my old co-workers came out. It was a really fun time.

In the video for “Fireplace” you kidnap and murder two people and try to make friends with their skeletons. How did the idea for this video come about?

I honestly don’t know. I try to write all the music videos, especially with this cycle. I made all the stories in between. I had the band come into my parent’s basement and for the different coloured backgrounds, I just bought four different rolls of paper. We did it all in one day. As I had extra time, I would fit in the story parts with what we recorded as the full band. I don’t really know how it came up. When we have a record, all the singles get picked and I try to think of stories to go with them that either fit the song or would be cool. It’s a cute, nice story but it’s also like I killed someone. [laughs] I’m not even sure how it came up honestly, it just popped into my head.

Do you have a video for this cycle that was your favourite to write?

The “Landline” one. It’s the most simple but I think it’s the most effective and I’m stoked on it. I’m just walking with a landline phone and the cord goes through the shot and I just keep walking all over. Then the bridge of the song hits and I ran back and made it look like the cord snapped and I’m going through all of those places again in reverse. That one’s more visually cool to me, it’s not really a story or anything. I think that’s my favourite. That’s out today.

You’ll be playing some solo in-store shows later this month and will be touring the US as a full band starting in October. What’s the biggest difference between playing solo and playing as a band?

It’s different because it’s more bare-bones and any mistakes I make playing are very obvious because the band doesn’t cover them up. It’s definitely stripped down. I miss having my best friends traveling with me. It’s also cool. It’s a different show and a different experience, I think. In my favourite bands, the singer would always play acoustic shows and you could also see the full band. It’s cool that there’s more shows to see and it’s different each time. Like I said, I write all the songs on an acoustic guitar so it’s like going back to the roots of how the song was written sort of, without all the production and the big sounds. It’s more like the skeleton that was the original idea. If people think that’s cool, I don’t know. [laughs]

When you hear something acoustic that’s usually electric, it changes.

Oh, for sure! It’s a whole different feel. I personally like going to acoustic shows and sometimes it turns into a sing-a-long, campfire-type vibe. There’s a time and a place for that that’s fun. There’s no moshpit but there’s more camaraderie. [laughs] I love that. They’re both cool though.

Do you have a song you feel changes the most when you perform it acoustically?

I haven’t done a show with any of the new songs yet. There’s some songs that don’t work acoustically and I know that so I don’t play them. I think “Recluse in the Making” from Bless My Psyche is in some ways cooler acoustic than how it came out on the record. That’s a good question! [laughs]

Do you have a song that you’re looking forward to playing the most?

“Anemia” is my favourite out of this new batch for sure. It’s super fun and it’s got this outro that we’ve never had in a song before. It’s fun to get lost in that.

The upcoming full band US tour will be your first full headlining tour. How does that feel?

It’s pretty crazy! We’re going to a couple places we’ve never been before too, very excited about that. We haven’t met Cliffdiver yet but we’re very excited to meet them. They’re awesome! They did Sad Summer Fest too and we missed each other! We thought we’d be on the same dates and then we realized we weren’t so we were messaging back and forth like, “Oh my god, I’m bummed!” So I was like, “We gotta play together!” Our friends from Chicago here, Canadian Rifle, they’re an older band but they’re super good, are touring with us too and I’m excited to be playing with them. They’ve toured a bunch over their span of existence and they’re going back to a bunch of places too so they’re excited. It’s gonna be fun, I’m excited! [laughs]

Where are the places you haven’t played before?

Houston, for sure. We’ve done Pheonix before but Mesa this time will be new. I think Albany, California is basically the Bay Area which we’ve done but I didn’t know there was an Albany, California until I saw it. [laughs] There might be one or two more but I think that’s it. I’m super excited! And we’re doing Austin City Limits which we haven’t done before.

Do you think that you’re going to see any corn dog pits at any of these shows?

I hope so! It depends on the rules at the venue. Maybe at ACL. Lollapalooza didn’t sell corn dogs or if they did, one person found it before we played. We played super early and we’re playing early at ACL too so I don’t know. It would be sick if it became an indoor thing also! [laughs]

That has to be a requirement like, “We’re not playing your venue unless you sell corn dogs”.

Totally! [laughs] The Bottom Lounge in Chicago put them on the menu the last time we played there which was awesome. That was the only night they knew they could sell some. It’s not exactly the most sought-after food. [laughs]

What would your ideal corn dog be?

The standard with mustard probably. I haven’t had those crazy ones, you know the ones with potatoes and stuff? I haven’t tried any of those. I should.

Would recommend. You can get half dog, half cheese.

I would probably love that. I gotta try one!

How would you describe the punk scene in Chicago?

It’s super supportive, there’s always stuff going on. I’ve always said that the scene made it very easy to get into it. They’re super accepting. There’s shows every night and if you’re trying to get into music, everybody is always looking for people to hop on bills and stuff. Anytime there was a show that got offered to me, I was taking it. I was playing every night of the week and I think that’s super cool. Bands always come here because it’s like the middle of the country. A lot of tours start or end here which is awesome. It’s like the best city in the world and the best music city. Grateful to be here and be close to it. Even just as a fan, bands are always here and it’s awesome. [laughs] There’s always a show to go to.

What does the future hold for Sincere Engineer?

We’ve got a record coming out on the 22nd, as we discussed. [laughs] We don’t have anything in the books for next year yet. I already started writing the next record, very slowly. [laughs] I’m definitely not far along or anything. Hopefully more shows and tours and stuff. I hope people like the record. That’s the short-sighted goal here. We’ve got a release show that hasn’t been announced yet in Chicago. It’s going to be announced soon, so excited for that too!

9/21Indianapolis, INIndy CD and VinylSolo acoustic performance
9/22Loud PizzaHighland Park, ILSolo acoustic performance
9/25Chicago, ILReckless Records (Wicker Park)Solo acoustic performance
10/12Dallas, TXSundown at Granadawith Cliffdiver & Canadian Rifle
10/13Houston, TXThe Secret Groupwith Cliffdiver & Canadian Rifle
10/14Austin, TXAustin City LimitsSincere Engineer only
10/16Atlanta, GAThe Masqueradewith Cliffdiver & Canadian Rifle
10/17Durham, NCThe Pinhookwith Cliffdiver & Canadian Rifle
10/19Brooklyn, NYBrooklyn Madewith Cliffdiver & Canadian Rifle
10/20Asbury Park, NJBond Street Basementwith Cliffdiver & Canadian Rifle
10/21Medford, MADeep Cutswith Cliffdiver & Canadian Rifle
10/22Philadelphia, PAUkie Clubwith Cliffdiver & Canadian Rifle
11/10Albany, CAIvy Roomwith Cliffdiver & Phony
11/11Los Angeles, CAThe Echowith Cliffdiver & Phony
11/12Anaheim, CAHouse of Blueswith Cliffdiver & Phony
11/13Mesa, AZThe Nile Theaterwith Cliffdiver & Phony
11/15Salt Lake City, UTKilby Courtwith Cliffdiver & Phony
11/16Denver, COLost Lakewith Cliffdiver & Phony