Smile Politely

How social anxiety inspired Soft and Dumb’s new single “never wanna”

The last time Smile Politely spoke with Soft and Dumb, the duo — made up of Elena Buenrostro and Travis Newgren — had just released their album Out of Bed. That was back in November of 2020. Fast forward to now, and the band is busier than ever.

They have played numerous shows around C-U and Chicago, alongside bands like Squirrel Flower, waveform*, and The Slaps. Today the band released their newest song “never wanna,” off of their new self titled album which is set to drop in September. I sat down over Zoom with Soft and Dumb to discuss the growth of the band, the new song and record, their songwriting process, and more.

Image by Ryan Kuk.

Smile Politely: How do you both feel the band has changed since Out of Bed, or even since your formation, for that matter?

Elena Buenrostro: Out of Bed was something we created when we had never done any performances before. It was a project that we didn’t really envision how we were going to perform the songs live, whereas now we’re very much a live band, I would say.

Travis Newgren: As far as how we feel like it’s grown, I think we really couldn’t be happier. There was always that feeling with Out of Bed where it was like, could this ever be a real thing? When I first got my drum kit about a year ago, it’s just like, are we actually going to be able to write like this? Not just sitting in front of the computer?

SP: How do you feel like your stage presence has changed since the band started?

Buenrostro: I feel like in the beginning we were just watching a bunch of other people to be like, what are they doing, how are they interacting with the crowd? 

Newgren: Kevin King of The Data Waves – who are now up in Chicago, but they used to be playing in Urbana – he was playing with Touch the Sky and his stage presence and showmanship was just amazing. After we watched him, we’re like, okay, we gotta step it up.

Buenrostro: I have a lot of performance anxiety. Like at our first show I had a panic attack and had to leave directly after the show. It was not fun, and I still deal with a lot of anxiety, but looking at the crowd as a friend is helpful.

SP: Going back to songwriting – what is your songwriting process like now? Do you start with lyrics, a guitar part, do you designate roles?

Buenrostro: I’ll go to Travis with like, one guitar part, or sometimes we’ll just be jamming and we’ll find a part that we really like. And then we’re like, okay, we have to make this a song and we just figure it out together. It’s typically like, okay, this is a Travis song where he’s taking care of the vocals. Or if it’s like a Laney song, then I’ll take care of the vocals. 

Travis is someone when he writes vocals, he doesn’t really write lyrics. He sort of just riffs on the spot and just freestyles, whatever is on his mind. And I’m sort of like the opposite person where I need to be very planned in terms of writing lyrics. One of my favorite parts of writing music is the lyrical aspect, and vocal melodies are super fun. 

Newgren: That’s definitely a direction that we feel like we’re kind of headed in, too. It’s just like this idea that Laney has that sort of written out stuff and then I’m kind of putting my own stream of consciousness lyrics over it. It kind of plays into this idea I think we have as a band, we have this really good ability to play past each other, if that makes any sense.

Image by Ryan Kuk.

SP: So this new song “never wanna,” can you tell me a little bit about it, where it came from?

Buenrostro: It’s a song that I had started writing, like, I think pretty shortly after we released Out of Bed. It’s honestly about social anxiety and not wanting to see someone ever again. I deal with a lot of the physical symptoms of anxiety, like nausea, and a lot of the verses are literally just about throwing up because you are so anxious. It’s sort of like an anthem for anxiety-ridden people who are also super avoidant.

Newgren: I think that we’re really happy with how the production came out on the song. We record everything ourselves. That’s part of it, what we’ve been liking doing. All of the guitars and the thickness and the shoegaziness of it, I think it fits the vibe of that so well, and we really did it justice. It feels so good to now have a recording of a song where it’s like, when we play it live, we could do better. 

The song is more an example of what our song writing process looked like for this self-titled album. It was more like Laney kind of had a song that she would write in her bedroom just on guitar, and come to me with guitar and vocals and be like, “I want this to be a song,” then I would kind of just put in some drums.

SP: When writing such a personal song, how much personal detail do you decide to throw into the mix?

Buenrostro: I try to focus on really specific moments. I feel like the more specific you are, the more powerful it is and, I think that’s why I wanted to really focus on the throwing up aspect of my anxiety [laughs]. I thought it was just such a good metaphor for – not even just a metaphor, just literally how my anxiety feels. The chorus is super big and grungy and then the ending half is just like this big speed up moment and it feels very much like a release of anxiety. I typically get pretty personal because I feel like it’s the one space where I can safely express my emotions.

Newgren: I view music and the stage as therapy. And it’s very much a two way street. I think a lot of our songs are about somebody that we’re frustrated with or somebody that maybe we feel bad that we mistreated them, or we thought we were mistreated or something like that – those people always come out to the shows and they seem to dig the music. So it’s kind of a truly therapeutic thing.

SP: How long have you been working on the new album?

Newgren: We basically started the first week of August last year. We recorded in Laney’s basement what we thought were going to be like the recordings we used, but those ended up being demos. Then we got serious about recording in November and really did it over fall break and winter break when Laney’s roommates were gone. Then we mixed from December all the way until May. That was, I don’t know about that one [laughs]. It felt like it was never going to end.

Again, with Out of Bed, to be completely honest, we didn’t really mix it. We kind of just put it all together and put it out. This (record) is more like we were listening to certain bands and their sound like, oh, how do they get that? The way we record is just like the way we play live, just drums and guitar, we just love playing at the same time. We were like listening in the car and comparing it to all these other bands, these iconic duos like The White Stripes, like what is it missing? I’m listening to their studio cuts and I’m like, “wait, there’s bass in here!” So finally we just tracked some very basic bass parts and it was a world of difference, we couldn’t believe it.

Image by Ryan Kuk.

SP: Along with the album, what else is on the horizon for Soft and Dumb?

Newgren: We have a music video coming out for “never wanna” on June 14th.

Buenrostro: I’m very excited for it. It’s inspired off of a comic that I made about a girl who buries a cake to stop time. 

Newgren: We want to put out more singles before the album drops. We want to tour after the album release show, so around September. Then relaxing after that. We have some pretty good shows coming up, too, like Logan Square Arts Festival. We’re also playing with Cola — formerly Ought — we are opening for them. Also Friko, who are friends from Chicago, so we have some big stuff coming up. 

Buenrostro: Shoutout Squirrel Flower, as well. 

Newgren: Yeah Ella is super nice, we opened for Squirrel Flower at Rose Bowl and that was so fun.

Soft and Dumb’s new song “never wanna” is out now. You can listen here. Keep up with Soft and Dumb on Facebook, Instagram, and Bandcamp, check out their Linktree for more. 

Top image by Ryan Kuk.

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