I recently met over Zoom with Elena Buenrostro and Travis Newgren, two members behind the outfit Soft and Dumb. We spoke about their past musical experience, their new EP Out of Bed (released on October 23rd), how quarantine affects their music-making process, and more.
Smile Politely: So, tell me about yourselves.
Travis Newgren: We met here at U of I. We’re both from the city — well, I’m technically from the city, from the northwest side, and she’s from Forest Park, which is like barely suburbs. Even though we’re both from around there, we didn’t meet until [we were here at U of I]. I’m a couple years older and I graduated, but I’m still here because I really enjoy Urbana. We played our first show right before COVID-19 and quarantine happened, so that kind of threw a wrench in stuff. But at the same time, throughout this whole thing, it’s been really nice to have the creative outlet of trying to make music and everything.
SP: Elena, are you still in school?
Elena Buenrostro: Yeah, I’m a Studio Art Major, so I do visual art as well as writing music.
SP: Where did your band name come from?
Buenrostro: It came from a lot of brainstorming. We got into this mode where we kept being like “This and This”. I’m not sure why we landed on Soft and Dumb, but it felt right because our music isn’t too hard—
Newgren: —It can be!
Buenrostro: It can be, but it has this overall, kind of a tender place. Also “dumb” because we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
Newgren: The whole Soft and Dumb thing, having two things was nice because of having two people. People always ask, “Oh, who’s soft and who’s dumb?” We’re both soft and we’re both dumb! It’s not like those are our monikers or something.
SP: I thought about asking that, but I decided not to. What instruments do you play?
Buenrostro: I play guitar and [perform] vocals. I play bass on some songs. We pretty much alternate on most instruments, except Travis is the one who does all the drums. I’m very bad at drums.
Newgren: I don’t really think I’m particularly good at drums either, it’s just that I can kind of fill them in when they need to get done. I started playing piano when I was a kid and I always thought that’s all I could play. It wasn’t really until college that I saw a bunch of other kids faking it and playing guitar and I thought “Oh, I could do this too”. So now, I’ll play guitar, bass, vocals. That’s another fun thing, both of us can alternate on vocals.
Album art for Out of Bed by Soft and Dumb.
SP: How long have you been together?
Buenrostro: Well, we’re also a couple, so we’ve been together for probably a year.
Newgren: As a couple, we’ve been together since April of 2019, and as a band we’ve been together since December of 2019. Coming up on a year for the band, which is cool.
SP: Who are some of your musical influences?
Buenrostro: For myself, I really love Mitski, Pretty Sick are a really good band, Girlpool... a lot of female-led indie rock bands.
Newgren: I think in general for the band, Sonic Youth is a huge inspiration, we both listened to The Cure when we were younger, Protomartyr is a huge one as a post punk influence for our music. Also, when I came to college, the people I met in my sophomore, junior, and senior year were into the Philadelphia indie rock music scene, so those sorts of bands were kind of what made me want to start making music.
SP: What are your favorite tracks off the EP?
Buenrostro: I think it switches a lot of the time for me. Currently, I like "Thumper", the first track.
Newgren: "Thumper" is such a cool one. It’s one that when we wrote it and made it, I wasn’t expecting it to be the first track or anything like that, but after releasing it as a single, the reception seemed pretty good, and it felt like this very establishing thing, even though, as a song, it doesn’t have a lot going on. Any others you really like?
Buenrostro: I just like playing "Spat" — it’s just a fun one to play on guitar.
Newgren: "Tony, Please" is the ending track. We made it and we thought “Oh that’s kind of cool, we want to make songs like that”, so we went back and made the first four or five tracks.
"Tony" was just a little more grungey, a little more shoe-gazey than some of the other tracks. The middle tracks were just more lo-fi, bordering on indie pop. After "Tony", we thought maybe we wanted to explore something more dark, gothic, something like that.
Image by Elena Buenrostro and Travis Newgren.
SP: This may be a weird question, but is there a reason it’s called "Tony, Please" when all the other tracks on the EP are singular words?
Buenrostro: "Tony, Please" was the first song that inspired the rest of the tracks, so we wanted that track to stand out, so we intentionally made everything one word. Also, the phrase "Tony, Please" makes it sound even more desperate, in a way.
Newgren: The song almost goes out with a chorus, with a repetitive "Tony, please, Tony, please”. A call for help, whatever, and we couldn’t not have it be called "Tony, Please". Even if we wanted it to be a one-word title, we couldn’t have come up with anything. If we named it "Tony", that would have been weird. We feel it would have changed the meaning. We definitely wanted to have that contrast of having it be two words.