We are very excited to share Soft and Dumb as our latest band to watch! The Chicago based duo composed of Elena Buenrostro and Travis Newgren has been hard at work over the last twelve months playing close to 40 shows, from local diy basement shows to supporting acts like Squirrel Flower, Waveform, and Raavi.
The duo recently released their first single "never wanna" from their upcoming full-length album, and released an accompanying music video today! (Video down below) We had the opportunity to chat with Elena and Travis about their latest song, the band's future, and the soundtrack for the upcoming Minions movie. Check it out!
1. What have you been listening to lately?
Travis: New Horse Jumper of Love singles, 4 REAL by 454, Dark Matters by Maneka, PITH by Melkbelly, Together by Duster
2. If we were to start a band together would we be called Born Soft, or Dumb Loser?
Elena: Both are honestly good band names, but I think I like Born Soft the best!
Dumb Loser. That’s good
3. Favorite album of the year so far?
CAPRISONGS by FKA Twigs is so good.
Agadez by Etran de L’AÏr
4. Any cool places I should check out next time I’m in Chicago?
The beaches up in Roger’s Park, Chris’ Billiards on the northwest side, grant skate park, Village Discount Outlet at Kedzie and Irving
5. Have you listened to the soundtrack for the new Minions movie?? Why is it so good??
I saw the tracklist for it and it sounds so good. Diana Ross? Caroline Polachek? Phoebe Bridgers? Brockhampton??? Such a good collection of artists.
6. What is the last illegal thing you did? (I promise I’m not a cop.)
I think I accidentally stole a can of soup from Walmart…I do not feel bad.
7. What band has influenced you the least?
Charles Manson’s solo work.
8. Make me cry.
One time I was really excited to get a slice of pizza from my favorite pizza place, and immediately after I got it, I slipped on ice and dropped my pizza on the ground in a very public way. I was too ashamed to get another slice.
Isaac? More like IS A ACorn.
9. How many times has your guitar cable fallen out during a set?
Luckily, zero! My Dad, a bassist, was always on me about putting the quarter-inch through my guitar strap so it doesn’t fall out. My pedalboard has given out on me during a set, though.
10. Any up and coming Chicago bands that we should check out?
If you get a chance to check out Brinstarr live, you should go. Domino, Blake Parker, Friko, CRASHprez, Post Office Winter, Melkbelly (apparently they’ve been around for a while but I just discovered them and am a big fan), Horsegirl, Furbie
Isaac Gutierrez for BL Mag: To start things off, can you introduce yourself?
Elena: My name is Elena Buenrostro and I’m from Forest Park, Illinois and I play guitar for Soft and Dumb.
Travis: My name is Travis Newgren and I’m from Chicago, Illinois. I first heard about Sonic Youth in 2019. I play drums for Soft and Dumb.
Give us some of your musical background
My Dad was a bassist, so there was always music around me growing up. For some reason, I was super resistant towards my Dad teaching me, so I taught myself guitar and ukulele when I was 12. I guess I did get formal music training for flute playing in middle school, but that was middle school band. But music was mostly a secret practice of mine that I did solely in the confines of my bedroom.
I grew up clunking away at old pianos in my friends’ houses. Eventually took lessons for a couple years but I’ve always perferred learning by ear. I got an acoustic guitar for Christmas one year, but it hurt my fingers a lot so I vowed to not do that. In college I got into guitar and my roommate had a drunk kit in the basement so I was like “what if drums?”
How did Soft and Dumb meet/form?
We met in college in Urbana. Travis was in the same circle of friends that I was in during college, and we ended up dating.
I thought Lanie was cute and I had a crush on her. I eventually worked up enough courage to ask her out on a date. I knew she could play guitar, but it took a lot of motivation to get her to play in front of me. Over time, she got more comfortable playing around me and, in December of 2019, we agreed to start writing music together. We played our first show a week before the initial covid lockdown in March of 2020. We didn’t play our second show until like 15 months later. That gave us a lot of time to think about what we wanted to be as a band.
Were you involved in any other musical projects before forming the band?
I was not! I was deeply scared of performing in front of people and had never even casually played music with other people. Travis was super encouraging and helped me get over that fear and I really enjoy making music collaboratively now.
I was in a band that had many names that I called “Lesser”. I lived in a house that threw shows and we would sometimes open up for the other bands in the Urbana diy scene. It wasn’t the most cohesive project in the world, but it was a start. It really helped me realize that anyone can be in a band—helped me quickly get over a fear of performing. People just want something to do on a Friday night.
When did you first start to record/release music? And what motivated you to start?
We started recording and releasing music during the pandemic. We released our first ever single in
2020. It was all for this project that it was really my first time recording and releasing music. It felt like I just really wanted to express myself. You gotta start somewhere. Bands like Horse Jumper of Love, Palm, and Spirit of the Beehive were super influential to me in understanding how meaningful music could be.
I think from what I read that you’re still in college, right? What is it like balancing both music and school?
I just graduated actually! I studied Studio Art in college, so balancing music and school was a bit of a challenge creatively. Art school forces you to always come up with new creative ideas, which is good, but can sometimes be a bit draining. To better deal with that, I tend to reuse the same ideas in my visual art for Soft and Dumb, which is cool to see how the same concept can manifest so differently musically.
I graduated a couple years ago and decided to stay in Urbana and wait for Elena to finish up her BFA. She just graduated, but it was pretty difficult for her to balance all that. I think being busy is a good thing.
How would you describe the Chicago music scene?
Eclectic. Chicago is a big city.
You’re releasing a new single called “never wanna” soon (Out now)! Can you give us some background on that song?
Yes! I wrote this song when I was extremely anxious and frustrated with a person in my life, but I was too afraid to say anything to them. One of the physical symptoms of my anxiety is nausea, so I talk about bile and throwing up in the verses of the song. The song itself is sort of like throwing up in a way. It’s about holding your tongue until you can’t anymore and just explode with emotion.
Did the song turn out like what you had envisioned in your mind beforehand?
Yes! Being a two-piece, you can’t really get that big full sound that even a three-piece band has, so being able to record a bass track and layer 6 guitar tracks for this song was super satisfying. You really get that big sludgy sound in the chorus that I always imagined it to have.
No. It turned out way better! I’m really glad we tracked so many guitar overdubs.
Do you have a specific approach when it comes to creating a song, or do you just kind of feel it out as you go along?
For this song, I wrote the guitar and vocals and recorded a demo with Travis that just got lost to time. I still held onto it for a while because I really liked it, and eventually, I brought it down to the basement where we practiced and we wrote the whole song. The original didn’t have the speed-up part at the end, but since we were playing so many live shows, we were super focused on getting the crowd moving.
I just do what I’m feeling. I’ve had a whole life to prepare for this moment.
What is the most important thing to you when it comes to writing a song?
I think we would both say very different things, which is good so we can cover both bases. For me, the vocal melody, lyrics, and the general mood of a song are the most important to me.
Most memorable show experience?
Playing Sleeping Village with CRASHprez The Slaps was so fun. It was one of our favorite shows and honestly one of the most validating experiences we had as a band. I also accidentally spilled CRASHprez’s salmon, but that was memorable in a different way.
Can we expect a tour anytime soon??
Yes! It’s time. We wanna do midwest/east coast this September. We definitely want to try to play SXSW next spring too.
Favorite musical accomplishment thus far?
We haven’t played it yet, but we’re opening for Cola and Friko in July.
Getting booked to open for Cola
Ideally, what would you want Soft and Dumb to be known for?
I think I’d like us to be known for encouraging people to perform and express themselves and blurring the line between audience and performer.
What can we expect to see for Soft and Dumb in the near future?
We have two more singles to release after “never wanna” along with a full-length album.
We’re trying to do a music video for each of the three singles leading up to our album. It’s a lot of work, but really fun. Album comes out Friday, September 2nd and we’re making vinyl, cassettes, and more. I think we want to keep developing our sound. Don’t expect to see a bassist anytime soon. I think it would be cool to do a fully electronic EP.
Is there anything that you want our readers to know? It doesn’t have to be about music. Literally anything.
I saw a video of Fiona Apple watching slugs have sex and I just think everyone should know about it now. Slugs mate very beautifully.
Travis is not a piggy. Nobody knows. Just felt the need to clear the air on that one.
To wrap things up, do you have any questions for me?
Do you agree that most foods taste better cold? Explain your reasoning.
I'd have to disagree. I honestly don't even have a valid argument. I grew up in a Mexican-American household and for some reason all of our food was