Deanna Belos is the punk rock version of Benjamin Button.
Traditionally, when an artist enters their “acoustic period” it signifies one thing above all else—they’re getting old. This is particularly true in the punk rock world, where a number of musicians who spent their youth screaming onstage in front of swirling circle pits transition into playing folkish tunes that may follow the spirit of their earlier work, but lack the aggression and volume.
Belos is following the career progression of many of her musical heroes, she’s just doing it backwards. She started out taking the stage alone with her acoustic guitar playing under the moniker Sincere Engineer, essentially becoming a band before she had a band.
“When I was in high school I would try to jam... I hate that word,” Belos laughs. “But I would try to jam with people and it was just never clicking. So I thought, I'm just gonna do this myself. That was the thing that showed the most success at the time.”
Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, Belos was greatly influenced by the city’s punk scene of the ’90s. She wasn’t a part of this scene during its heyday—she was around 4 years old when her favorite bands were playing the Fireside Bowl most nights—but once she discovered a pathway, she worked her way back in time. “I found Alkaline Trio when I was in seventh grade and The Lawrence Arms quickly thereafter,” Belos explains. “And then I went and found everything I could get my hands on with Brendan [Kelly] and Chris [McCaughan] on it.”
Belos was writing songs and posting them on Instagram in college, which led to an opportunity to play her first show opening for the aforementioned Kelly. From the very beginning, fans connected with Belos over her lyrics, which are not only detailed and personal, but often hilariously self-deprecating. It takes serious skill to write a truly beautiful song about lying drunk on a bathroom floor (“Ceramic Tile”) or a real fist-pumping singalong anthem about the mundane routine of the depressed (“Corn Dog Sonnet No. 7”).
Too often songwriters become convinced their art has to be serious to be taken seriously, but the naturally fun-loving Belos coats her lyrics with her self-effacing sense of humor. “I love acting even stupider than I am just for the jokes,” Belos says. “It’s my favorite thing. I love when people don’t know if I’m joking. I’ve built my personality around this (laughs).”
It wasn’t until Belos got in the studio to record her debut album, “Rhombithian,” that Sincere Engineer went from her personal moniker to an actual band. “My friend Matt [Jordan], he was the one who said, ‘I’ve got some friends, you should make this a full band,’” Belos explains. “He introduced me to them and that was the end of that. Now they’re my best friends too. The first show we played as a band was the release show for that record.”
Once they got that first show behind them, Sincere Engineer was moving at warp speed, as they wasted no time in taking part in the time-honored tradition of getting matching tattoos during their first weekend mini-tour. The tattoo, a rhombus with the words “make sure” inside of it, has all the elements of the perfect tattoo for bandmates. Its shape is an allusion to the album they had just finished recording, while the text comes from an inside joke they all share. “There’s a sign at our practice space that says, ‘Do not leave valuables in car,’” Belos says. “Then at the bottom it says, ‘Make sure.’ We were laughing at how it sounds like our dads wrote it.”
In high school, Belos was living two very different lives—she was both a punk and a nerd. When hanging out with her punk friends she’d play it cool and pretend like she didn’t care about school. It was the punk side of her that wanted to get her first tattoo, but she needed to tap into the nerd side to make it happen. “In order to convince my parents to let me get one, I explained that this Golden Rectangle was a math thing,” Belos says. “I said, ‘If I get into the National Honor Society, will you let me get it? I have a 4.0, just let me get it, I’m a good kid.”
The rest of her tattoo collection is delightfully nerdy as well. There’s a portrait of Norm Macdonald, a virus cell, and her newest addition, a seagull chowing down on a French fry. “I’m obsessed with seagulls,” Belos explains. “Every time we go to San Francisco, I need a couple hours to myself to just take pictures of seagulls at the pier. They’re charming!”
Sincere Engineer recorded a followup to “Rhombithian” that will be coming out on Hopeless Records at some point in 2021. They made the album during the pandemic so each band member went in one at a time to play their parts, eliminating all of the fun parts of the recording process like hanging out, not to mention potentially not being able to tour once it comes out. “The best part of putting out a record is touring on it,” Belos says. “It’s crazy, it feels like a waste of a year. And it feels like it went by so fast and I’m like, ‘Oh God, I want a refund.’”
Belos may have a tough time getting that refund, but the light of the end of the tunnel is in sight. One thing we can count on is that once it’s safe, Sincere Engineer will find a way to persevere, even if the way they do it is a little backwards from what everybody expects.