Music Culture: Soft and Dumb puts community first

Photo by Ryan Kuk

Soft and Dumb is an indie rock group based in Urbana, Illinois. Over the last two years since the band started, lead singer/guitarist Elena Buenrostro and drummer Travis Newgren have helped grow a positive and inclusive local music scene, giving opportunities to many local artists and breaking down barriers of entry. The duo have reinvented my understanding of what a band can be to a community, so I was quite excited to sit down with them and learn more about the music scene through their eyes.

WPGU: What does the local community mean to you?

Buenrostro: The community has been a major drive for us to perform and create, at least for me. Although I do have performance anxiety, performance is my favorite part of being a musician. There’s an exhilarating thrill in having a good show and seeing people enjoying that. So, cultivating an environment where people feel a part of the scene is really important for me as an artist and everyone. After shows I feel like I’m always telling people, “Oh, you play music too? You should perform!”

Newgren: Right, stripping down barriers of entry. I’m focused on working with good people and giving to the community. Removing that line between performer and audience is super important too.

Buenrostro: I want it to feel like the audience member can be on stage too. As performers, we’re not trying to put on some rock star image, we’re just people.

Newgren: And some people look at us and say, “Wow, that’s so cool, you guys are part of the scene,” but the fact that you’re here telling us that we’re a part of the scene means that you are also part of this. As you continue to play, it seems like the stage gets higher and higher. I’m always trying to keep it as low as possible, playing in the corner of a basement singing into the void.

WPGU: You guys have been around the scene for awhile. How has the scene changed over time with the pandemic?

Buenrostro: There was a house show scene before the pandemic, but the music wasn’t the driving factor and people were there just to have a good time..

Newgren: It was pretty DJ heavy. At one point it was more garage rock and at another point it was more funk and fusion. For bands in a college town, a lot of times you get music majors and other people involved in that space making certain types of music. There were other bands that I just never knew the names of. When I first started going to house shows in 2017, I was a Champaigner kid who came to college thinking bars and Greek life were what made up the dominant culture on campus. Going to these shows made me realize that there are people who are focused on something bigger here.

WPGU: House shows have a very lively energy, what can you say about that?

Buenrostro: Yeah, it’s crazy. Performing in itself is already an exhilarating experience, and to do it in front of a bunch of passionate, lively, and energetic people makes it all the better. We usually see familiar faces at our shows, and the other night people were singing to our songs! Being in this town with people caring about music and what we have to say is crazy to me because for the longest time, I could not picture myself performing at all. 

Newgren: There’s something really gratifying about us taking a stripped-down drum kit, a guitar, an amp, and some pedals to produce something that people can connect with. It’s gratifying for me to know that we’re generating that on our own.

WPGU: How do you want the audience to feel when they see you guys perform?

Newgren: We’re very much approaching it from an artistic perspective. I want someone to walk away from a show and go, “honestly, that drumming and guitar playing weren’t anything crazy, I could do that!” Because not only will it make them want to start a band, but I also hope it will make them think about what other elements that great bands may be focusing on that don’t require amazing technical ability. Music is such a cultural thing that doesn’t necessarily have to do with the individual and their specific level of ability. Practicing before a show could help that show go better, but another thing that could make it go better is me and Lanie going to dinner and having an emotional conversation and feeling connected.

Stream Soft & Dumb on Spotify:

About Marco Landaverde

Marco Landaverde is a student studying Psychology at UIUC ('24). With his growing interest in recording arts and the creative process, it is Marco’s goal to offer readers a wide range of creative perspectives.

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