Knocked Out by a Bully

Bully burst onto the scene armed with founder and frontperson Alicia Bognanno’s uniquely emotive voice and incisive and direct lyrical excursions, which bring to mind Juliana Hatfield crossed with L7. It’s also probably no coincidence that, sonically, Bu

Bully burst onto the scene armed with founder and frontperson Alicia Bognanno’s uniquely emotive voice and incisive and direct lyrical excursions, which bring to mind Juliana Hatfield crossed with L7. It’s also probably no coincidence that, sonically, Bully comes on like a cross between Hatfield’s first band, Blake Babies, and L7’s more accessible outings.

A native of Minnesota, Bognanno studied audio recording at Middle Tennessee State University, along the way doing an internship at Steve Albini’s famed Chicago studio Electrical Audio, where Bully eventually recorded its recently released full-length debut, Feels Like. Bognanno eventually landed in Nashville, Tenn., where she formed Bully with drummer Stewart Copeland, bassist Reece Lazarus and guitarist Clayton Parker.

CityBeat recently touched base with Bognanno, who was speaking via a fuzzy cell phone connection during a tour stop in North Carolina, to discuss everything from her love of minimalist Rock & Roll to her resistance to the idea of being “produced.”

CityBeat: You recorded Feels Like in Chicago. You also reference Chicago in your lyrics more than once. How did Chicago influence your sound and the record in general?

Alicia Bognanno: Yes, it’s where we tracked it, and a lot of bands I really love came out of Chicago, or at least lived there, like Silkworm. And I interned at Electrical Audio, which was like my favorite thing ever, and I think that influenced it. While I was there I started researching the music scene of Chicago and what it had been. Yeah, I would say it definitely influenced it. I love Chicago.

CB: I saw you guys live for the first time in Chicago at the Pitchfork Festival a couple months back, and it was striking that the Feels Like songs were much heavier live than they are on the record…

AB: That just happened naturally. I’ve heard that from certain people, which is great to me, because I think some of the songs on the record are a little too poppy.

CB: I didn’t know until recently that you guys played Bonnaroo last year before you had even released a full-length album. How did that experience impact the band?

AB: Yeah, we played first on one of the days. It’s really cool, as a young band, to be able to play things like Bonnaroo, because you get to see the bands that have been playing for a lot longer and are a lot more experienced play on these huge stages at night. Being able to see them behind the scenes, and then know that’s a little bit of a possibility that we could get to that point is really motivating. It just makes you want to go home and play your guitar all the time and get better and get to that point where you can be that kind of band live.

CB: As you know, a lot of people have mentioned that you guys sound like a band that was influenced by early ’90s Guitar Rock, which makes sense. There is a timeless quality about Feels Like. It seems like it could have been made at any point over the last 25 years. Why, at this late date in Rock history, were you interested in employing a fairly direct, straight-ahead guitar, bass and drums approach?

AB: A lot of bands that I really respect and love came out of that time, but also I think being in the studio and just seeing the endless opportunities and the amount of electronic stuff you can do — and little things you can throw in here and there and a bunch of different ways you can try this song — just really turned me off to that and made me want to approach music in a much more minimalist way. And it’s not even that. I would just say that a basic, simple, straightforward structure seemed a little bit more attractive to me when I first started Bully.

I would say this about (three-piece bands) — there is nothing better than seeing that, because nobody can hide behind anything. Everyone has to be a really good player because that’s all there is. So, yeah, it just kind of seemed a little bit more attractive to me. And, as I said, a lot of the bands that I really like were just standard Rock bands: two guitars, bass and drums.

CB: The album’s sleeve mentions that you “engineered” Feels Like. Why did you feel it necessary to make that distinction?

AB: Actually on the record it says, “engineered and produced by,” which next time I won’t (have the “produced”), I’ll just have the “engineered by.” I picked up a copy like a month ago and I realized it said “produced by,” which seems silly to me, because if you’re writing the stuff and recording it, that’s just me doing my job as a musician. It sounds funny that it would be produced by me. It’s like, “Duh, I wrote it.” I’m not like, “Hey, Alicia, you should add reverb here and here.”

I do think producers can be really awesome and really beneficial to bands, but I don’t think we’re at that point where I would ever want an outside person coming in. It’s such a personal thing and such a personal process that I can’t imagine anybody coming in and being like, “You should do this here and add this here and add another chorus.” That sounds just so terrible to me. I’m sure producers do wonders for other bands, but I’m just not ready. I want to give our band a chance first.


BULLY plays Friday at MOTR Pub as part of the 2015

MidPoint Music Festival.