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Interview: Bully

Bully interview
30 June 2020

2020 has been a roller coaster of a year with most of the ride being drops and falls, and while all of that is front and center for Bully’s Alicia Bognanno, on the band’s latest release, SUGAREGG, there’s a new sense of optimism.

The band’s third album finds new clarity for Bognanno as she helped center herself in her personal life while also writing songs with a new sound that has evolved from their first two releases.

On songs like “Prism”, Bognanno sings “there is nothing I can do but relax and move on/Unsettled deep breaths trying to reel in the calm” over a more melodic Bully sound. A similar theme can be found on “Hours and Hours” and the song ends with a repetitious “But I’m angry anymore/I’m not holding on to that.”

Overall the album sounds like the band is having more fun while still bringing plenty of crowd pleasing thrashing songs. So, good need news for longtime Bully fans who will feel right at home on tracks like “Let You” with a catchy singalong chorus of “but why would I have called you if I didn’t want to/Stumbled through your door because you know I want to/Argued you to bed I couldn’t help I had to/Question what you said I wanna understand you.”

Like many, Bognanno has been staying home, waiting for the chance to tour again and play the newest songs Bully has to offer. She spoke to me from her backyard in Nashville.

On SUGAREGG there definitely feels like more optimism on this album compared to the first two. It’s a little more melodic sounding and I think there’s more hope in there.

Yeah, definitely. I definitely felt a lot better writing this record than I did the last two, and I feel like with writing it mostly with myself along with Wes (Mitchell) and then meeting up with Zach (Daws) a few days before we played on the record, I just had a lot more space to be creative and give the songs time before I fully committed. And doing all the demos with Pro Tools at my house was really helpful as well, but yeah, I would say all of those things kind of turned out to add a little more optimism on the record and there had been previously.

Were there any personal experiences in life that helped lead that way too, or it’s just the approach you’ve been taking to songwriting?

Yeah, it got medicated. I have type II Bipolar disorder and for the past five years I was kind of trying out different medications and stuff, and this was the first record I wrote fully treated. That totally consumed everything that I did, and especially at its peak, which is pretty crippling and being able to straighten that out really helped me regain a lot of confidence back in myself that I had lost previously just from never being able to tell when I was being rational or irrational and not understanding what was going on in my body. So, figuring that out was life changing to say the least.

Do you think your writing approach changed a little bit with this album too after writing some music for the movie “Her Smell” as far as going from writing about mostly personal experiences to writing for a fictional character?

Yeah, I don’t know. I think for me, that was just a good break to start writing again. Being able to write not for myself for once, and play around with trying to get into character and writing according to the scene and the script, it was just a really good writing exercise and it was so nice to have a project outside of Bully that also just involved writing because that’s my favorite thing in the world. And so it was really nice to just change it up a little bit before I dove more into writing for the third record and be able to do that. It was great.

I have to ask. The first two albums, Feels Like and Losing, and then this one is SUGAREGG, all caps. Where does that come from?

I know, it’s funny. It was like, oh, this makes sense. And then the third one, I was like, alright, fuck this.
I knew I wanted to name the record SUGAREGG before I hadn’t even written it. There was just this podcast on NPR about this guy talking about how he was gifted a sugar egg at a birthday party when he was a kid, and it meant so much to him in the moment. He had moved around a lot as a child, and it was kind of proof to him that he did have friends at one time but was never at a place long enough where he was able to even get invited to a birthday party, and he kept it for – I don’t know how long. I want to say it was like 50 years, maybe. Maybe longer. And he was just talking about it on the podcast. And I thought it was just the sweetest thing. And I loved it, and I loved the idea of just keeping something that’s so fragile. I feel like I had to take a lot of effort and energy for him to transfer that throughout his life and to keep it all intact and I just thought it was really sweet and I liked the sound of it. Yeah, so it was pretty much because of that. I loved hearing about it.

Obviously, a whole lot is happening in the world. The coronavirus has had a huge impact on the music industry. How has this impacted this album release so far?

Oh, so much. It was like reworking the business model completely. I know it’s cringy to use the word business model when you’re talking about a band, but it is what I do for a career, so it is a business, and I do it full-time. Going from live shows, playing live is how I make a living, and that’s also how word spreads the quickest and it’s the most effective. And so taking that away, I’ve had to pretty much learn to just use social media non-stop, and I have a lot of help from management. They’ll just get my wording and then post everything with it. They have a schedule and stuff, but it’s pretty much all that musicians have right now to promote their stuff, especially ‘cause a lot of press outlets need to spend their attention on more important issues that are going on right now, so those aren’t all there either.

I never thought that I would play solo and be doing solo live streams. We just announced that I’m gonna be doing a live stream of SUGAREGG on the 30th. We’re just kind of figuring out how to manipulate that record into something where I can play by myself. It’s a huge project. Especially with songs like Where to Start and Let You where I wrote on bass and it’s primarily the bassline. Now it’s me sitting down and figuring what I can do with my guitar pedals to fill to have that same excitement. It’s just a whole new world that I never really thought that I would have to deal with which I really do like now. I had so much hesitation going into it, but then when I saw how receptive everybody was and appreciative of the live streams that made me really excited.

It’s cool. I mean, I’m learning to do a bunch of things that I didn’t do before, so it’s really just growth, which is, I guess a little bit of light in a dark situation.

For sure. Bully is such a high energy band, especially with the crowd interaction. How has that translated to things like Instagram Live?

It’s just so awkward because you can’t talk to anybody or anything, you’re just kind of sitting there and you’re like, I have to remember that there’s people listening. I’ll just mumble in between or make banter with myself and it’s super weird. I don’t really read the comments coming in because I’m trying to play and not pay attention to that, but I will glance at them and see them.

I just feel like Bully really does have the best fans. It’s just such a good group of people that I think if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t really have that comfort, that additional comfort that I need to kind of make that happen. So that plays a huge role in it.

You also recently released a 7” with a Nirvana and Orville Peck cover. Was that planned prior to COVID-19 or was that in response?

That was such a last minute thing. I decided to do that and I learned how to interpret the covers and track it within two weeks. It was wild, but yeah, that was in the thick of quarantine, so I couldn’t even see Wes who usually plays drums. So that was the first Bully thing that I’ve played drums on. That was the first Bully thing that I really did every instrument on, which was wild and also so cool. Originally the situation that was brought to my attention was like, oh, I was covering Nirvana, that’s so cliche. And then doing it, I was like, I’m so glad I did that because I just sat down and played drums, which is not something I do. In the end, I just got better at playing everything, and it just builds your self-confidence because you’re like, oh, I can do that. I’m capable of so much more than I think. And so, yeah, that was totally unplanned, and then they sold out in like two days. It was fucking awesome. And it just goes to show that sometimes you have to silence that inside voice because it’s not always right.

You’ve already highlighted some things like learning new skills and obviously the pandemic has been really hard on the music industry, but do you think there’s any silver lining people will take away from this once things get a little more back to normal?

I think people have just maybe really come to realize how much they appreciate other people’s company. I’m not a social person. In the past year, I really didn’t go out and I have a lot of social anxiety too, and just going out in public could stress me out. But the little interactions like having a friend stop by, especially during those weeks when no one was really seeing each other, a couple of times my friend would come over and we would just sit six feet away on the porch, and it just made me realize, Jesus, I need people in some sort of social interaction, and I just value that so much more than I did before going into quarantine.

And really the shows. It was kind of eye-opening because being able to play is such a good outlet for any negative energy and without having that you have to figure out how to channel that and let it out in different ways. I just realized how much I loved playing and how much that did for my well-being and I’ll definitely never take advantage of that in the future. I think I did a pretty good job of not taking advantage of it when we toured already because every day I’m like, God, I can’t believe I’m doing what I’m feeling, I’m so fortunate. But yeah, going forward, that’ll be in my mind all the time.

Obviously, I also wanna ask about the Black Lives Matter movement. What do you think is the role of musicians right now?

I think to just keep providing resources and just make everything easily accessible to people who don’t readily have that information as far as numbers you can call. I didn’t go out to the protest because I didn’t want to be around a bunch of people, but I donated in a bunch of other ways, and there’s different outlets you can do to be active if you don’t wanna do that. But I also think that it’s so awesome people went out and did that because I feel like serious changes happened because of that. It’s been an issue forever and it’s going to be an ongoing issue, so hopefully people can just keep up that awareness and activism and if there’s anything artists can do to help keep that up as well, I think that’s a really great thing.

We just passed the five year anniversary of your first album. Where do you think Bully will be five years from now?

Hopefully in the same spot, but a bus instead of a tour van so I can bring my dog. The goal is just to keep being able to do this for a living and to have growth in the venues and to be growing as an artist, kind of experimenting, so that I can do that. But yeah, just to keep going and to keep playing bigger rooms and growing in every way.