Bully rank top of the class
In an era where creative degrees are often perceived to be an increasingly expensive three-year exercise in procrastination, Bully’s Alicia Bognanno is a beacon of hope for those who are enrolling in these perennial ‘tut’ inducers.
Despite always being musical by instinct, Bognanno rarely picked up a guitar until college and, after completing a degree in audio engineering, thoroughly impressed Steve Albini as an intern at his Electrical Audio studio in Chicago. When I reach out to Bognanno, Bully have just returned from a well-received UK tour, which saw them make a big splash at Brighton’s annual music industry love-in The Great Escape. Oh, and she also wrote, produced and engineered Bully’s debut album, the screeching, snarling Feels Like, and it’s fucking great.
Bognanno is relatively humble about such an achievement. Although she admits it was something of a matter of convenience, she notes that, “it’s nice to know that I don’t really have to rely on anyone else to do the work for me. Audio engineering is something I’m very interested in and want to get better at, so right now I have no reason not to do it.”
It’s perhaps this understated DIY ethic, coupled with a ferocious sound that earns Bully frequent comparisons to the alt-rock of the late 1980s and early 90s (ad nauseam). Bognanno’s voice ranges from faintly-croaky singing to cathartic howls and screams, and her lyrics are often both deeply personal (“And I remember the way your sheets smelled,” she yells on the album’s opening track) and widely relatable. Musically, the band’s sound is appropriately direct, with no room or necessity for any studio or instrumental embellishments or tomfoolery. “I’m always a little bummed when I fall in love with a record and then go and see the live show and it isn’t the same,” Bognanno explains. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing for a record and live show to sound different, it’s just a personal preference of mine for them to sound similar.”
And it sounds very similar: nothing of the record’s intensity is lost in the live show, and vice versa. It’s emotional issues outside of performing which seem to trigger the risk of vocal strain for Alicia, not, seemingly, the continued and prolonged act of screaming: “It usually only gets worn down when I’m stressed out or have a bunch of other things to do whilst touring,” she admits. “I try to warm up before every show, but don’t always get the opportunity to.”
Hailing from Nashville, long thought of as the hub for commercial and conservative country music worldwide, the band are something of anomaly, although Bognanno insists that the Tennessee capital has a diverse, supportive music scene. Bully’s grunge-pop could be filed alongside Speedy Ortiz, Cloud Nothings or White Lung – contemporary, fuzz-loving bands who probably roll their eyes at all the 90s comparisons.
Although they may draw comparisons to their 90s predecessors, the journalistic preoccupation with that era probably exaggerates the resemblance. Bully are a very real reminder of the benefits of writing lyrics that are straight from the heart, and their album is testament to the merits of taking matters into your own hands. And if in doing this, your band ends up sounding a bit like Hole sometimes, then so be it.
Feels Like is out now via StarTime International / Columbia