Discovery: Bully

Published April 29, 2015

ALICIA BOGNANNO OF BULLY. PHOTO COURTESY OF DANIEL TOPETE.

Bully, a Nashville four-piece led by frontwoman Alicia Bognanno, released their self-titled debut EP in October 2014, which, for a while, went unnoticed. But after their music quickly spread by word of mouth throughout Nashville, the band picked up opening slots for Best Coast, and Cloud Nothings, among others. They continued to earn the approval of famous fans, including the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney and Ryan Adams, who recently tweeted that “Bully are the best band in the world at this very moment.”

Fast-forward a few months and Bully is no longer a secret. They performed impressive SXSW showcases that were coupled with the announcement of their debut album, Feels Like (out June 23 via Startime/Columbia). The quartet’s music is a modern take on classic punk rock in the same vein as Superchunk (whom they’ve opened for), The Breeders, and Sleater-Kinney. It’s melodic and hooky, yet full of fuzzy guitars and distortion.

“I like the word grunge more than ‘indie rock,'” Bognanno says when describing the band’s sound. Back to back singles “I Remember” and “Trying” push Bully in a different, more personal direction, the former being a short, no-frills ode to the good and bad of past relationships, highlighting everything from getting too fucked up to the smell of an ex’s sheets.

We caught up with Bognanno prior to Bully’s headlining show at Baby’s All Right tonight, Wednesday, April 29.

NAMES: Alicia Bognanno, Stweard Copeland, Clayton Parker, and Reece Lazarus

BASED: Nashville, Tennessee

MUSIC EVERYWHERE: A lot of why Nashville is so great is that you’re in a place where everyone is doing the same thing, making it easier to go on the road when you need to go on the road, to find a band, or to track some cheap demos. Usually, when I’m home, I don’t ever want to go to shows because I’m always playing them. [laughs] But I do still run down to a venue called the Stone Fox, since I live across the street from there. The other night when I was home, I went to the Stone Fox and there was this awesome band playing. It’s inspiring because you can walk next door to get a drink and there’s great music. Sometimes it’s the opposite, because you’ll get this certain write up that you think is special, but all of your friends have the same one.

PAST EXPERIENCES: With travel, it’s really cool to hear what Stewart and Clayton [drummer and guitarist respecitvely, formerly of Pujol] didn’t like or what fucked them before to make sure we don’t do it again. They still remember cool areas of certain cities that they want to stay in, or where the cool comic book shop or coffee shop is. Sometimes, they have friends in cities from when they played there before that we can stay with when we’re in town. Even with festivals and shows, they can look at offers and be like, “This is great,” or “Maybe not worth the eight-hour drive.” [With the new album,] we’ll be touring more and finally going overseas. I’ve only been [out of the country] one time before, because I have cousins in Sicily. I’ve never been anywhere else, so that’ll be an experience!

KEEPING BUSY: For this tour, I’ve been doing a pretty good job of finding things to do. Last tour, we stopped and got Coup, this game that Stewart got, and it was a deck of cards we could all play in the car. We love podcasts and we’ll trade comic books. We all listen to “Serial,” so we can all talk about it for hours. I’ve been reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. This tour, I got yarn and got someone to show me how to crochet the day before we left. I’ve been crocheting a blanket that’s really uneven and doesn’t look good, but it’s to keep myself busy. For the ride home from New York, I’m going to get the audiobook for the new Kim Gordon book and listen to that while I crochet.

TELLING IT LIKE IT IS: Being more confident as a person has led to my lyrics becoming more honest and personal over time. It’s finally getting the nerve to say what I actually think instead of hiding behind my feelings in lyrics. For the first couple of shows, one of the songs was kind of awkward for me and I’d butcher or mumble the words on stage. Then I got to the point where I didn’t care anymore, but it’s not like anything I put out is too specific, though. People can get an idea of what the songs are about, but they don’t know the exact situation or when it happened.

Most of the songs are easy if everything’s going well, but since some of them are pretty intimate and if, for some reason, something had gone wrong or no one in the room is into Bully, it’s harder to muster up the confidence to sing these words. Some of the new songs are a lot heavier and honest. I wrote the more honest stuff because it’s some sort of weird therapy for me. I wouldn’t put stuff out there that I didn’t want out there just because I thought it made a good song. I feel like I’m in control of it all.

GENDER LABELS: I think about [gender] all the time. I’m not sure what or how it influences me, but I think about it because it’s brought up to me all the time. When we’re recording or with the band, I don’t think about it like. “I’m a girl with a bunch of guys”, but more like, “I’m with my friends.” If it weren’t brought up to me, I wouldn’t think about it because it doesn’t matter to me. It sucks because when people book bills, if you’re a female singer, they’ll just throw in another female fronted act just because it’s another woman, not because it fits with your music.

I get tired of being referred to as a “female punk group.” Why does it have to be “Five Best Female Fronted Bands of 2014” when we could just do “Five Best Bands of 2014?” Sometimes people would say, “this record sounds good for a female engineer,” but I’d just appreciate someone saying that the record sounds good with this engineer.

TOP FIVE SONGS: There’s no way I could do this if I had to put them in order, so I’m going to list a lot that I’ve been listening to and hopefully it’ll add up to five—the electric guitar version of “Crackle and Drag” by Paul Westerburg, “Divine Hammer” by the Breeders, “The Sign” by Ace of Base, “Wet Firecracker” by Silkworm, and “Left of the Dial” by the Replacements.

BULLY’S SELF-TITLED DEBUT EP IS OUT NOW. TO PURCHASE TICKETS FOR BULLY’S SHOW TONIGHT AT BABY’S ALL RIGHT, CLICK HERE