[Interview] Bully's Alicia Bognanno Talks Their New Album and Social Activism

Nashville punk rockers Bully embody exactly what makes a punk rock band great in 2017. With lead vocalist and guitarist Alicia Bognanno's background in sound engineering, working at Electric Audio in Chicago with the legendary rock producer Steve Albini, she self-produces Bully's music. Seeing as how, after four years together, and only two records they've been signed to Columbia Records and now legendary Seattle label Sub Pop, this is an impressive feat. Their music is loud, energetic, and emotional, and the band's activities in the political world are worth noting as well. They've contributed to the anti-Donald Trump song series Our First 100 Days, and have spoken out against Sea World. What's particularly exciting, though, is seeing how quickly their confident and furious take on punk rock is rising in popularity.

Bully's killer new record Losing was released this past October on Sub Pop. Prior to Bully's set at Terminal West in Atlanta, I talked with Bognanno to discuss a variety of subjects, including the process behind the making of Losing, her experience working at Electric Audio, and how newer bands can stay politically active in the current times.

BM: As the primary producer of your two records, and with your background in audio engineering, are there any ways you feel like you’ve changed or improved recording-wise during the making of Losing?

AB: Yes, absolutely. Every time I finish recording something for Bully there are things I want to change and I carry those over to the next session. I knew going into the second record that I wanted to do more vocal harmonies and backups and not limit myself to only vocals that we'd be able to replicate live. I also knew that I wanted the drums to sound less roomy than they did on the first record.

Many of the personal and introspective lyrical themes from Feels Like have carried over to Losing, in a more seemingly refined way. What are some of the inspirations you drew from when writing this new record?

I listened to a lot of podcasts and watched a lot of documentaries. I was listening to a lot of History Revisionist, Throwing Shade, Two Dope Queens, This American Life, 99 percent invisible, etc.

Your band is based out of Nashville, and a lot of people wouldn’t think of Nashville as much more than the haven of country music, though there’s a strong scene of bands in the vein of DIY punk and garage rock blooming there in recent years. What is the Nashville scene like in your eyes? Do you feel it’s easier for up-and-coming acts to gain exposure in Nashville compared to other cities?

Ever since I've been in Nashville there has been a solid and consistent rock scene going on, so I haven't really known it any other way. It's hard to say if it's easier for up and coming acts. I would say probably not, and that it actually might be a little more difficult since everyone is playing in a band and trying to work towards similar goals.

You’re playing at Terminal West on Wednesday. Coming from Nashville, what’s the experience like playing in southern US cities compared to other places around the world?

They're usually smaller markets compared to New York, Chicago, and Minneapolis, but the shows are equally as fun. Most of the time we actually prefer a smaller more intimate venue.

You guys have been vocal about numerous issues since your inception, both socially and politically. Times are pretty crazy right now, and it can be overwhelming for bands that want to have some sort of impact on the landscape of, not just music but also their community or environment. What are some ways you think musicians can get their voices heard in this current age of conflict and misinformation?

It seems to me like social media plays a big role in that sort of platform. I would just say speak out whenever it feels necessary and just try and do what you can to stay active. 

I’d be kicking myself if I didn’t ask you about your time working with Steve Albini at Electric Audio in Chicago. What are some of the best experiences or advice you’ve carried away from the time you’ve spent there?

I got a lot of questions I had about the tape machines and microphone placement answered at that internship. I left with a notebook full of tips, notes and pictures of sessions that I still refer back to this day.

Losing is available now via Sub Pop Records. Bully will be touring the US throughout January and February, with tickets/dates available here.

Photos by Elyssa Velez for Bullet Music

Taylor Maddox

Taylor is a 23 year old writer for Bullet Music, living in Griffin, Georgia. A graduate of Pike County High School, he's a huge music dork with an interest in the underground sounds of the past, while also on the hunt for the next up-and-coming artists of the future.