Alicia Bognanno occasionally wonders if people will think she's a mess, but takes comfort in knowing everyone goes through their own shit. The singer/guitarist/producer puts herself out there with raw lyrics and garage-rock sounds. Also, she's got balls. For Bully's debut album, Feels Like (out June 23), the four-piece recorded live at Steve Albini's Electrical Audio in Chicago, doing as few takes as possible. That's Bognanno, drummer Stewart Copeland, guitarist Clayton Parker, and Reece Lazarus on bass. Once performances were captured, songs were mixed on the spot to retain the urgency of the music. The rawer, the better for Bully. What jumps out is Bognanno's graveled scream. She's sultry and puckish at lower levels, but when she hits a scream, it's pure punk voltage. (You'll hear some Pixies-type tones.)
Bognanno is in her element when she's performing live. Bully's shows have been building speed over the last year. In their hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, they were even named top local band in Nashville Scene's 2014 best-of issue.
Bognanno spoke from Chicago. She was outside, strolling through Lincoln Park. A large Forever 21 store was near.
Will you be shopping at the Forever 21?
I will not be shopping at the Forever 21, no. I might stop in to see if they have any tank tops. I don't really have any summer clothes for this tour.
I used the word "puckish" in describing your vocals and wanted to get your feedback. It means: mischievous, naughty, rascally, impish, cheeky, playful, and wicked. Also elfin.
Cool. I love it. I approve. Good word [laughs]. I appreciate your research.
How do you mine for words when you write?
Usually, I'll write two songs at a time. I'll be messing around with the guitar. A couple words will come naturally, depending on what I'm playing, and then I'll go from there. There were times with this record where I was trying to find what to say, or unhappy with the things I had written. And I would step back and ask myself, "What am I really trying to say?" Initially, I might overcomplicate things. I'll try to make it too witty or something and realize it's not working, I need to just go simple.
What's a song where you decided to go simple?
I'd say "I Remember." I don't think people will have to think too deeply into that one to understand what the song's about. The lyrics are pretty clear.
In that song, you're talking about puking in a car. Is that a beer-beverage story?
Possibly [laughs]. It was a rough night, a long time ago.
Alicia, did you funnel 11 beers in someone's car and vomit? And write a song about it?
No. Okay. Yes! At a frat party! Getting fratty. That's what that whole song's about. Just kidding.
You could always just say it's a societal metaphor for overconsumption and how the Earth Mother is eventually going to vomit everything back up.
True. I'll keep that in mind next time someone's getting a little too personal with questions. I like how you work Earth Mother into that.
In "Trying" there are lyrics about missing your period. I think most guys don't ever fully understand what women deal with there. How often do people ask you about those lyrics?
All the time. People say, "Your lyrics are very honest." Yeah, I don't know what goes on in a guy's mind when it comes to women getting their periods. Being late happens all the time too. Rarely does it happen in the cycle on the same exact day. I'd say most people have had to deal with the stresses that come with being late once or twice.
In "Milkman" you say you could be a milkman. What do you mean by that? Being a milkman is a rare profession these days.
In general, that song is about choosing your career path. I think there are times when you want to do one thing but end up doing something else. Milkman was a job that popped into my head for that song. I like the idea of being a milkman [laughs]. Delivering milk to people on their porch. You say hi to them and visit for a minute. It seems slightly romantic too.
Bully just toured in the UK. What was your favorite spot?
I personally liked Glasgow the best. It was so pretty. The show there went really well. I was so surprised how cold it was this time of year. It was our first time having a tour manager, because we couldn't drive over there. Even the shows in small towns where there were only 20 people were good. It was like, "Wow, I can't believe people in this really tiny town know about Bully."
You interned at Steve Albini's studio before Bully recorded there. What was something you learned? And how did you apply that knowledge to your own recordings?
There was a story someone told about the studio when it first got going—that even on the days when no sessions were booked, they would work on something anyway. They would never be idle. The people who work there are very loyal in that sense, in regard to their work ethic. It's hard to find these days. I think about that ethic all the time and strive to have it and want to work hard at something I love. Why wouldn't you want to record at a place like that?
On the technical side, I learned a lot watching bands come in and out and do what they need to do in a short amount of time. Bands would come in and commit to what they were doing and not get caught up in doing a bunch of different takes and having a bunch of different options. I learned from seeing people who knew what they wanted. They'd come in, get it done, then take their tapes to get mastered. I think that's cool, seeing as how we're in such a digital time now.
Please finish this sentence: I enjoyed going to the Sizzler all-you-can-eat buffet with Courtney Love, but...
But I didn't like it when they put onions and tomatoes on my veggie burger. I was hoping you'd ask me something about Courtney Love.
I was hoping you'd have her eat key lime pie and then light the dessert bar on fire.
Well, if I had longer to think about it, I could have come up with that.