It’s an un-rock and roll 10:30 a.m. in mid-February, and Bully frontwoman Alicia Bognanno’s voice is crackling through the phone from her home in Nashville. “I’m not actually sure where we’re going,“ she laughs, “All I basically know is it’s 10 hours away. Tour starts tomorrow, and we’re doing half the drive today.” She sounds totally badass.
When singing, Bognanno wields her voice with alacrity, flipping effortlessly between blown-out screams and harmonic coos, and her pipes are no less compelling in conversation. Listening to her read a recipe would be riveting, though anecdotes about how she finds electric guitars more freeing than acoustics, that her first CD was by Matchbox 20, because she “didn’t have a cool punk rock dad or older brother,” or how Palehound’s Ellen Kempner is a killer guitar player are obviously more interesting.
She and the band are hitting the road to support Losing, a searing, 12-track barrage that sparkles with kinetic punk guitar and stark storytelling about anxiety, blame, distance, and death. And as with Bully’s debut, 2015’s Feels Like, the narrative is unflinchingly personal. Bognanno is wholly unafraid to tackle feeling useless, the pain of visiting her old stomping grounds, or with lines like, “it takes just one disagreement / for you to remember the one time I fucked up,” the whiplash sting of betrayal. But she doesn’t want to keep doing the same thing.
"I always think our newer stuff is better than our older stuff, probably because I'm less sick of it,” she admits. “But to me [Losing] just feels like it's more of a mature record. The songs are more thought out, it's not as much 2 minute 30 second, two-chord songs that are super-fast, where you kind of fly through them. I was really trying to do a lot more lead stuff on this record."
One thing she doesn’t want to do is brag. But while Bully is a four-piece, the band’s finished products are all Bognanno, as along with writing the songs, she also engineers and mixes them. Since she interned at Steve Albini’s legendary Electrical Audio in Chicago, and has a degree in audio engineering, it’s a natural role. So it’s not surprising that when talking with her, the 27-year-old’s longtime passion for the tactile nature of analog recording—and tape machines in particular—becomes quickly apparent.
“I feel like when I started studying about the tape machines, recording in general just made more sense to me,” she says, “it seemed like a more physical process, and it just clicked better,” adding that “most of the stuff you're doing digitally is replicating and analog machine anyway."
For reasons any human will likely understand, her analog obsession only increased after getting in front of a modern Pro Tools rig at school. "Honestly, it was just really frustrating working at a computer, and working digitally,” she says. “It was frustrating when the answer was to 'try restarting the computer' eight hours into a project you have due in the morning, because the computer's frozen, and you have no idea what's going on.“
So the time spent at Albini’s temple of tape—where he recorded Nirvana’s In Utero—obviously made a profound impact. "Some of the biggest stuff I got was from just being there in general, getting to sit in on sessions, see microphone usage, what was used for what, where it was located in the room,” she explains. “That was the main thing. I still have a bunch of pictures and notes about sessions there, and I'll refer to them to this day.”
In the event Kim Deal is interested, she’d love to do a record with the Breeders, but right now, Bognanno’s already planning the third Bully album—even though Losing has only been out since October.
She thinks LP number three will be a balance between the shorter songs on Feels Like and Losing’s roomier offerings, but most importantly, she doesn’t want to overthink anything. That said, studio time isn’t in the near future, as the current tour has the band on the road into June. Along with stops all across the States, they’re also heading to Europe, where they’ll play dates in the United Kingdom, Paris, and the Netherlands. Make sure to catch them when they stop at Neumos on February 28.