Bully: Don't Call It a '90s Comeback



Alicia Bognanno is only a few dates into a tour that will have her and her Nashville-based rock band Bully chasing highways across America for the entirety of the summer. Their visceral debut album, Feels Like, hasn't even been released yet, but they're already riding on the feverish momentum from their 2014 self-titled EP and subsequent tour.

Whirlwind aside, Bognanno isn't wasting a second. Rather, she's reading a book about power in the digital age to better understand the media landscape, and improving her songwriting chops on the road is a high priority, because "I just want us to still be developing as a band while we're gone instead of staying the same as we were when we left," she explains.

Famed In Utero producer/punk-rock curmudgeon Steve Albini, owner of Chicago recording studio Electrical Audio where Bognanno once interned, recently praised her work ethic to NME as "tireless and constant," claiming: "If everybody in the studio worked as hard as Alicia then everybody's records would be Number One hits." Speaking with the Minnesota-born musician ahead of Bully's opening slot Monday at First Avenue for Best Coast, Albini's sentiment rings true. There is a real case to be made that Bully's earnest resolve and singular breed of blistering introspection could revitalize indie rock.

Following high school graduation -- and armed with a vague but sincere sense of determination -- Bognanno, 25, left her hometown of Rosemount, Minnesota, for Tennessee to pursue a four-year audio engineering degree just outside of Music City.

"I didn't really know what I wanted," she admits. "I just knew that I wanted to play music and I knew I had an interest in the analog tape machine. Those were the only two things I was sure of."

Though her college focused more on digital production, Bognanno was able to indulge her attraction to analog tape with a few instructors, eventually landing an internship at Albini's revered recording complex. She occasionally played music in other people's projects after moving to Nashville, but it wasn't until after college graduation that she directed all focus onto her own musical pursuits. After teaming up with bandmates Stewart Copeland, Clayton Parker, and Reece Lazarus, Bully was born.

The band's debut full-length, due June 23 via StarTime International, is vulnerable, cathartic, and unrestrained. Bognanno's expertise in analog recording shines through, creating a live-concert aesthetic that can adapt into an earbud.

"Feels like, TRASH," she snarls on "Trash," the song from which the album got its name and one of her personal favorites. "It's just about feeling really shitty and feeling like trash, that's literally what I mean by that," Bognanno says. And, really, that's the beauty of Bully's music: It needs little clarification.

The 11 songs -- bursting with guttural chords and jolting vocals -- are an affirmation of all of the imperfect experiences that make us human: the anxiety of missing your period, the pain of an unhealthy relationship, body insecurity, and nostalgia for the half-memories of youth. Bognanno confronts these tidbits of life with a hopeful ferocity, as if to proclaim: "I may not know all of the answers, but dammit, I'm trying my best."

Though Feels Like has already received early praise, there is nothing that irks Bognanno more than the ad nauseum comparison to the sounds of the '90s that have flooded in since the band's inception.

"At this point in interviews I'm so sick of hearing grunge and '90s," she says. "I honestly don't even listen to that stuff all that much. It comes off as more of a fashion statement and that's what makes me cringe. Who wasn't influenced by the Pixies, you know what I mean? That's just like standard shit, most everyone has a college music phase."

Bognanno has a point. For one, the production quality on Feels Like is far from lo-fi, so vaguely lumping Bully in some grunge-revival box cheapens what is truly impressive sound engineering. And thematically, music in the '90s was largely characterized by apathy. Though Bognanno's battle cries fondly evoke that of a "Live Through This"-era Courtney Love, they are rife with a self-awareness and emotional electricity that far expounds such aesthetic prescriptions.

Ever the realist, Bognanno doesn't let it bother her too much.

"If that's the downside, it's totally fine because at least we get to play shows every night," she says.

And play shows they will. Touring will take up much of the band's near future and it doesn't seem like Bognanno has plans to slow down anytime soon.

Feels like Bully have just begun rattle our emotional cages, and thank something for that.


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