Bnny is Bound For Brighter Days

We caught up with Chicago singer-songwriter Jessica Viscius about her sister Alexa's enduring influence, shipwrecks, Miller High Life and her latest LP, One Million Love Songs.

Music Features Bnny
Bnny is Bound For Brighter Days

There’s an openness to Jessica Viscius that is rare to come by. Best known as the frontman of Bnny, the Chicago musician is never one to mince words. Her sentences are punctuated with laughter as she describes her latest interests and informs me of her longtime love/hate relationship with Miller High Life. “Honestly Miller High Life is my go-to beer, but I think that that’s because I was drinking a lot of Miller High Life when I wrote [Everything], so now it’s just like this lore around it where [it’s] like ‘Okay, but Miller High Life makes me a better songwriter,’ which is so fucked up because it absolutely doesn’t!” she exclaims. “That’s what I used to get because I used to live in Logan Square and there was this shitty supermarket that I would go to and the Miller High Lifes were insanely cheap for like a 30-case. Anyways, I’m talking way too much about Miller High Life.”

She asks me, “Can we actually get Miller High Life to sponsor the Paste article?” I promise her I’ll try my best to make it happen. Over the phone, we stroll through a myriad of topics. Viscius speaks with warm, brazen humor and tangible passion for the things she creates and loves. She immediately lights up when I ask her what she’s been enjoying lately, jumping into a tangent about shipwrecks and whaling. “I just read this book called The Wager by David Grann,” she says. “He’s the guy who wrote Killers of the Flower Moon if you’ve seen that movie,” Viscius explains. “I’m planning a trip to go somewhere in Rhode Island where there’s like the last wooden whale ship that exists and I want to go take a tour of it. Their books are so great because it’s like a miniature world where it’s just like all of the dynamics that happen in the workplace, but it happens on this ship and then there’s all this piracy and mutiny and drama, and it’s just really great.”

A natural curiosity fosters Viscius’s desire to learn and grow, uniform to the inner-calling that brought her to performing and music-making. She grew up on the south side of Chicago and moved to the suburbs of the city later in her childhood. Viscius’s earliest days were saturated by musical influence as her parents and twin sister Alexa were all passionate music lovers each of their own distinct varieties. “My parents were big music fans,” Viscius says. “They were Deadheads, so I grew up listening to a lot of good music, I’d say, which at the time I probably didn’t realize how much of an influence that would have on me. I’m lucky to have a twin sister who’s also into really good music. I think if it wasn’t for her I’d be listening to really bad music, probably.”

The influence of her sister Alexa is vital to Viscius’s artistic journey, as they remain lifelong collaborators and confidants. Alexa plays bass in Bnny while working as a professional photographer and designer. You’ve probably seen her photo byline underneath many Paste music headlines. “I truly don’t think I’d be an artist today without her,” Viscius explains. “She was always into cool stuff way before I was. She’s so hard-working and determined, she inspires me and keeps me on track. We have this wholly trusting, supportive relationship that I think is so invaluable in fostering creativity. I can often be my own worst enemy, but she always encourages me and truly sees me. I feel lucky!”

As a child, Viscius played piano but was never passionate about the instrument. Her first genuine connection with playing an instrument happened much later in life by accident. “I didn’t really pick up guitar until I was in college, until the end of college, and it happened accidentally where [Alexa] had left her guitar at my apartment and I just picked it up and I was bored and started playing it,” Viscius says. “I think I was just at this point in my life where I was incredibly bored and lonely and I was like, ‘Oh, this is a hobby that I can pick up and have some fun with,’ and then it just sort of took off.”

Viscius was encouraged to form a band and soon after played her unfortunately ill-fated first show at Cafe Mustache, an intimate venue in Chicago. “I was so incredibly nervous that a few chords into the first song I fully forgot all the lyrics and stopped the set to covertly ask my band for help. It felt disastrous at the time but I look now and laugh. I was totally new to performing, to playing guitar, to the Chicago music scene,” she says. Following a 2017 EP, the debut Bnny album Everything was released in 2021. Everything was crafted in the aftermath of the tragic loss of Viscius’s former partner in 2017, creating a collection of sparse, grief-stricken songs that struck deeply. As she shifts into another period in her life and artistry, her songwriting has organically brightened over time. “I was at a better place emotionally,” she pauses and laughs. “Sort of.”

“I definitely wanted to shift the type of songs because I was touring more and I was just thinking of the songs that I enjoy playing most live and some more upbeat rock songs,” Viscius continues. “I wanted to lean into that with this album and just think about it from a live performance point of view.” Her newest LP, cheekily titled One Million Love Songs, examines different facets of love—from infatuation to resentment and beyond. The album was recorded in Ashville with producer Alex Farrar over the course of two weeks, and working in a traditional studio setting allowed Viscius the space to devote herself entirely to the process.

“Alex helped with the arrangements and played on some of the songs and then the second half the rest of my band flew out and then we recorded half the album live. So it was sort of a mix, which was a fun process because I had never done anything like that before,” she says of the recording process. “It was cool and it was nice to have a concentrated amount of time to work on music because I’m so ADD that it was just really helpful to be in this really focused situation where I could work on the music and that was my only goal in life.”

One Million Love Songs is a spinning, vibrant album of relief, anguish and subsequent hope from Bnny. Its rich sound is layered with fuzzy, indie rock guitars and blooming pop instrumentation. Viscius handles past romantic entanglements with wit and acuity, reflecting upon the multitudes of love and its ever-changing nature. “Changes” is a lucid, balmy meditation on growth over time set to lush, dream pop instrumentals that distinctly contrasts with tracks like “Something Blue,” which lean into heavier, drawling slacker-rock riffs that build around Viscius’s sardonic, snarling vocals as she recalls a dysfunctional relationship. Viscius ventures deep within and examines the grittiness that lies beneath the glimmering exterior of romance. She describes writing “Good Stuff” explaining that the track came “after a relationship ended, and I was sort of in that delulu stage, as the young girls say. Like the delusional stage of being focused on all the things that were great and not remembering the parts of the relationship that failed and why you broke up in the first place. It’s an optimistic but also delusional song about a breakup.”

The shift into a radiant new era for Bnny is palpable within Viscius’s writing, as she sings “New memories / New feelings / New hope and New reasons / It’s the changing of the season,” with her gauzy vocals meandering in the warmth of the lush instrumentation. As she ventures into a brighter period, Bnny is still led by a sense of emotional sincerity that is inherent to Viscius. One Million Love Songs showcases the singer-songwriter at her most realized, a now-seasoned artist blazing towards thoughtful new heights with reckless and unmissable abandon.

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