Bully: The Best of What’s Next

Music Features

Bully does get along well with others, despite the band’s name. They’ve garnered a wave of new fans after their first solid year & a half of performing as a four-piece, particularly around their home scene, Nashville, which can be a tough place to stand out. Their five-song debut EP was released by StarTime International, with a video for the single “Brainfreeze” premiering last month.

Singer/songwriter/guitarist Alicia Bognanno has found that the best way to break out seems to be doing it all yourself (or, at least, doing as much as possible—yourself).

“I thought that if I could technically do everything myself,” said Bognanno, “then I wouldn’t really have any excuse not to and not have to depend on everyone else to make it happen for me.”

That notion was the driving factor for Bognanno to study audio engineering (eventually interning at several studios, including Electrical Audio with the renowned Steve Albini and, later, running sound for the Nashville venue The Stone Fox).

“I could be a Milkman / or I could get up and be what I want to be…” (There’s a telling lyric from the A side to the band’s 7” single released in mid 2014, demonstration Bognanno’s determination).

Though she was raised in Minnesota, she wound up in Nashville because her schooling, (in Murfreesboro, TN) was just a stones-throw away from that unbelievably verdant scene. It was in Nashville that she met musician Stewart Copeland, who was drumming in Pujol at the time.

“I was slowly becoming more confident in bringing up my own songs to other people,” Bognanno said of that time, just as she was finishing college and internships. She’d been in bands prior to Bully, but nothing serious. She was always writing her own stuff, however, and that’s the stuff that Copeland heard, his enthusiastic encouragements (as well as offering to provide the rhythms for her as a fledgling two-piece) leading to what we now know as Bully.

“When we first started playing I was a nervous wreck,” Bognanno recalls, chuckling at herself. “Well, not a nervous wreck, buuut… I mean, living in Nashville, everyone has been playing out here since they were 12. But, for me, I was nervous. Our fourth show was opening for Best Cost and I think my hands were shaking while I was playing. Yeah.”

Bognanno says that Nashville is an ideal place to be if you want to be in a touring band, like a launchpad filled with resources and similarly-minded music-types (in varying fields) with scads of experience. “And certain jobs are cooler about hiring musicians and are okay about them leaving frequently. I mean, it’s kinda unheard of for a job to be that cool, but, those jobs are here and you can find work doing freelance engineering. More opportunities than most cities, definitely.”

Bognanno is joined by Copeland on drums, Clayton Parker on guitar and Reece Lazarus on bass. In May, they’ll head to England for The Great Escape festival. When Bognanno shouts that she’s “excited,” it’s pronounced in all caps, assuredly. “It’s cool to get over there, but we’re all just really good friends at this point, too. To be in an amazing place with my best friends, that’s the fun part.”

So Paste picked Bognanno’s brain on recording techniques (and eventually asked about her time at Albini’s studio).

“A lot of this latest record was…well, I didn’t play off of it fully because I would never match what was done, BUT, I loved the way, sonically, that Weezer’s Pinkerton sounded. I’m not saying my record sounds anything like that cuz it’s amazing, but when I planned stuff out in my head for songs, I felt it was appropriate because I wanted a bigger, roomier drum sound. With past stuff I’ve done the bass is a little hidden and the guitars are heavier, but the drums were further back. I tried to balance everything and mixing really focused on drums. Using the ambient mic a lot when I would scream, too, was cool and getting the drums to sound so big.”

Bully takes the glistening grooves of early new wave and late 70’s pop/rock and grimes them up with the distortion of an indie-punk aesthetic, pretty melodies hazily howled through her higher register, weaving their way like a sun-stung fiberglass surfboard over the vigorous rhythms and cresting guitars.

Theirs is a blend of a springier pop from an ever more confidently-voiced singer/songwriter, layered with sparks of feedback-frayed punk. It’s telling that Bognanno says she’s been listening to a lot of Paul Westerberg and The Silkworms—masters of balancing detached-yet-taut pop songs with a perfect amount of gnarlinesss.

Her biggest takeaway from Electrical Audio: the beauties and benefits of analog recording. “To watch bands come in and out in five days and just have a record done and mixed and ready to be mastered.”

Bognanno admits that the scene she grew up in (back in Minnesota) wasn’t as active, comparatively speaking, which is why she studied audio engineering. If opportunity wasn’t just around the corner (as it seems to be in certain scenes like Nashville,) then she’d start studying so she’d have the knowledge base to make it happen for herself. That said, writing lyrics can still be tough.

“I’m the worst about lyrics,” she admits. Sometimes she’ll just make herself write something, anything, and change it later. “I usually don’t get writer’s block when it comes to my guitar, at least. I started a journal, though, finally. Hoping that will help cure it, not that it’s happened yet.”

What’s happening now is that the band is finishing up their current touring before heading back into the studio later this year. While you stay tuned for new music from Bully, we recommend this latest music video.

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