Bully Feature

Nashville’s Bully makes many new friends with new album

By Joshua M. Miller

Nashville’s Bully doesn’t hold punches back sonically when it comes to making music. But in the short time they’ve been together, they’ve made more friends than enemies especially since the release earlier this year of their self-titled debut on Columbia Records label Startime International. They went from playing short tours to getting featured in several major national publications to an appearance on Conan and their first headline national tour. There’s good reason for this quick rise: singer Alicia Bognanno and company have the swagger of a veteran group, channeling their alt-rock influences of bands like The Breeders into a blustery mix of energetic and catchy songs. Bognanno sometimes howls her lyrics with such force that she commands the room’s attention. Prior to Bully’s first headlining performance in Madison Oct. 11 at The Frequency, I talked to Bognanno about her band.

Becoming Bully
Bognanno found inspiration from strong minded singers like Paul Westerberg of The Replacements (“I love how he uses words”) and Kim Deal of The Breeders growing up, but she didn’t consider being a lead singer until Bully came along. While she was playing in a prior band with Stewart Copeland, Bognanno got enough courage to start writing her own songs. Upon hearing the rush of energy that comes from her singing, Copeland insisted that she should start her own band and that he’d play drums on it. While Bognanno was running sound at The Stone Fox in Nashville, she convinced the venue’s booker Reece Lazarus to play with them. While they played as a trio for some time, they realized they needed more guitar on the songs and Copeland convinced longtime friend Clayton Parker to join.

Bognanno’s Midwest roots
While she currently lives in Nashville, Bognanno is originally from Rosemount, Minnesota and has spent ample time visiting other Midwest cities like Chicago. She also has enjoyed playing Madison of late with Bully. She says that even though she’s in Nashville, she’ll “find about a cool band or studio or labels that are coming out of the Midwest” every day. When she was younger she says that she wasn’t “super in touch with the indie music scene” but now she appreciates it more. “Growing up in a suburb in Minnesota, obviously the whole time I wanted to get out of there,” she says. “But now that I’m older I realize what a beautiful city Minneapolis is.”

Fitting in Nashville scene
Nashville is a large musical jungle so getting noticed isn’t always easy. When they started out it was tough finding their place but eventually “found a couple more groups for us to sit in with” and starting making a name for themselves around town. Bognanno enjoys Nashville’s “extremely diverse” scene where “most people are welcoming to any kind of project that you have going on” and are willing to listen to hear what you have.

Hands-on Bully
Bognanno went to school in Murfreesboro, TN to study audio engineering, a path that helped lead led her to Nashville scene. She interned at several studios, including Electrical Audio with the engineers like Steve Albini. She was “really struggling with ProTools and didn’t really like staring at the computer” so it was a revelation when she learned that analog-based recording was a more direct way for her. Since she considers herself “a really indecisive person,” the analog method helped forced her to “really commit to something” and decide how the band should track a song and then “move on from it.” She says that she likes to “have that record or piece of work reflect where we were at and how we were writing and how we were playing at the time instead of it just be this long, long work that’s done over a couple years.”

Headline tour means busier schedules
While the band previously only had short tours and otherwise were “busy getting stuff done,” she says they’ve had to adjust to a headline tour schedule. Our interview was pushed back a day as she had to fly to LA for a press event and fly back in the same day.
But Bognanno says the work is worth is as new people are “finding out about the band” and there’s “more people showing up at our shows and more people being familiar with the album.”