Smile Politely

Being your own biggest Bully is the worst

Bully is the name of the band — but don’t worry — it’s the good kind.

Actually, there isn’t any kind of good bully, but the band Bully certainly sounds good. The punk trio, based out of Nashville, will sometimes hit you with some strong vocals, but then come back with some nice melodies. The guitar melodies are over-driven and fuzzy in all the right ways, the bass locks in well with the energetic drumming that will certainly getting you moving. 

Bully just finished releasing their sophomore album Losing, the album was self-recorded and mixed by front woman Alicia Bognanno, who also has a degree in Audio Recording from Middle Tennessee State University. She also interned at Steve Albini’s Electric Audio, where Losing was recorded at. The album is definitely punk, but not at all lo-fi, which I’d totally get it if they went for that aesthetic, but thankfully they didn’t because they let their instruments do all the talking.

We had the opportunity to talk with Bognanno over the phone, it was a particularly snowy day in Nashville, so she was staying in with her dog and getting ready for the tour starting this week.

Smile Politely: As bands get bigger the band name becomes a lot more important and as I was doing research, I kept coming with up with results of actual bullying. I was wondering how do you deal with something like that, like what the name means.

Alicia Bognanno: Yeah, I think it’s pretty obvious that we’re not pro-bullying. If you listen to the music you’d understand that. I had written the song “Bully” and it was on one of the first things we released as a band. It was about, more or less being your own biggest bully and trying to overcome that and develop a better relationship with yourself. I think that is still a common thread in the Bully songs and that has never left. That is where the idea of the band name Bully came about. Yeah I was paranoid for a while cause I was like ‘Oh god, I hope people don’t think we’re pro-bullying”, but I think that if you’re familiar with the band, you’re aware of that and I hope that message is conveyed clearly. 

SP: Yeah! I actually see it’s on the album Bully.

Bognanno: Yeah! It was actually on Feels Like too, but we rerecorded it and put it on there. I forgot for a second it made it’s way onto Feels Like.

SP: You talked a bit about rerecording a song and putting it on Feels Like. From what I understand everything has been recorded and mixed by you. Being an engineer and a musician myself, I have a totally different perspective depending on which side I’m on. I’ve found that any time I record anything for myself, I’ll end up with too many takes, because I’ll be nit-picky. How do you deal with these perspectives?

Bognanno: That’s why I recorded it on tape, because I don’t have those options and I can’t have an unlimited number of tracks. Then I’m forced to go with one mix, because we won’t have the budget to get all those reals. At most we will keep two takes to revisit for the mixing part when we’re ready to move on. That has to do a lot with why I like to record things on the tape machine, because it limits me. It forces me to commit and whenever I’m in front of the computer, I feel like it’s a never ending process. I’m not against Pro-Tools or anything, I enjoy working with it, but [recording to tape] is just the method I’ve been more comfortable with.

Doing double duty has really worked in my favor because of that. 

SP: So by using tape the process is a lot easier, because you’re not second guessing every decision.

Bognanno: Yeah, I only have 24 tracks and then whatever fussing I want to do. In a computer, you can just do a vocal take 20 times and then piece it together, but I don’t do that sort of editing. It [tape recording] leaves me with that one track, in that process though I will get stuck in rabbit holes where I’m just like let’s do it again, do it again. However, I think it helps with the mixing though because all of a sudden I won’t have a tambourine that has two hits randomly, because I have endless tracks to do it with. I can really figure out what the song needs and if it needs more than the number of tracks I’m allowed then we will share tracks, but that definitely helps with that too. It limits small auxiliary things that you can have in the studio and not necessarily replicate live.

SP: Mac Demarco is also a big proponent of putting everything to tape, because it gives it an organic sound, however sometimes organic is understood as lo-fi. However, Losing certainly wasn’t lo-fi.

Bognanno: I didn’t want things to be lo-fi, I studied audio engineering and I can do lo-fi at my house. If I’m going to be at a nice studio like electrical audio with really nice microphones, preamps, consoles and tape machines then I want to take advantage of it.

I think a lo-fi sound can work really and sound great, but like I said I can do that at my house.

SP: So what is on the album is a good representation of what people will see live?

Bognanno: What strays the furthest away from something we can do live is a lot of the backup vocals, I’m not able to do, because there’s not six of me. Reece and Clayton step in where they can and they do a really good job of kind of helping out when something is in their range, but other than that everything else is done live. 

We try and not over produce anything. From my point of view none of our stuff is over produced and I enjoy that, because I think it reflects the music and the kind of people that we are. We aren’t really looking for something super polished.

SP: A lot of things on Losing there is a lot of personal songs. I was wondering if while performing live you ever feel like audiences are expecting you to act a certain way during certain songs, but that isn’t necessarily what you’re feeling while you’re performing.

Bognanno: Generally our audiences are really nice and supportive. Some shows I think click better than others and a lot of times, I don’t have too much of a struggle driving any sort of emotions out of the songs, because I can still relate to the lyrics. Playing live is a really therapeutic thing for me and it just feels really good. It feels like a necessity for me, something I really have to do.

With that being said, there are definitely shows where you’ll walk in and no one is really moving. It just feels a little uncomfortable and you’ll question whether or not they’re really enjoying. With show like that it’s really difficult to give it your all, because you’re trying to just get through it. It goes both ways, but most of the time it’s a good show and people are excited. You can feed off of the energy, but every once in a while you’ll have those shows where people are just standing there with blank looks on their faces and that can make it a bit more difficult to get through and really dig in on the lyrics.

SP: Do you feel like any of the success you’ve had lately have influenced the way you’re writing music now or changed the pressure with finishing songs?

Bognanno: I tend to not let it affect the way I write, but there certainly are goals that we will have in mind of when we want to have things done by. Deadlines that we set for ourselves relate to that, but I’m never writing and think ‘Oh more people would buy this song if I said this or this’. We do keep track of where were at or when we want to go on tour or when we want this or that to happen. 

Losing just came out and I’m already writing stuff, and I don’t know if it’ll make it on the third record or if I’ll be sick of it by then. After you have those songs recorded there are still those four to six months of everyone prepping to release it. It’s good to just keep working.

SP: Who are some of your favorite artists or songs right now?

Bognanno: I’ve been listening to a lot of Those Darlins recently, we just had a benefit for Jessi [Jessi Zazu is the singer of the band and passed away recently] and all that has been on my brain.

The new Lizzo single “Truth Hurts”, I’ve been listening to a ton that single is really really good.

Everyone in the band has been listening to a lot of Big Thief that came out a while ago.

SP: What are some of the biggest influences in your music?

Bognanno: My favorite record is Pod by the Breeders. Everyone in the band though has different tastes in music, but we really come together when it comes to Bully stuff.

I don’t want to speak for them, but I know Clay really likes pop music, it seems like Reece likes mellower stuff and I lean towards the more upbeat sort of things. I hate to speak for them, but I feel like we all come from a different angle.

Bully performs tomorrow night at Cowboy Monkey with The Dry Look and Spandrels. Doors are at 8 p.m., though this show is sold out.

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