A Creative Outlet for Negative Energy: A Conversation with Bully

With the release of their second full-length effort Losing, Nashville punks Bully are two-for-two when it comes to albums that make you want to run through a brick wall. 2015’s Feel Like is full of monster riffs, sing-along choruses, and cathartic moments. Losing is similar in kind, but the band leaves a little more breathing room to give the music and lyrics a chance to hit home.

Alicia Bognanno is the mastermind behind Bully who writes the music, produces their records, and is the owner of the best scream in music right now. Because every profile or interview with Bognanno is required by law to mention that she studied under Steve Albini at Electrical Audio in Chicago, you might be expecting a highly-produced sound. But Bully’s music isn’t marked by glossy production and studio tricks; it’s raw energy and emotion captured in precisely the right way.

We got the chance to catch up with Bognanno before Bully embarks on a tour in support of Losing. They’ll be playing a sold-out Great Scott on November 12th. If you don’t have tickets to the show yet, you should find a way to get some.

Allston Pudding: Was there anything you learned between the albumswhether it was writing, recording, touringthat you decided to do differently on this one?

Alicia Bognanno: There’s minor things that I think creeped in subconsciously. Something I learned off the first record from playing live so much was that it’s kind of a bummer being strapped to the microphone the whole time. I think there was a little bit of space written in the second record intentionally, so that it was a little more enjoyable for me to perform live and so that I could step away from it a little bit.

Overall it seemed like a smoother process since Reece [Lazarus], Clay [Parker], and I had got the first one out of the way and we’re used to working together and we’re back in the same studio. It just seemed like we were a little bit more prepared and everything went smoother than the first one.

AP: In what ways have you seen the band grow from when you first started to where you are today?

AB: We’ve all been playing together now for about four years and I think we’re more used to each other musically. We understand what we’re looking for and that’s always helpful. I think we’re tighter live. And I think we’re just more aware of each other and what’s going on, especially when we’re playing live.

AP: When you’re starting to make the new album what’s the first step you take?

AB: I just sit down in my music room and make myself play. There were a lot days where I’d sit down and it was successful and I felt like I’d written something I really loved. Other days I just made myself play to keep my muscles moving and write lyrics even though I knew I was going to redo them or not keep them. But that’s how it always starts; it’s just me sitting down with a guitar. In some cases if I’m bored I’ll sit with a bass and go from there.

AP: At the time you were doing that, did you know it was becoming an album?

AB: I was aware it was becoming an album. We had toured the first album for a year and a half. We were all ready to get working on the second record so we pulled the plug on touring so that we could come home and focus on the second record.

AP: With your production background do you enter the studio with everything pre-planned or do you like to get into the studio and tinker because of your comfort in there?

AB: I map out everything. I have the info lists mapped out and the microphones I’m going to use for everything. I have EQ notes and compression notes; I plan out everything.

AP: So is there room for improv when you get into the studio?

AB: There is when we get in there, but we’re on the clock. All the basic stuff that’s just going to take up time if I don’t prepare is worked out. A lot of the time if a microphone isn’t sounding how you want it to sound or the kick drum doesn’t sound right, little things like that, you’re going to switch it up and toy around. Especially for vocal stuff, there’s a lot more messing around. We usually set up about 7 different mics and shotgun all of them and see which one sounds the best. Basics are always mapped out to save time.

AP: Do you consider how difficult songs will be to play live when recording?

AB: For us it’s not usually too difficult because we keep everything pretty much the same as the live show. We don’t add a lot of extra parts as far as synthesizers or outside instruments that we don’t have live. For the second record there’s vocal stuff we can’t replicate live because there’s not 6 of me. That’s kind of the extent of what we can’t do live. But yeah, we track it all playing together and then we’ll overdub what needs to go on from there. We already have a sense of how it’s going to come off live prior to tracking because that’s how we had been practicing. It’s not too much of a stretch.

AP: The new album is very personal, how do you balance divulging too much personal information with writing what you really want to say?

AB: I don’t write things that I’m uncomfortable with putting out there. I’m comfortable with everything that’s been released. They are personal, but I don’t have to 150% explain every detail about what I was thinking or how I was feeling for every song. If I’m uncomfortable with something I won’t release it.

AP: What kind of emotional release do you get from being in a band and making music?

AB: It’s a very therapeutic experience. That has part to do with why I like to scream: it feels good and I get a sense of release when we play it live. It’s calming.

AP: Do you find that playing is a good way to get out those emotions from day-to-day life?

AB: Definitely. To me playing a live show is like if you’ve everdo you run?

AP: I hate to run, actually.

AB: Ok, I hate running too which is why I play music [laughs]. I feel like it’s a similar feeling for people who like running. It releases endorphins and makes you feel good. It’s like you’re working through certain emotions. It’s a creative outlet for negative energy.

AP: Does it ever get tiring to be that emotional? Are there any days where you don’t have that emotion to get out?

AB: Sometimes, but not really. Usually I can relate a song to how I’m feeling even if it’s not exactly what it was intended to be when I wrote it. Playing live is just a rush. More than likely it’s going to be a solid show. People are going to be there because they like the record and you can feed off that energy. It makes it easier to tap into that emotion.

AP: Let’s end with kind of a cheesy question: what’s your favorite part of being in Bully?

AB: Probably getting to play shows every night. There’s so much of it that I love. I’d be really sad if it wasn’t happening. Being able to play every night and tour is a really rewarding feeling.