Photo by Pooneh Ghana
The debut album of Bully is garnering rave reviews and the band is in hot demand for music festival across the world, but observers shouldn’t expect the righteous indignation of chief songwriter Alicia Bognanno to suddenly dissipate into some kind of newfound self-satisfaction.
The 25-year-old singer/guitarist’s fevered wailing and tales of regret and frustration permeate throughout Bully’s Feels Like — angsty emotions that remain, despite the recent success of the band.
“I still relate to everything I wrote on the album,” said Bognanno. “There’s no doubt that it’s cathartic to perform those songs live. There isn’t a better feeling in the world than screaming your guts out to an audience, especially after you’ve had a shitty day.”
A Minnesota-native, Bognanno interned at the Chicago-based studio of famed producer/engineer/indie rock stalwart Steve Albini. Upon relocating to Nashville, Bognanno mixed, engineered, produced, wrote and performed all the songs on Feels Like. The result is a case study in 90s-era indie rock, conjuring up shades of Dinosaur Jr., Pixies, and, most notably Nirvana and Courtney Love — the two names that immediately come up when critics discuss Bully’s sound.
Bognanno said she admires the artistry of Love, but she never had a particularly ardent period of listening to the alt-rocker’s music.
“I try not to pay attention, or I stay neutral when it comes to musical comparisons,” said Bognanno. “I hear them a lot and it’s nice, but it’s not like I ever had some phase of my life where I was really into Hole or something.”
Although Hole might not be a direct influence on Bully, Bognanno’s seething, piercing vocals — unmistakable in their rage — recall Love at her finest, Live Through This moments. Even when singing about seemingly-innocuous childhood memories (accidentally breaking her sister’s arm in a bike accident), Bognanno doesn’t spare anyone, blaring out caustic lyrics like, “Fuck those jerks that only hate you/ They don’t know you’re great, but I do.”
That kind of primal anger has definitely found a captive audience. The band is in the midst of its first headlining tour, and is due to play through January, in locations as far-reaching as Europe and Australia. After opening for fellow Nashville musicians Jeff the Brotherhood at the Independent in March, Bully will return to San Francisco as the top bill for a show at the Rickshaw Stop on October 19.
“I actually really like playing as a supporting act,” said Bognanno. “But it’s pretty amazing to be a headliner. There isn’t as much pressure — you know that the fans are here to see you, which is a good feeling.”
With the band touring incessantly this year, Bognanno said she hasn’t had a chance to return to the studio, although she’s written some basic outlines for new songs while on the road. Once things slow down, Bognanno plans on getting to work on Bully’s second full-length album. She said she expects to once again shoulder the burden of writing and producing the entire album.
“I think we’re going to stick with what works for now,” said Bognanno. “I don’t want the music to suffer or anything, but I don’t see any reason at this point to change things up.”
Bully, Heat, Dead Soft
October 19, 2015, 8 p.m.