Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Alicia Bognanno has been releasing music as Bully since 2015. Now, the Nashville-based musician is back with her brand new record “Lucky For You.”
On June 8th, she opened for the Pixies in Boston. Prior to her performance, Alicia sat down with our Live Mix Coordinator, Zoe O’Neil to discuss new music, artistic authenticity, and their mutual passion for audio engineering.
SO NICE TO MEET YOU, THANKS FOR TAKING THE TIME TO CHAT! I REALLY APPRECIATE IT.
Alicia Bognanno (Bully): Nice to meet you, of course!
IT’S SUPER COOL TO MEET YOU BECAUSE WE’VE BEEN PLAYING YOU A LOT ON THE STATION AT WERS, “LOSING YOU” FEAT. SOCCER MOMMY HAS BEEN IN OUR ROTATION A TON.
AB: Hell yeah!
I HEAR THAT IT’S THE FIRST SONG YOU PUT OUT IN ABOUT THREE YEARS. WHAT'S THE PROCESS BEEN LIKE OVER THE PAST THREE YEARS DEVELOPING THE SONG AND THIS NEW ALBUM THAT JUST CAME OUT ON JUNE 2ND?
AB: Well, as soon as I get home from touring for the last record I usually just start… I usually just never stop writing. As soon as I get back or have some time I’ll just start and then it’s months of hashing stuff out and messing with new gear and kind of thinking of how I want to approach it and what my goals are. And then I just write and I write and I write and I get like 25 demos, and then it got to a place where I was like, “Alright, I want to pick someone to work on the record with,” and I met up with JT [Daly] who produced it, and we worked on a song or two. And it seemed like a really good fit, so I just moved forward from there. Yeah, it was great.
YEAH, I KNOW THAT YOU’VE HISTORICALLY PRODUCED BASICALLY ALL OF YOUR MUSIC BY YOURSELF, SO HOW’S IT BEEN HANDING OFF THE REINS A LITTLE BIT AND BRINGING SOMEONE ELSE INTO THE MIX?
AB: Well, I don’t think it would’ve worked if I hadn’t found the right person. Like, I don’t think it would’ve worked with just anybody. I think part of the reason it worked so well, and I was more open to collaboration than I’ve ever been before, is because we built a pretty good trust dynamic off the bat. We cared about the same things. JT had been a Bully fan and had gone to shows for years, so I knew he already liked what it was. Instead of wanting to fully reinvent it, he just wanted to accentuate the parts of it that he loved. Authenticity is very important to both of us, I know for me it’s very, very important… I just never want to be in a position where I’m releasing something that I’m not 1000% behind or releasing something for somebody else. He was very in line with that and really wanted to preserve a lot of character. A lot of my voice cracks that I’d be like, “Oh, I wanna cut that,” and he’d be like “No, no, no! As a listener, as a fan, you should keep it.” And so after we were on the same page about that, it was like “Oh yeah…”
…THIS IS TOTALLY MEANT TO BE.
AB: Yeah, exactly.
I’M USUALLY NOT AN INTERVIEWER. I’M AN AUDIO ENGINEER AT THE STATION, SO I WAS REALLY EXCITED TO ASK YOU ABOUT THE PRODUCTION PROCESS. FOR ME, I FEEL LIKE HAVING EXTERNAL EARS LISTEN TO A PROJECT IS SO IMPORTANT, AND FOR EXAMPLE, THE VOICE CRACKS ON THE ALBUM ARE WHAT MAKES IT SO GUTTURAL AND RAW. IT’S COOL TO HAVE SOMEONE ELSE IN ON THE PROCESS WITH YOU.
AB: For sure. And you know, normally if it’s just myself, I am so likely to go down a rabbit hole and just spiral and spiral, and I still feel like I won’t ever fully know what my music sounds like ‘cause I’m so close to it. It was really nice having someone there to be like “That’s sick” or “That’s not sick” or “Why are you trying a million different lead parts, the first one you did was great, let’s keep it.” And I’m like okay, cool… I trust him. We like the same stuff, you know?
AND WITH HIM BEING A PREVIOUS FAN, HE’S FAMILIAR WITH YOUR SOUND. THAT’S SO HELPFUL.
AB: Yeah, and he wanted to do it. That’s why it made it so special because so many times I could’ve just worked with someone and it would’ve been a two-week thing and then they’re done. JT put as much effort into this as I did. He acted like it was his baby too, and I think about that every day, about how fortunate I am to have worked with someone that cares that much.
IT’S SO GENEROUS, AND I FEEL LIKE IT’S REFLECTED IN THE MUSIC. YOU CAN HEAR WHEN SOMEONE IS EQUALLY AS INVESTED AND INVOLVED ON THE PRODUCTION END.
AB: Yeah, totally! For sure.
SO I HEARD FROM LISA [TOUR MANAGER] THAT THIS IS THE FIRST SHOW THAT YOU’RE GONNA BE PLAYING WITH THE PIXIES. HOW ARE YOU FEELING ABOUT THAT? MGM MUSIC HALL IS A BIG ROOM!
AB: They’re like one of my favorite bands.
I WAS GONNA SAY, THEY’RE ONE OF MY FAVORITE BANDS TOO! IT’S SO SICK.
AB: Yeah, I’m gonna watch every night.
WERE THEY A BAND THAT YOU GREW UP LISTENING TO?
AB: Oh no, I didn’t listen to cool music growing up. I grew up in a small town in Minnesota, so I was listening to whatever was on the radio. People weren’t in bands at all, it wasn’t a thing. So when I left and moved to Tennessee for college… I feel like when I was 18 was when I really got into the Pixies, the Breeders, Sonic Youth, the Replacements, Liz Phair. That was all around that time and that was also when I started playing music. I didn’t grow up playing guitar or anything, I just kind of taught myself off of my roommate’s instruments [Laughs].
WOW, THAT’S AWESOME! THERE’S SOMETHING REALLY RAW AND UNPOLISHED ABOUT BEING A SELF-TAUGHT MUSICIAN, I THINK IT’S REALLY COOL.
AB: Yeah, because there’s things that you’ll do that no one else will do because you don’t know what the f**k you’re doing [Laughs].
AND WHEN SOMEONE GROWS UP LEARNING CLASSICALLY, I FEEL LIKE THEY CAN’T UNLEARN CERTAIN TECHNICAL THINGS.
AB: Yeah, I feel like they’re going by rules.
EXACTLY. IT’S FUNNY YOU BRING UP THE BREEDERS BECAUSE I WAS READING A BUNCH OF ALBUM REVIEWS, AND I THINK IT WAS PITCHFORK THAT FOUND SOME SONIC SIMILARITIES BETWEEN YOU AND THE BREEDERS. I SAW THE BREEDERS IN ONE REVIEW, AND WHITNEY HOUSTON IN ANOTHER… YOU’VE BEEN GARNERING A LOT OF COMPARISONS. WERE YOU LISTENING TO ANYONE DURING THE CREATION OF THIS ALBUM THAT TRICKLED IN AND INFLUENCED IT?
AB: You know, not anyone vividly enough to where I could even remember. The process took about seven months, not intentionally, but it was just the nature of when JT and I were able to meet up and work. It was a long period of time. One thing that I did was make a playlist of very strange stuff to listen to different tones and sounds and stuff that I was unfamiliar with and maybe wouldn’t have used without it. Even just instrumental stuff. Aside from that, I honestly feel like I get more inspired by certain documentaries or good podcasts or something, good stories that knock you off your feet. Musically, there wasn’t one thing that I was obsessing over or trying to replicate.
I LOVE THE WORD “STORIES” THAT YOU PICKED OUT. I FEEL LIKE YOU DO WRITE A LOT OF NARRATIVE STUFF, STORIES, AND SUMMARIES OF EMOTIONS YOU’RE FEELING DURING THE WRITING PROCESS. DRAWING FROM DOCUMENTARIES AND PODCASTS IS REALLY GOOD FOR THAT.
AB: A lot of it was word hunting because I think that the older I get, the more I try to see how I can challenge myself from going to straightforward lyrics to making it a little more poetic. You know, finding words that are a little sweeter or less obvious. Yeah, just really trying to get better at that.
COOL, SO THE INSPIRATION IS A THESAURUS AND DOCUMENTARIES. I LOVE IT.
AB: [Laughs] Yeah, basically.
DO YOU HAVE A SONG THAT YOU’RE MOST EXCITED TO PLAY OFF THE NEW ALBUM THAT JUST CAME OUT ON JUNE 2ND?
AB: I love “Days Move Slow,” that song is like my baby. It’s so fun to play. I love playing “A Love Profound” because it’s super heavy and there’s a lot of instrumental stuff. I would say those two.
IT SEEMS LIKE ON THIS ALBUM, YOU’VE BEEN WORKING THROUGH A LOT OF HEAVY EMOTIONS. I’M CURIOUS IF THE SONGWRITING PROCESS HAS BEEN CATHARTIC FOR YOU.
AB: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, that’s kinda why I do it.
YEAH, I FEEL LIKE THAT FEELING OF RELEASE CAN BE SUCH A HUGE MOTIVATOR.
AB: Yeah, and I think a lot of times it’s easier to communicate by way of that than face-to-face conversation. I feel like the freedom that comes with writing is that I don’t have to make sure I’m 120% understood. I can just understand myself and the storyline that I’m talking about and whether or not it’s an accurate representation of how I feel. My responsibility is done after that. You know? A lot of things I feel so physically and it’s not easy to replicate with words. People won’t be on the same wavelength and it’s like, “What’s the point of having a conversation about this? You don’t know what I’m talking about and I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
IT CAN BE AS CRYPTIC AS YOU WANT, BUT YOU GET THE EMOTION AND THAT’S WHAT COMES OUT IN THE MUSIC.
AB: I feel like so much of it is trying to find words that describe physical feelings, like adjectives.
I TOTALLY GET THAT, WHEN YOU’RE PRESENT IN YOUR BODY AND YOUR HEART SO MUCH, IT’S A QUESTION OF HOW TO TRANSLATE THOSE FEELINGS INTO THE LANGUAGE OF THE MIND.
AB: Words like “heavy,” “dark,”... all of those things.
IN TERMS OF YOUR BACKGROUND, I KNOW THAT YOU WENT TO SCHOOL FOR RECORDING AND YOU GOT YOUR FOOTING IN THAT FIELD AT THE BEGINNING OF YOUR MUSIC CAREER. WHAT INITIALLY ATTRACTED YOU TO AUDIO ENGINEERING?
AB: That’s actually kind of a funny story because I think growing up in a small town where nobody did music, that to me felt like the only way I could actually do it because then I didn’t have to count on anyone else to do it for me. I feel like I’m all about figuring it out myself…
AB: 1000%. And I’ve always been that way, I don’t know if it’s from having multiple jobs since I was 14 or what, but it’s always been this mentality of “If I don’t do it, nobody’s gonna do it for me. I need to know how to do it.” Really the whole reason I got into that was A) to be able to have no excuse to not do it for myself, and B) just to be around music in some capacity. Every day, I’m still just like, “Holy s**t, I get to play music for a living.” I never take advantage of it
IT’S INSANE! IT’S THE DREAM FOR SO MANY PEOPLE.
AB: It’s so cool [both laugh].
IT’S SO COOL! TO BE AWARE OF THAT AND APPRECIATIVE OF YOUR SITUATION, AS IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU ARE, IS REALLY COOL AND GOOD TO HEAR.
AB: Yeah! I mean, it’s weird because, in Nashville, people grew up around that s**t. Their parents own studios. They’ve been playing since they were seven. It’s very interesting being in a situation–or a city–like that coming from an area where it was not a thing. I definitely appreciate it, even more, because of that, because I’m around a bunch of people who aren’t always.
I TOTALLY GET THAT, COMING UP AS SOMEONE WHO HAS TRIED TEACHING THEMSELVES INSTRUMENTS OR AUDIO TECH THINGS. I RESPECT THE JOURNEY.
AB: And it’s great, I get to do s**t I wouldn’t get to do if I didn’t do that. You know, even writing songs for TV shows, I’m able to do that because I can record it myself.
IT ENABLES YOU TO DO SO MUCH.
AB: It opened up so many doors. I could never wait around for somebody else to do it for me.
ALRIGHT, ONE OF MY LAST QUESTIONS: AS YOU’RE JOINING THE PIXIES AND FRANZ FERDINAND NOW, WHAT IS SOMETHING THAT YOU’RE MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO ON THIS LEG OF THE TOUR?
AB: Watching the Pixies set every night.
THAT’S LIKE, THE BEST DEAL EVER. THAT’S HUGE.
AB: For sure. I’m like, my band is irrelevant at this point. I’m going into these situations assuming nobody gives a s**t about us, and I’m so cool with that because I get to watch a show every night. That’s why I’m here. It’s just a plus that I get to play. I’m here to watch.
[LAUGHS] IT’S A GREAT TRADEOFF. INSTEAD OF WORKING FOR YOUR ROOM AND BOARD, YOU’RE WORKING FOR YOUR PIXIES SHOW EVERY NIGHT. THAT’S PERFECT.
AB: [Laughs] Yeah, absolutely.
WELL, AT THE STATION WE’RE BIG FANS. WE’VE BEEN PLAYING YOUR SONG WITH SOCCER MOMMY ON REPEAT, SO I’M SURE PEOPLE WILL BE REALLY EXCITED TO READ THIS AND HEAR FROM YOU. WISHING YOU THE BEST OF LUCK ON THE TOUR, SUPER NICE TO MEET YOU!
AB: Thank you! Yay, you too! Can we hug? I love when an interview goes well!