She’s a little bit Carrie Brownstein and a little bit Kelly Deal, only with with flowing blonde hair that emits a sens of Nordic self confidence. She oozes cool without telling you she knows she is cool. I sincerely doubt we will ever see her belly button on The Gram. This is Alicia Bognanno, front woman of Bully. Her candid lyrics and brash guitar style are reminiscent of the fierce females of the ’90s. Her crushing lyrics about a break up end with demands such as, “Make it quick/Make it quick”, all the better so she can get the hell on with her life instead of being left to wallow and moan. The band name came about after she wrote a song, “Bully”, which she assures you is not about bullying at all.
The four piece band, Bognanno, Reece Lazarus; bass, Stewart Copeland (not that S. Copeland!); drums and Clayton Parker; guitar, has released 2 albums thus far, Feels Like (2015) and last years’ gripping Losing. They had even garnered praise from the Tousled top cat lover, Ryan Adams, who said “They are the best band in the world”. Oh Ryan, he’s never been one for hyperbole has he? The Nashville (who doesn’t live in Nashville these days?) based band has performed numerous industry events such as last year’s Hopscotch Music Festival and this year’s SXSW, where they created quite the good rebel buzz by inciting the first mosh pit of the fest. She has an energetic and frenetic yet inwardly composed style that makes her one to watch live. Check out her YouTube videos when she played sessions at KEXP and the hour-long Mercury Lounge gig where she appeared to rock out with maturity and poise. The videos the band produced definitely have that neo grunge feel to them with little bits of humor infused in the non-stories.
Bognanno learned how to play loops because she was into hip hop when she was younger. She chose to pursue an Audio Engineering degree which give her a heads up in the analog and behind-the-scenes process that is the backbone of a solid record. She interned with Steve Albini, which may have influence the sense of musical minimalism, which she utilized to produced and engineer the debut album. “Its hard to consider myself the producer because I am just in the band,” she explains.
Bognanno tries not to listen to “Feels Like” and hear its every mistake, real or imagined. “I’m a fan of natural mishaps on records. I think it sounds cool, and it brings honesty and a little bit of rawness to the recording process. There’s definitely times when I listen back to the record and I’m like, ‘Ooh, that’s (bad),’ but at the same time, I know that I tried my best.”
There have been the inevitable Kurt comparisons, but Bully is notably less chaotic than Nirvana. The band themselves has cited the Breeders and Pixies as sonic templates and Westerberg on the lyrical front. While you may not hear much of Paul in her singing, the lyrics do have a confessional Replacements feel. A commenter on YouTube identified her as a master of the “Zen of Screaming”, a rare gift where a singer can growl perfectly on pitch.
She crafts beautifully brutal honest lyrics for the song “Sprial”.
Why does it always spiral like this?
You’re blowing up an irrational concept.
I didn’t want it to come to this
But your time is up. I’m too old for this shit
You will find not one hint of the “poor me” current school of female singer-songwriters. Sometimes you have to rush to be the first to pull the trigger. She wails the lyrics against the pulsating guitar playing by both she and Parker, intertwined her like Thurston and Kim in 82.
The song “Feel the Same” tosses out some notable reflections on the nihilist mindset:
I cut my hair
I feel the same
I feel the same
The visuals for this track depict rose petals racing around the screen and a female hand crushing ice cream cones and wrecking a mini cake only to end with a rose emerging from a pile of chocolate cake. It’s a pretty-ugly aesthetic that Bully sells well.
If you are longing for a change from the brooding melancholic solo singers of the moment and just want to hear some of the ferocity that was in many female fronted bands of the ’90s, check out Bully who will take you back to when garage bands and grunge were kicking and girls could howl without having to worry about what American Songwriter might think of them. Here in this Year Of Our Dark Lord 2018, it’s entirely refreshing.