Interview: Alicia Bognanno of Bully on interning at Electrical Audio, staying in Nashville, and emotive songwriting


[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he music scene in Nashville has a unique landscape these days. There are the stereotypical country-pop artists who are topping the charts and getting daily plays on commercialized mainstream radio, there are the outlaw folk types who make an effort to separate themselves from the popstars by writing honest songs adorned with grit and emphasis, and then there’s a burgeoning garage rock and roll scene filled with rippin’ music that’s lately been garnering a huge following. In that last group is Bully, a Music City diamond in the rough who will be taking the stage at this weekend’s Boston Calling Music Festival [Note: win tickets via the V:List].

Bully have been getting a lot of people excited ever since they released debut album Feels Like this past June. Fast and ferocious garage punk with honest lyrics coming from singer/guitarist Alicia Bognanno that touch on failed relationships, self-confusion, and indifference to the world surrounding her have been entirely captivating. Ahead of the band’s performance on the JetBlue Stage this Sunday afternoon, Vanyaland caught up with Bognanno to havea chat about interning under acclaimed producer and musician Steve Albini, being from the Twin Cities metro area, the personal and emotional depth of her songwriting, and what’s she’s planning on doing for a follow-up to Bully’s acclaimed debut.

Rob Duguay: While you were studying audio engineering at Middle Tennessee State University you got a really cool internship with Steve Albini at his famed recording studio at Electrical Audio in Chicago. What was it like being under the tutelage of someone like Steve?


Alicia Bogananno: It was with the studio so I was spending equal time with all the engineers depending on who had a session. It was obviously a really great super-educational experience from being in the studio and being with those engineers because they’re all geniuses. They keep the studio really pristine and there’s a reason that they do everything they do there so it was great and it was cool to see how really professional engineers work.

From your experience with Steve face to face, is he as much of a nihilist as he makes himself out to be?

From being around him, he’s just been super helpful and really nice. He answered any questions I had to ask about the studio and about gear along with being very welcoming.

That’s awesome. Did you get to meet any bands who were recording at Electrical Audio at the time?

There were a couple coming in and out during the time I was there. Most of them were bands that I hadn’t heard of so it was really cool, to be honest I can’t remember any of the names off the top of my head because it’s been a while.

You’re originally a native of Rosemont, Minnesota, which is located within the Twin Cities metropolitan area. What made you want to stick around the Nashville to start your musical career rather than start-up in another musically historic city like Minneapolis?

Well, as you mentioned earlier, I went to Middle Tennessee State which is 30 minutes outside of Nashville because they have a four-year Bachelors of Science audio engineering degree. In Minnesota all I could find at the time was a two-year Protools degree and I made an agreement with my dad that if I was going to study music I was going to get a four-year degree. My teacher showed me MTSU and it wasn’t super expensive or anything and while I was attending I had a semester left so I did my internship at Electrical Audio. Then instead of moving back to Murfreesboro I just commuted from Nashville because I started doing sound at a venue and I had another internship at a studio. So I was there because I already had an engineering gig and obviously I wasn’t going to get up and move because it’s hard to get a job anywhere in general. Then I started Bully there and here I am.

With the music that you write for Bully there’s a lot of personal and emotional depth. Do you consider yourself more comfortable wearing your heart of your sleeve on stage rather than in public or is it just part of your personality no matter where you are?

I would say probably more on stage. I think being able to put those things into a song are the reason why they come out anyway. They are things that I’m not comfortable just talking about with people in general, they stay on my mind and it’s a way to get them out there, forget about them and stop thinking about them. I would say that most of that stuff that I sing about in songs is stuff that I wouldn’t talk about over coffee.

Bully’s debut Feels Like is one of the best albums of the year and I’m a huge fan of it. “Milkman” is one of my favorite tracks.

Thank you.

The album has gotten a lot of critical praise both nationally and internationally. Have you already envisioned what the follow-up is going to be or do you plan on taking your time with the next recording Bully puts out?

Of course I want it to come out tomorrow but with our hectic tour schedule I can’t really make that happen. I’m not sure, I actually have no idea what it’s going to sound like. I didn’t really have any idea what the last one was going to sound like until it was done so I’m just trying to write and I guess we’ll see how it turns out.

BOSTON CALLING :: Friday, September 25 to Sunday, September 27 at City Hall Plaza, 1 City Hall Square in Boston, MA :: With Bully, Alabama Shakes, alt-J, CHVRCHES, Walk The Moon, and more :: Win tickets via the V:List :: Advance tickets