Although the pandemic has provided a number of difficulties and annoyances for many artists who are back out on the road in the second half of 2021, for Bully’s Alicia Bognanno the circumstances have actually worked out quite well: “Touring is completely different for me, because this is my first time touring sober, and this ended up working in with the whole COVID thing because we’re not partying, and for us it’s really nerve-racking about getting sick, so we’re just staying in our bubble, and I’d like to keep it that way forever [laughs].”
Alicia Bognanno’s Nashville-based band have been kicking out garage rock jams since 2014 and they’ve been on the road since July, touring their third and latest album, SUGAREGG, which dropped last August. However, the album represents a few firsts for Bully, the first officially labeled as a solo project of Alicia Bognanno and the first co-produced by people other than Bognanno herself (with John Congleton and Graham Walsh adding helping hands). “It’s really freeing officially calling it a solo project,” she tells me during a recent phone chat, but adds that it’s not quite as significant of a leap as it seems on paper: “It’s not like drastically different. The writing process is the same. I mean, I never wrote in a room with other people.” She tells me the biggest difference in not having an official band is just, “Knowing that I didn’t have to work with anyone over my shoulder,” and allowing herself to feel comfortable creating her latest batch of songs on her own: “I was like, ‘I’m just gonna fuck around and do what makes me happy and take the verses out of my head.’” She tells me that the ability to do this on her own enables her to be more creative, taking her back to the earliest days of the band. She also tells me that having John and Graham around didn’t so much change the sound of the band but take some of the weight off of her shoulders.
“I kind of like to know what I’m doing when I get into a recording atmosphere, but it ended up sounding pretty close to the demos. These guys are professionals, and they were there because they’re great at what they do. It was so awesome. Nobody had any egos; everyone was just there to do their parts. I thought I would wind up micromanaging everything, but I did not give a shit [laughs].”
The origin story of SUGAREGG begins with two seemingly unrelated narrative threads: Bognanno finding proper treatment for bipolar II disorder and being asked by filmmaker Alex Ross Perry to pen some music for fictional ‘90s alt rockers Something She (fronted by Elisabeth Moss) in the movie Her Smell. The combination of these two events helped pull Bognanno back into the creative process and inspired the batch of songs found on SUGAREGG, after a bit of a dry spell following 2017’s Losing. And while the rowdiness of the original Bully remains, the rambunctiousness of SUGAREGG is notably more playful than that of Losing, featuring a handful of anthemic anti-love songs that are as uplifting to chant in a crowded club as they are cathartic to scream alone in your bedroom. The critical consensus about the release is quite positive, although Alicia tells me that that’s something she tries not to spend too much time thinking about: “A handful of reviews said it was the best record yet and obviously that’s the goal every time, but unless my manager wants to show me something, I try not to read too much of that stuff, outside of like Rolling Stone and Pitchfork and those places. I try not to get into my head too much.”
This December Bully has a short run of headlining dates (their last for a while) that include a December 12th stop at Underground Arts. When I ask what can be expected of the show, Alicia simply states, “It’s gonna be a pretty straightforward rock band,” before scurrying to clarify, “I hate that term ‘rock band.’ It’s so broad. Please don’t think I’m classic rock [laughs].” She also says that you can expect to hear the band, “having fun with covers,” something Bully has become known for, most notably their take on mclusky’s “Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues,” which has come to be expected live. And although Bognanno didn’t pen any new Bully music during lockdown (“The main thing for me was having a lot of social anxiety and this just like amplified it. I didn’t feel creative. I would be lying to say that I wrote a great pandemic album.”), she tells me that that’s currently what she’s most excited about, in addition to some festival dates next summer and possibly some support slots: “I’m working on the next record. I’m so excited about it. I was gonna do some producing and engineering, but now that I’m writing, that’s gonna be my priority.”
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