After beginning her musical career as a sound engineer (with a post-degree internship at Steve Albini’s studio no less), Alicia Bognanno soon decided she wanted to make her own demos into fully developed tracks. She formed ferocious three-piece Bully in 2013, and their ’90s alt-rock sound paired with Bognanno’s astonishingly raw voice have flung them into notoriety amongst the most elite of rock musician circles. Bognanno answered our questions about the band’s excellent second album, Losing.
You’ve been treated to a super thoughtful, personal album write-up from Patty Schemel (Hole). Is she a close pal? How has her music or professional trajectory influenced the band?
I had never met her prior to the phone call we had for the bio write up. I have always been a huge fan of her drum work and really love her new book, and we wanted somebody as legendary as herself to write the bio, so when she agreed to we were all very excited.
There is a lot of discussion going on about your incredible voice. When did you suspect, during your engineering career, that you wanted to be behind a lead mic?
I’ve wanted to play music as long as I have wanted to record it, but really got started in college when I was surrounded by a bunch of people who were trying to play together.
You can make it a scream or a howl but you also create super beautiful, soft harmonies and back-up melodies. Do you have a regime to take care of it so that you can continue achieving all these different shades of sound?
Just basic things, like trying to stay hydrated and well rested. I’ve done vocal warm ups many times in hopes of it strengthening my voice or keeping it consistent, but I can’t tell if it has really made an impact or not. Drinking Throat Coat [a herbal tea to remedy a sore throat] after practice seems to help keep it in good shape.
The thing which stands out across the album – in guitar licks especially but melodically in general – is you aren’t afraid of using sort of weird, angular harmonics or semitones, which is possibly what makes Losing so unique. Do you deliberately experiment to create intervals that are unusual, and don’t fit perfectly into a scale?
Yes, I’ve always been a huge fan of dissonance, it’s so much more emotional to me. Also, I don’t have any sort of an advanced music theory background, so half of the time I’m not sure what I’m playing – I just play what sounds good to me.
Clayton and Reece (guitar and bass respectively) are an extremely tight musical unit – the end of Focused really puts their symbiosis into the spotlight. How long have they been playing together, and are they best buds?
Yes, haha, they are great buds. They have been playing together in Bully for about four years now, so they are very used to each other by this point.
You engineered and mixed the album. Did you consider letting another pair of ears do it before deciding against it, or did you know 100% this record should be polished by yourself? Would you consider relinquishing that control on future Bully records?
I think about having someone else track and mix our records all of the time. I’ve been thinking about it for the third record already, but when it comes down to it I would be really bummed out to leave it in the hands of somebody else. I can see how it would benefit us but I would feel like I’m failing in one way or another, and I’m not sure if I would forgive myself for it.
Losing is out now via Inertia.