Bully's new album 'Losing' sees frontwoman Alicia Bognanno flex her slackery pop punk muscles.
Nashville trio Bully instantly captured hearts when they emerged in 2013, then released their banger-packed debut ‘Feels Like' in 2015. There weren't any gimmicks or quick fixes: Bully do things on their own terms and call their own tune. It's a singular drive and work ethic that's led them to follow-up, ‘Losing'.
'Feels Like' was full of heart-swelling punk rock, but this time they knew it was time to switch things up a gear. "We tried a lot harder to step it up a notch in so far as the complexity of the songs," begins singer and guitarist Alicia Bognanno. "When I was writing I had it in the back of my head that I didn't just want to keep it to two chords, really quick. I wanted to spread it out a little longer and give it a bit more space."
That space gave them the opportunity to both broaden their approach and ramp up the qualities that make Bully so special. You can hear it in the copious goose-bump inducing moments that hit you like a sudden bracing electric shock. From Alicia's piercing screams and impassioned roars on tracks like ‘Focused' to the breakneck punk assault of ‘Seeing It', the album represents the next development of Bully - one that's the product of years of refining their craft.
"I wanted it to be better, and I wanted it to be a step up," explains Alicia. "I never want to be stepping in the opposite direction. After we had tracked ‘Feels Like' we got so much touring under our belt. We played together almost non-stop for a year and a half so I thought that it would definitely be a little better; there's no way it wouldn't be - our playing is better, the engineering is better and the songwriting is better."
Once again, the record was engineered by Alicia at Steve Albini's famous studio in Chicago. There was a brief temptation to try and bring someone else in but, in typically Bully fashion, doing it on their own just felt right. "I considered having someone else engineer it," says Alicia. "I could see how it would be more beneficial for me and offer me more space to be creative. When it came down to it though I wanted to do it. I think it would just bum me out of I had someone else engineer it. For me, it's such a learning experience. It's a test that I put myself through. To be on the road for a year and a half and make sure you still got your chops. I like that challenge, and it's naturally a challenge that comes with Bully because that's the only way we've done things."
Writing and recording the album presented another challenge as Alicia and the band tried to once again adapt to the normality of everyday life away from the highs of life on the road. "A lot is going on," says Alicia of the songs on the album. "Just coming back and learning how to be stationary and natural at home, not being on the road. The election was going on, and that's undeniably going to creep into the record. There were a lot of events like that occurring. Everything is about something different. It goes from heavy to more light-hearted, like ‘Guess There' which is just a mockery of me wanting to stay at home instead of socialise."
Despite beginning to establish herself as one of rock's new vital voices Alicia resolutely sticks to the principals that have allowed Bully to flourish. There's no big statements or outlandish grandstanding. Dealing with her elevated position does provide a few challenges though. "I feel like having to keep up with social media if nothing else gives me more of a personality crisis than when I'm on my own, and I'm not concerned about other people's opinions that are going to get thrown at me all the time," she explains. "There's little things that have developed, basic things such as stand up straight and dealing with interviews. I don't think my personality has developed and I'm now a confident person though because everyone knows who I am because of the band. If anything, it's the opposite because it's stuff coming at you from left and right."
She laughs off any claims that she's now a new rock icon though but admits, "I think if that is the case then that's great because we set a really good example. We work really hard, care about our music and care about playing well live. There's never anything we've released that has been half-assed."
The commitment to giving absolutely everything to the music and their craft has driven Bully forward to big things. Despite making it appear they can craft relatable punk bangers at will, the process is slightly more complicated. "With the lyrics, there's a whole wall that I have to break down to take myself where I want to go with it," acknowledges Alicia. "That process of being more direct takes a while to get there. I really have to sit down in and work out in my head where I want it to go. I can't just tap into it anywhere, I have to be concentrating." When the songs are as good, and the lyrics as fiercely passionate as the bristling ‘Kills To Be Resistant' we should be thankful that Alicia puts that effort it in.
There's a sense in Bully that they've created something a bit special; the hard work and dedication has paid off. "I would put it at the top because I think it's better than anything we've done," explains Alicia proudly. "We've been playing together longer, and it's a little more mature. I would say that it's the best so far."
Taken from the November issue of Dork, out now. Bully's album 'Losing' is out now.