Bully frontwoman talks audio engineering, screaming and Losing

Alicia Bognanno leads the grunge-pop band Bully. Publicity photo Alicia Bognanno leads the grunge-pop band Bully. Publicity photo

There’s something Alicia Bognanno of the Nashville-based grunge-pop act Bully wants to get off her chest. Her latest album, Losing, released on October 20 via Sub Pop, is not a breakup record.

“I want to scream that to the top of my lungs,” says Bognanno, who easily could. The 27-year-old singer/songwriter/audio engineer/producer frequently screams lamenting lyrics in unison with raw grungy guitar chords and alternative screeching melodies in Bully.

Although she did go through a break up with the band’s former drummer, Stewart Copeland (not to be confused with the former drummer for The Police, who shares the same name), she notes that songs from the album were written under different circumstances, each one having its own story and influence.

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The album, a follow-up to the band’s 2015 debut, Feels Like, was recorded at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio in Chicago. Bognanno became familiar with Albini—who produced work by grunge acts like Nirvana and Pixies—and his studio when she did an internship there. But Albini hasn’t produced any of Bully’s records. Instead, producer is one of the many hats that Bognanno, who graduated with a degree in audio engineering at Middle Tennessee State University, insists on wearing.

Bognanno believes that in the future it could be beneficial to use an outside producer for a different perspective. “I just honestly think I have control issues,” she says, all the while insisting that she is open to the idea of taking off the producer hat.

Bognanno took her first audio engineering class when she was just 17 years old. As a teen growing up in Rosemount, Minnesota, it became her outlet to the music world: “I wanted to be involved with music for as long as I can remember and I felt like that was the first opportunity that was presented to me where I felt like I could get into it,” she says.

Had a former teacher not connected her with the program, she probably would have skipped college altogether. “I knew that was what I wanted to do,” she says.

While in college, Bognanno picked up the guitar and started writing songs. Her internship with Albini increased her knowledge of microphones and professionalism in the studio—she was able to witness producers and engineers while they worked with clients. But when she had free time, Bognanno experienced the real intern perks: dabbling with her own music and the programming tools in the studio.

Like Albini, she prefers analog recording and mixing to digital. “It’s a different way of going about things,” says Bognanno. “It’s interesting to take the analog route in such a digital world.”

Musically influenced by Kim Deal, Pixies, The Breeders, Land of Talk and Courtney Barnett, Bognanno says her vocal development came through listening to others and DIY practice.

“In college I became more familiar with unconventional vocalists,” says Bognanno. “I think that opened up a lot of doors for me because I feel like I don’t sound like Christina Aguilera when I sing.”

There was no Screaming 101 class for Bognanno to enroll in for the development of her voice.

“There’s no telling if I am doing it in a safe way or not,” she says. “I’m probably not. I’m most likely damaging my vocal chords, but I’m not going to think about it too much. There are just certain moments where it just feels more appropriate to scream than it does to sing. That was always the aftermath of songwriting for me.”

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