Talking “Sugaregg,” honoring a ’90s hit, and doing soundtracks ahead of Wednesday’s Brighton Music Hall show
Alicia Bognanno from the Nashville garage punk act Bully is a force of nature. Her intense way of singing on the mic and riffing on guitar echoes the likes of Joan Jett and Kurt Cobain. It’s all evident in the third album, Sugaregg, that was released during the summer of 2020, as it was easily one of the best records of that screwed-up year.
Making up for lost time, Bully has been touring on and off since the middle of the summer. As part of their run of shows for this month, Bognanno—along with Wesley Mitchell on drums and Nick Byrd on bass—will perform at Brighton Music Hall on Dec 15 with Madison indie rockers Graham Hunt Band.
Bognanno and I spoke ahead of the show about managing a lot of different things during the making of her latest album, writing songs that are fun to play live, taking on the creation of a film soundtrack, and plans for another album that are coming together.
Sugaregg, which came out in August of last year, was your first time doing a full fledged solo project with you handling the vocals, bass, guitar, engineering and the cover art. What was the experience like making the record with all this going into it? Was it vastly different for you to take on or was it not because of your past experience in making records and audio engineering?
It really wasn’t different at all. I mean, we brought in this guy Zachary Dawes on bass for the songs that I didn’t write with that instrument but even during the previous two records it was still me writing alone in a room. Then when I had songs mostly hashed out the guys would come in and build stuff around it with me kind of giving direction. As far as the process goes, it was relatively the same. I think there’s always been a gray area between it being a band and a solo project but this time around we decided to make it clear.
Musically the album ups the intensity with a flowing energy from start to finish and you bring very up front with your vocal delivery. There’s some tracks that really whip your ass while listening to them. What inspired you to want to take things to a new level during the recording sessions?
I think first of all, I just wrote whatever I wanted so I made sure to tune out any sort of influences that could creep into my head as far as how people would review it. Really for me, it’s really fun to write songs that I know are going to be fun to play live. That’s very exciting to me so I think a lot of that added on and stuff like that played a part, I know which songs I like playing live from the previous records and I know when I write something like those it’s going to be fun for me to do live. Overall, I didn’t think of a concept for the record and all of the songs are written individually on their own. I was just upbeat, I wanted it to be fun, vulnerable and energetic because that’s how I was feeling at the time when I wrote it without saying it out loud.
No problem. One of the singles off of the album, “Where To Start,” you consider to be a bit of an homage to Chumbawamba’s ’90s hit “Tubthumping.” Is there any particular reason why you wanted to pay tribute to the song? Is it just because it’s a banger or is it something else?
I said that in passing kind of as a joke and it got picked up everywhere. I was listening to Chumbawamba and there’s structural parts about that song that I wanted to replicate, like how it starts with the hook and goes to other places. As far as chords, hooks and melodies go, I wasn’t thinking too much about that but the flow of it vocally I think is really cool with how it gets soft and dreamy and then it gets intense. It was more about listening to songs that start with the hook which doesn’t happen as much anymore and it was very exciting for me so that was the main thing. It’s such an undeniable song.
Structurally, “Tubthumping” is literally an anarchist punk band making fun of ’90s pop hits while abiding by that formula you just described. I can totally see how incorporating that hook driven approach into a rock song works. While making Sugaregg you also got involved in the making of the soundtrack for the film Her Smell starring Elisabeth Moss. How were you approached about this project and what was it like making music for the film? Was it different for you at all?
Yeah, for sure. I know someone in Nashville who does a lot of music for the director Alex Ross Perry and they were looking for someone to do the music for the band in the film and he recommended me for that part. It ended up working out but it’s totally different because I was writing music based off of a script where I was putting myself in the character’s shoes and I was writing off of what their perspective was at the time and place in the script. It was so fun, I loved every minute of it and during the whole time I was doing it I was thinking about doing more film stuff because it was a completely different writing exercise. It was really fun to write something that wasn’t for me and it forced me to step out into something else. It was very enjoyable and I loved it.
It sounds cool that you were able to equate the music to the dialogue in the film.
It’s a cool challenge.
It’s crazy how this wild year of 2021 is only a few weeks away from ending, so what are your plans for 2022? Do you just plan on touring to make up dates that were lost during the pandemic? Have you been writing any new material?
My plan is to make the next record, the fourth one.
How far along is it in the recording process?
It’s still in the early stages so there’s not a lot of hints I can drop but I’ve definitely been working on it. It should be exciting and I just want to make something that sounds bigger than I’ve done in the past. It’s been cool experimenting with new things and being open to more things than I have been so I’m going to be working on that. We’re also going to be picking up shows here and there.
Belly at Brighton Music Hall. Wed, 12.15. Tickets at livenation.com.