WKDU Presents: Bully

Sunday, December 12, 2021 - 8:00pm

Underground Arts

About Bully

A very old saying goes that no one saves us but ourselves. Recognizing and breaking free fromthe patterns impeding our forward progress can be transformative — just ask Bully’s AliciaBognanno. Indeed, the third Bully album, ​SUGAREGG​, may not ever have come to fruition hadBognanno not navigated every kind of upheaval imaginable and completely overhauled herworking process along the way.

“There was change that needed to happen and it happened on this record,” she says. “Derailingmy ego and insecurities allowed me to give these songs the attention they deserved.”

SUGAREGG ​roars from the speakers and jumpstarts both heart and mind. Like My BloodyValentine after three double espressos, opener “Add It On” zooms heavenward within seconds,epitomizing Bognanno’s newfound clarity of purpose, while the bass-driven melodies andpropulsive beats of “Where to Start” and “Let You” are the musical equivalents of the sunpiercing through a perpetually cloudy sky.

On songs like the strident “Every Tradition” and “Not Ashamed,” Bognanno doesn’t shy awayfrom addressing “how I feel as a human holds up against what society expects or assumes ofme as a woman, and what it feels like to naturally challenge those expectations.”

But amongst the more dense topics, there’s also a lightheartedness that was lacking on Bully’s last album, 2017’s ​Losing​. Pointing to “Where to Start,” “You” and “Let You,” Bognanno says“there are more songs about erratic, dysfunctional love in an upbeat way, like, ‘I’m going downand that’s the only way I want to go because the momentary joy is worth it.’”

The artist admits that finding the proper treatment for bipolar 2 disorder radically altered hermindset, freeing her from a cycle of paranoia and insecurity about her work. “Being able tofinally navigate that opened the door for me to write about it,” she says, pointing to the sweet,swirly “Like Fire” and slower, more contemplative songs such as “Prism” and “Come Down” ashaving been born of this new headspace. Even small changes like listening to music instead ofthe news first thing in the morning “made me want to write and bring that pleasure to otherpeople.”

An unexpected foray into the film world also helped set the table for ​Sugaregg​ when Bognannowas asked to write songs for the 2019 movie ​Her Smell​, starring Elisabeth Moss as thefrontwoman of the fictional rock band Something She. “It got me motivated to play music againafter the last album,” she says. “I loved reading the script and trying to think, what music wouldthe character write? People asked if I’d play those songs with Bully but the whole point was for them to not be Bully songs. It was nice to get my head out of my own ass for a second and workon a project for someone else,” she says with a laugh.

A highly accomplished engineer who ran the boards herself on the first two Bully albums,Bognanno was ready to be free​ “from the weight of feeling like I had to prove to the world I wascapable of engineering a record, and wanted to be content knowing for myself what I can dowithout needing the approval of others to validate that.”

So for ​SUGAREGG​, she ​yielded recording and mixing responsibilities to outside collaboratorsfor the first time and trekked to the remote Pachyderm Studios in Cannon Falls, Minn., anunexpected return to her home state. Behind the console was John Congleton, aGrammy-winner who has worked with everyone from St. Vincent and Sleater-Kinney to The Waron Drugs and Modest Mouse. “Naturally, I still had reservations, but John was sensitive towhere I was coming from,” Bognanno says. “He was very respectful that I’d never worked with aproducer before.”

The studio’s rich history (classics such as Nirvana’s ​In Utero​, PJ Harvey’s ​Rid of Me​ andSuperchunk’s ​Foolish​ were recorded there) and woodsy setting quickly put Bognanno’s mind atease. Being able to bring her dog Mezzi along for the trip didn’t hurt either. “I had never trackeda record in the summer, so waking up and going outside with her before we started each daywas a great way to refresh,” she says.

SUGAREGG​ features additional contributions from longtime touring drummer Wesley Mitchelland bassist Zach Dawes, renowned for his work on recent albums by Sharon Van Etten andLana Del Rey. Dawes and Bognanno met at Pachyderm to work on parts just two days beforetracking, “but it ended up being so much less stressful than I had expected and I loved it,” shesays. “Zach wanted to be there to help and make my vision happen.”

With 14 songs on tape, Bognanno and friends left Pachyderm thinking ​SUGAREGG​ was done.But once back home in Nashville, she realized there was more to be written, and spent the nextfive months doing exactly that. Moving to Palace Studios in Toronto with Graham Walsh(Alvvays, METZ, !!!), Bognanno and Mitchell recorded “Where to Start” and “Let You,” whichproved to be two of the new album’s key tracks.

Ultimately, ​SUGAREGG​ is a testament that profound change can yield profound results — inthis case, the most expressive and powerful music of Bognanno’s career. “This is me longing tosee the bigger picture, motivated and eager for contentment in the best way,” she says. “I hopethe happy go lucky / fuck-it-all attitude shines through some of these songs because I really didfeel like I was reentering a place I hadn’t been to in a while and was excited to be back there.”

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