Alicia Bognanno is grunge: from her wild thoughts and gritty music, down to the Doc Martens on her feet. At least, that’s the adjective she would prefer to use. I met up with Alicia this past weekend, and I might as well admit this now: I was a little nervous. This chick does it all. Not only is she the lead singer of Bully, a Nashville band that is really making moves and making them fast, but she also plays guitar in the band, writes all of the music, and engineers everything they produce. Can you see why I felt the way I did? I was immediately put at ease by her honesty and energy, and I think that’s why we ended up talking for a couple of hours about everything from music to the Kardashians.
This Minnesota transplant ended up in the great state of Tennessee when a teacher encouraged her to look at MTSU’s Audio Production program. After little consideration for any other kind of path, Alicia set her sights on engineering and made it happen. She immersed herself in the program, sang in a band, and landed herself an internship in Chicago the summer before her last semester at Steve Albini’s studio, Electrical Audio. “I can’t even describe how much I loved being there. I learned 15 years of information in two months,” Alicia says, as she beams about her time there. We should all be grateful that she had this opportunity, for it was during this time that Alicia wrote a lot of Bully’s early music.
When the internship ended, Alicia ventured back to the South, moved to Nashville, finished school by commute, and started Bully after a helpful push by Stewart Copeland, the guitarist of the band she was in during school and the current drummer of Bully. This grunge band, a genre classification she describes as “more of an attitude,” grounded itself in a solidified sound and a philosophy that music should be about the music. Alicia’s talent touched every part of the Bully EP, which was released this past October, and she is credited to singing, playing, writing, and engineering this band’s initial piece. Despite being a Jane-of-all-trades in the studio, she definitely had an inclination towards her voice. “I love focusing on vocals, it’s my favorite thing to record and mix. It’s just natural, it’s coming from you.” Even today she comments most on her voice and how it relates to what she does. “The more I write, the more I play with the people I’m playing with, and the more comfortable I get with it, the way I sing now is not a way I’ve sung before…my favorite part about the two Bully projects is when I listen to the Bully EP, and then I listen to “Milkman,” a more current track. Sonically, “Milkman” just sounds a lot better to me and that’s the whole point of it.” And she sounds damn good, too.
Chaos is a catalyst for this young creator, and despite it, Alicia stays grounded in the music when performing. She doesn’t plan her outfit for a show, doesn’t think about what she’s going to say when she steps on stage. And don’t think of passing her a recording from a live performance. “I don’t like seeing or hearing myself live. I just like having a good time and enjoying the moment.” Her focus is beautifully narrow, and as she sips her coffee and sings the opening guitar line of “Bully,” she emphasizes her greatest desire: “whatever I can do to make it about the music, that’s what I want.”
Currently, Alicia splits her time between engineering at Battle Tapes, running sound at the Stone Fox, and traveling and jamming with Bully. In regards to my amazement with how she manages to do it all, she simply says, “yeah it’s tough. No it’s not, it’s awesome.”
For those of you making the pilgrimage to the farm, check out Bully at Bonnaroo on June 12th at 2pm.