bully is bringing punk vibes to nashville
We talk to the Nashville-based alternative band that’s making some of the best punk music you’ll hear all year.
Photography Josh Anderson
With scrappy guitar hooks and badass lyrics, Bully is this generation's iteration of popular punk — whether or not the band's founder and front woman Alicia Bognanno believes it. "I don't think of us as punk, but I love that other people do," she confessed over the phone from her home in Nashville. "I say we're alternative, but I don't think I'm right in saying that." Bognanno might struggle to classify her sound, but it hasn't stopped critics from citing Bully in ongoing discussions of indie music's current punk-rock revival. Bully's debut EP garnered comparisons to other female-fronted alternative outfits like Sleater-Kinney and Perfect Pussy. Image wise, Bognanno fits the bill perfectly: clad in an oversized T-shirt with bleached blonde hair over her eyes, she looks ready to head bang with the best of them. We called up grunge-punk's future princess to talk about keeping your cool on stage, the name Bully, and writing love songs.
You guys recently wrapped a month-long US tour. How was that?
It was fun! Minus the whole New York blizzard situation, we were pretty lucky with weather.
What's the crowd like at a Bully show?
It's actually all over the place. Early on, it was a lot of people our age, but now there are also older people who think we sound 90s-ish. And ever since we did that tour with Drowners, who have a younger fan base, it's been even more diverse, which is cool.
How would you characterize your performance style on stage?
We're all pretty laid-back. We don't ham stuff up. So many bands that have come out of Nashville recently go wild and crowd surf, they have wireless guitars and roam around everywhere. That's just not really a Bully thing at the moment.
How did you come up with the name Bully?
I picked it out at around the same time I wrote the song Bully, which is about me dealing with myself. I think back to when I was 15 and there were situations in which somebody mistreated me and I didn't know how to stand up for myself. Bully is about the people that build you into the person you are. Some people want to say we're pro-bullying. Obviously we're not, but I'm fine with them not understanding.
You've already finished recording Bully's debut album. What's your songwriting process like?
It takes me a while to write a song, only because I'll write two or three at a time and then choose one. Usually I can write the bones of a song in a day, but it will take me a while to get the lyrics down. Then there are some songs like Milkman — that just wrote itself. If something is taking me way too long and it's not coming to me, I usually drop it because I feel like it's not meant to be.
What types of songs do you have a harder time writing?
It's really hard for me to write songs about love. Not love in general, but if I'm in a relationship, I kind it difficult to write about — unless the relationship is driving me crazy. And when I sit down to write something slow, it's hard for me to tell if it's any good or if it's just boring!
Are there any common interests you share with your band mates besides music?
We all really like indie comics! And Thai food…and Vietnamese food!
What's it like being a young musician in Nashville right now?
There are so many resources. Everybody is in a band. Literally everybody. Sometimes you want to roll your eyes, but other times it's awesome because everybody gets it.
Text Clarke Rudick
Photography Josh Anderson