Published Jun 22, 2015Bully are one of the newer rock bands out there that sound like dusted-off remnants from 20 years ago. But unlike those other bands, Bully's singer/guitarist/songwriter Alicia Bognanno is an audio engineer who gained crucial experience interning at the famed Electric Audio studio in Chicago, where seminal albums like Nirvana's In Utero, PJ Harvey's Rid of Me and the Pixies' Surfer Rosa were cut.
When it came time for Bully to record their debut, Feels Like (out June 23 on Star Time International/Columbia), the band chose not to stay in their hometown of Nashville. Instead, Bognanno took the band up north back to Chicago, where she learned the ropes.
"I had interned there and I knew it was a really comfortable place to make a record," Bognanno tells Exclaim! "I was somewhat familiar with their gear and how they like to do things. It's a really great studio because there's a bedroom in there and a kitchen, so you don't need to leave and you can just focus on making the record. Also, I get distracted very easily, so working in a studio in Nashville, I could bump into a bunch of people and get side-tracked, so that's why I kinda wanted to do it in Chicago."
Bognanno knew a little about Electrical Audio's history, as well as its owner, Steve Albini, going in, but she found the experience to be the complete package as both an engineer, a musician and a fan.
"I learned a lot about the history of what bands had been there as I was interning there," she says. "I obviously knew that the Pixies and Nirvana made records there, but more of the studio's history and how it came to be I learned while I was there. I spent an equal amount of time with Steve and the other staff engineers. I'd come in and do my intern duties and when I was done I would sit in on the sessions and write down whatever questions I had and then waited to pick their brains about studio stuff."
Like Albini, Bognanno was insistent on going full analog for Feels Like. Not just because of how the album would sound, but because she wanted the challenge of limiting her options.
"I just prefer the method of it," she explains. "I didn't want to mix the record on a computer. I don't like staring at a screen. I like being able to commit to it, and not have a million and 12 options. And you can have that many options, but I wanted to make it easier to not have those options. I didn't want it to feel like a digital record. I wanted it to feel live. I also prefer mixing on a console and to tape as opposed to a computer. I feel like if I did it on a computer, the record would never be finished because I'd be constantly pulling it back up to rethink small things. I didn't want to be in that situation."
The fact that she favours the alternative '90s not just in her band's grunge-y sound, but in her record collection, made Electrical Audio a no-brainer. But Bognanno says Bully's sound was not a conscious design.
"When I started writing Bully music I didn't even know or understand how it'd be perceived or what it sounded like really, other than that it was rock," she says. "I think naturally because I was a fan of that era, a lot of the bands I liked, it happened more so that way than intentionally."
One thing that is intentional when it comes to Bully is the confusion and even kidding that comes from their drummer being named Stewart Copeland. Yes, he constantly hears about how he shares his name with the drummer of the Police.
"Some people thought we just used the name Stewart Copeland as a drummer to try and reel people in," Bognanno says with a laugh. "Sometimes we'll sell a seven-inch at a show and someone will come back to the merch table after reading the back of it and ask, 'Is your drummer really named Stewart Copeland?' That happens. I imagine he's sick of it by now. He's gotten grief for it his whole life, especially for being a drummer. I'm sure he's very sick of it."
Bully have several tour dates coming up in the next few months, including a few here in Canada. You can see their complete schedule here.