in conversation... Bully
“Sorry I broke my pedal today,” Alicia Bognanno shouts over the noise she’s making onstage with her guitar. “I’ll be up in a minute!”. Upstairs I have a quick chat with the guys in Bully who are checking out the menu deciding what to eat. Stewart, Clayton and Reece have just finished sound checking and taking a moment to relax. Soon Alicia swings open the door and sits down in front of me. “Hey how’s it going?” she asks. They explain their emergency trip to a local music store to buy a new pedal before tonight’s show but the rush seems to now be over and everyone takes a moment to relax on the sofas back stage. “It’s just been three months non stop since the record came out,” drummer Stewart Copeland says talking about their first headline tour. “In fact, this is still the first tour”. Whilst in the UK Bully are doing a string of dates supporting LA punks FIDLAR in venues that hold a couple of thousand. The prospect of coming from the US to play big shows in the UK is exciting for them, and the fact that it’s with FIDLAR even more so. “They’re awesome live,” Alicia proclaims. “They’re so much fun!”
Before Bully’s debut record Feels Like came out at the start of summer Bully hadn’t done a headline tour. Of course there had been many support slots, but being the band everyone is coming to see is a new thing for Bully. The band had self-released a limited edition cassette with the band’s first single Milkman on last year and since then have been showing off their grungy punk rock songs across the USA and Europe. “It feels good to have the record out,” Alicia tells. Alicia played a huge roll in releasing the album considering she recorded and mastered it herself. On top of that, the band recorded straight to tape. “I prefer recording analogue, I like the method of it better. I don’t like having to mix on the computer. It just makes a little more sense to me when I do it because it’s more of a physical process.” It’s clear that Alicia knows exactly what she’s talking about. “I studied audio engineering so I don’t really have a reason not to [record herself].” The recording aspect and creating music is something the front woman is passionate about and she uses Bully to practice her methods of recording. “It’s a lot less stressful that way,” she laughs. When listening to the record it’s hard to imagine it being produced in any other way. It’s a perfect sound that matches their fuzzy tracks and the analogue aspects really adds an edge to an already brilliant record.
Alicia talks about her future with Bully and wanting to possibly help out other bands in the studio, but for the meantime it’s all about Bully and the tour. She thinks about being back home, “when I get home for a few months all I want to do is write.” She finds it difficult to write when on the road. “I’d love to be able to do it but it’s just difficult to find time and space.” For her, writing is more of a private thing. “I can’t really write in front of other people or with other people around, and on tour you’re either in a venue or stuck in a van.” Alicia talks about how things may be different if they were in a bigger band, but for now writing is something that’s done in the comfort of her own home. This is likely the reason as to why Bully’s songs have personal lyrics, a lot of them reflecting the singer’s childhood and growing up.
Alicia’s home city, Tennessee, doesn’t have a big impact on her writing but from a business aspect the whole band agrees that it has helped them. “We are constantly around people who are professional musicians so there’s a lot of support which is really nice and helpful,” Alicia tells me. I ask the question of what the line is between being a non professional band and being a professional one to which Alicia responds, “There’s definitely a point where you have to start thinking oh we have to take back up amps and guitars and we need to get our shit together, and you have to make a lot of sacrifices when you decide to start spending a lot of time away.” In this sense it’s easy for being in a band to sound like it’s not a lot of fun, but Alicia reassures that for the most part it’s still a lot of fun, but also “there’s gonna be days where it just fucking sucks.” At this point bassist Reece Lazarus chirps in who’s been thinking for the past few minutes. “I think there are a few stages of being professional or taking it seriously,” he says. Stewart joins in by making the point that you don’t get to be an American band that gets to go to Europe if you don’t make the decision to take it seriously way before things take off in the band. There's mutual agreement in the room. “You work for a long time to be able to get across the ocean and you work so you can have people be your tour manager and have a label to help support the tours so the amount of work that even goes into getting to this point is a lot, and we all made the decision a long time ago to take it pretty seriously.”
It’s aspects like the financial side of touring and the decisions and sacrifices bands make that aren’t made clear to the people that come to their shows, and Alicia recalls when they were last in the UK with an Australian band and someone tried to bargain down their record. “They were like, oh £15 for a record seems kinda high can I get a bargain? and one of their band members just said to them, we paid £7,000 to come tour over here and play for you. It’s things like that that people obviously don’t think about but to us it’s really what we are thinking about.” It’s a very fair point that Bully are making and a point that needs to get put out there for people to understand that despite touring being very fun they also need to try and break even at least. “We have to be all in it,” Alicia continues, “Or else we could just stay in the States… But it is so awesome to tour here and it’s obviously really amazing to see some cool things and cool cities that none of us have been to before.” It’s very clear to me that Bully are so grateful for every person that walks through the door to their shows and to the people that leave carrying a new record or wearing a new t shirt and after the show later in the evening the band spent time chatting to fans and signing records.
The future for Bully is looking more than promising. “We already have the next year laid out,” Alicia laughs. “After Europe we go to Australia and then we have a break for Christmas before heading back out again in January.” Alicia can’t stop talking about touring as it’s pretty much all they have planned for the foreseeable future. We talk about playing the bigger festivals in the UK including Glastonbury and Reading and Leeds which is something Bully are keen to do in the future, but still something that’s new to them even back home in the States. “I personally hadn’t really been to any of the festivals before we started playing them. I guess when I was about 13 I went to Warped Tour…” Alicia laughs at this, but talks about how her college friends went to Bonnaroo but it wasn’t something she could afford as a student. It’s Reece that can tell the differences between going to a festival as a fan and going as a band, to which he describes it to be “polar fucking opposite.” They recall Pitchfork Festival being a highlight, slightly different to Alicia’s experience at the Warped Tour. “There were a few around when I was growing up that I would go to in high school,” Reece recalls. “But going to a festival when you’re in high school you’re just like, can I get drunk? Can I do drugs? Can I just have a party here? But you can’t really do that when you’re playing because you’re trying to play a show and it seems like there’s always a lot of barriers and obstacles to get through mentally and physically at a festival that don’t happen in a regular show. But if you’re just there as a fan you’re just like, man this is fucking awesome I’m stoned out of my mind and this band rules.” Reece laughs whilst Alicia nods, agreeing to what he’s saying about being an artist. “Festivals are super important for bands now though.”
Summer is still a while away yet though, and in the meantime it seems as though Bully have got a lot going on for them. Their tour is huge, matching their debut record Feels Like and the four piece show absolutely no signs of slowing down. They come across more as four friends doing what they enjoy doing and it’s an ongoing experience which is slowly opening up the world for them. With the US and Europe already conquered, Bully head out to Australia soon so dominate the cities there and it’s no doubt that it won’t stop then. As we end our conversation Alicia picks up the menu for the restaurant next door and has a browse through. “What’s a chip butty?” she asks. It’s only then do you really realise that Bully are going through a huge learning process as musicians, friends and people that is fuelled by punk rock and good times.
Cover photo by Pooneh Ghana, live photos by Nathan McLaren-Stewart.