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This Ain’t A Scene: Bully

When we decided to start a new magazine, we thought long and hard about the best way to introduce ourselves. Mission statements? Manifestos? Rambling paragraphs about what we stood for and how we were different? Nah. Not for us. Instead, we decided to catch up with some of our favourite bands. Not to try to group them together, or to make a new scene – just to say they’re great. That’s what Upset is about.

Bully are a sucker punch. Barely stopping for breath since their emergence last summer, it’s little wonder the road to debut album ‘Feels Like’ has been so swiftly-tread – anything less than 100mph is dawdling for this lot.

As such, ‘Feels Like’ is a record trimmed of any fat – something reflected in the writing process. “I would write something and then bring it to the band and tell them how I wanted it to be and they would just play along with it,” explains guitarist, vocalist and primary songwriter Alicia Bognanno with an almost comically deadpan simplicity. She’s quick to deny any clashing of heads or ego-massaging though – “that’s why we’re a band! Because we all like stuff that each other likes, that’s why it works!”

But first and foremost, Bully is Alicia’s baby; an outlet for independence that sticks itself to three-chord, Japandroids indebted euphoria and swelters like the heat of their Nashville ‘music city’ home – listening in on her odes to “spinning around in my underwear” and “praying for my period all week” feels almost intrusive, such is the minutiae of her white-hot reflections on youth. It’s a kaleidoscope of influence, manifesting itself in a tumbling collection of fuzzed-out pop-rock hits.

“We wouldn’t be a band if it wasn’t for Nashville,” starts drummer Stewart Copeland when quizzed on their hometown’s influence. “We wouldn’t have met each other. Alicia and I ended up there together in Nashville proper, but I don’t think the band would have gone anywhere if we weren’t in such a serious music scene, music city, where we could take music seriously.”

The city’s musical pedigree certainly helped when it came to the practicalities of building the band, such as finding jobs that would allow them the time off for their swiftly-filling touring schedule, but ‘Feels Like’ ended up coming together in another city – and as a result of another job – entirely.

Electrical Audio – the famed studio of Steve Albini, producer of Nirvana’s ‘In Utero’ – was the place where Bully and ‘Feels Like’ found their footing. Alicia interned there in the summer of 2011, using her spare time to get to grips with the intricacies of Albini’s direct-to-tape recording facilities and feeding this all back into her home recordings of early Bully material.

“I knew I would be comfortable working there,” she explains of the recording process for the album, “I had interned there, and knew everybody that worked there was really awesome and incredibly smart. I knew it would be the best way to free myself of the distraction that I would have doing it in Nashville. And also I wanted to do it all on tape machines.”

“I’ve just always done all our stuff on tape – this was the only record that we had the budget to go and do it there and mix on a console and send it to the half-inch machine and send that reel off to be mastered,” she spirals off, visibly excited by the tech side of the recording process. She bemoans the sadly necessary use of Pro Tools in their earlier material – “I knew that if I had the option to not do that, I didn’t want to do that, because I’m very indecisive and it would just take me way too long and I’d keep coming back to it.”

“I just like the method of it,” she continues on the subject of tape. “Committing to what you want to do instead of like, ‘we could try this’ or ‘let’s see what it’s like to cut this bridge!’ It’s like; no I’m just going to do it the way it was written.”

Stewart picks up the baton; “I think as far as performance and stuff, I think before we went in Alicia definitely talked a lot about her really wanting the record to sound like it’s us playing the record and not like it’s super worked-over. We didn’t have Pro Tools or have to lay down a million tracks and pick the best ones. There’s no effects afterwards, they just spent a couple of days finding all their pedal chains to make the sounds while they’re doing it live and did it live.”

“It’s nice to just have 24 tracks and have to work with what you have and figure it out from there,” smiles Alicia. “Not be like ‘maybe we should throw on just a little bit of synth over this’ of something – we knew that wasn’t what it was and that wasn’t the kind of record we wanted to make.”

It’s easy to look at Bully’s fuzzed-out aesthetic, links to the ‘In Utero’ producer and aversion to overly pernickety production methods and draw upon that ever-lingering buzzword, ‘grunge’. That’s not a pegging that Alicia will settle for though. “I think lots of times we just get thrown in with that label, cause a lot of people think that it’s reminiscent of the 90s,” she shrugs. “I’m not saying it’s not! But it was never intentional.”

True to Bully form, bassist Reece’s word on the matter is as no-frills as it is final: “It just feels better to hear it called grunge than hear it called  “indie-garage-pop” or something like that. Y’know – adjective party!” 

Taken from the August issue of Upset – order a copy now.