BYT Interviews: Bully (2017)
Megan | Nov 13, 2017 | 1:00PM |

Bully’s new record Losing dropped just recently on 10.20 via Sub Pop; the follow-up to Feels Like, it was once again engineered and mixed at Chicago’s Electrical Audio, but some definite departures can be heard on the LP. I spoke to frontwoman Alicia Bognanno about all of that, as well as about October-approved nightmarish topics including ghosts, snake wine, and (obviously) politics. Internet-eavesdrop on our full conversation below, grab a copy of the record, and catch the band on tour at NYC’s Music Hall of Williamsburg on 11.13, and/or DC’s U Street Music Hall on 11.15.

First off, did you give up drinking coffee for a while and then (according to Twitter) start back up the other day?

I did. But now I’m back. [Laughs]

Oh my god, what was that like?

It never got easy. I was just exhausted the whole time; I thought it’d be a couple of weeks and I’d snap back into action, I’d be good to go, but it wasn’t like that at all. It was just months of me being tired. I think it’s nice now because I know that I can just have one cup, whereas before I was working at home so much (because that’s where I write), so it was easy for me to just have a pot of coffee going at all times. And I don’t think that’s the right way to go about things. But yeah, not easy.

Well I’m glad you’re in a better caffeine place now, but I totally feel you re: working from home and the tendency towards overindulging in multiple cups of coffee. Now, while I was on Twitter I also saw those rad stickers you guys have for your merch collection this time around. How’d you get linked up with Hellen [Jo] to design those?

She’s done a shirt for us in the past, and I’ve been a fan of her artwork for a while. I first saw her stuff when she did that issue of Frontier. We’d been in touch earlier when the first record came out to do that shirt for us, and we hadn’t done stickers before, and I didn’t want to just have a sticker that said “Bully”, so I thought if I could get her to draw one of her badass ladies with “Bully” written on the shirt, it’d be really cool. And it turned out awesome.

Her stuff is so good. Do you guys watch Steven Universe at all?

No, I don’t.

Maybe that’s one to get into on the road (I’m obsessed), but she’s done some storyboarding and stuff for the show. It’s awesome you’ve been able to work with her, though!

Yeah, I’m terrible at art and never want to try and do anything, because it’s not going to be any good. But we’re huge comic book fans, so from the very start we’ve just been commissioning good artists to do stuff.

Good call. Now, you’ve got the record coming out on Friday, so congratulations!

Thanks!

You engineered and mixed in the same spot (Electrical Audio), but what was the biggest technical departure you had from Feels Like with Losing?

I think…I mean, this was just overall a studio change, but I felt like it was smoother; we were a lot more prepared since we’d done the first record in the same location and knew what to expect. I think mentally we had it together a little bit more. Sonically, I didn’t get as carried away with the room mics as I did on Feels Like, so that’s a big change, and I also mixed the vocals a little bit louder. There are a couple of mics that I stuck with for the most part. A lot of the preamps got changed up, and we got to mess around with some cool stuff that wasn’t there before. But overall it was a very similar setup.

Cool. And when we spoke last year, you mentioned that typically lyrics come secondarily in your writing process. Was that still true for Losing?

Well, lyrics always come after the music for me, and they always take the longest, and are the most work out of anything, easily. I’ll have four or five or six drafts before I’ll even get to a point where I need to track it. But I think what I was probably referring to was in the mixing process, most of the time I’ll want it to represent sonically whatever emotion I was feeling while I was writing it, and there are definitely songs where we pulled back out the Green Bullet, we had premixed tracks, we had megaphone tracks for me standing in the left corner of the room, and just picking up one of the room mics on the floor…kind of all over the place. But yeah, I’d say it varied from song to song. There are songs like “Guess There” where it’s supposed to be really sarcastic, and you just kind of have that one main vocal track and that’s it, and then you get to something like “Focused” where there’s like seven different harmonies, and it’s supposed to be this giant chorus behind the lead line. It really just differs from song to song. But I did have that same feeling in mind.

Right. And last time we also talked about how you guys were doing the gun control petitions at shows; will there be any political activism components during this tour? And/or how do you manage to compartmentalize the stress of the news cycle in 2017 as a performer?

Usually if we do something it’s something we can sell or put up online so that the proceeds will go to a charity or something like that, as opposed to just saying why we’re angry. I don’t know, it’s so fucking exhausting in general, everything that’s going on with the political climate right now. We do want to stay active and up to date with what’s going on, but I also want to enjoy playing music and being on the road. It’s exhausting. I don’t even know how to answer it. [Laughs] We’re doing what we can, but I’m trying not to let it bring me down or bum me out or completely consume my life. I don’t know.

I mean, that’s totally fair. I’m sure there are people who’ve figured out the magic formula for how to navigate all of it, but personally I’ve kind of been at a loss. 

Yeah, I’m a really sensitive person. I know that when I do post something, I’m like, “Alright, here it goes. I’m going to have a ball in my stomach for the rest of the fucking day,” because people are going to come back at you, because it’s the internet, and that’s what happens. You speak your mind, but it’s not fun. It’s necessary at times, but it’s not fun. [Laughs]

Totally. Do you feel like that factors in when you’re releasing new material? Like, do you try to avoid looking at all the commentary? Or is it kind of inevitable?

A little bit of both. I mean, I try not to stress about it, because I feel like it’s a waste of time to be nervous about it. This record has been really well-received so far, so that’s good. But I don’t actively look out for reviews or interviews I’ve done, because I’m very self-critical. But if something is presented to me and I feel like going down that rabbit hole, then I’ll click on it. But I never read comments or anything, because that’s just a waste of my time. I do think it’s beneficial to take a bit of constructive criticism, so I don’t shut it out completely. I’m nervous, but at the same time, there’s no turning back now, so I’m going to be positive about it. And I know I worked really hard on it, and I’m really proud of it. Whatever happens happens!

For sure. My sister and I are very different people; she’s five years older and very into inspirational quotes. Anyway, she recently posted one to Instagram that said, “You can’t please everyone – you’re not pizza.” Which is like, the most basic thing I’ve ever heard, but also there is a lot of truth in that statement.

You are not wrong!

Alright, on a semi-lighter…or, I guess not “lighter”, but definitely different note than internet trolls, I’m going to shoehorn in this question; in October we always ask bands whether or not they believe in ghosts, and/or if they’ve ever experienced something supernatural. So, do you believe in ghosts, and/or have you ever experienced anything supernatural?

Oooooooooh! I try not to believe in ghosts because I live alone and I get really spooked about superstitious stuff, but I definitely do believe in ghosts.

Oh, I’m totally that person. I was just house sitting for friends down the block and I slept with all the lights on, not because I was afraid of home invaders (or, maybe a little bit), but because I was like, “What if there are ghosts.” (I am twenty-nine.)

It is weird, too; I’ve lived in houses where it’s been way more difficult to sleep, or I’ve just felt scared, and I don’t feel that way in the house I’m in now. But then I look back and reflect on it, and I wonder if it’s because there was something else going on in that house.

Right, weird energy for sure.

There are particular times and places where I feel like you just get kind of spooked. Yeah.

Speaking of weird shit, I was on your Instagram and saw that picture you took of snake wine or something…it was definitely a snake in a bottle with some kind of liquid, and you said you were told it was supposed to help with indigestion or something?

Oh yeah! [Laughs] That was in China. My dad lives in Shanghai, and I forget where we were, but I didn’t drink it, so I don’t know.

Yeah, probably a smart choice to avoid. Alright, and back on US soil you’ll be doing these tour dates. Anything out of the ordinary in the works for the performances? Or just reveling in this new batch of songs you get to play for us?

We’ve just been working a bunch on the new set, so the setup will be very different! No huge surprises in the works just yet, but our set will be a little bit longer, which is a plus. It’ll be fun!

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