Breaking: Bully

Bringing down misconceptions—and building up a new era—with the Nashville quartet on the heels of their devastatingly vicious full-length debut.

MEMBERS: Alicia Bognanno (guitar/vocals), Stewart Copeland (drums), Clayton Parker (guitar), and Reece Lazarus (bass)
FOUNDED: 2013
FROM: Nashville, Tennessee
YOU MIGHT KNOW THEM FROM: The innate desire to scream at the top of your lungs
NOW: Shaking hair out of their faces across the country in support of Feels Like, out on StarTime International/Columbia

This article being no exception, one of the first things you’re bound to hear about Bully is how they sound like a grunge band reincarnate. It’s not a completely untrue description—and guitarist/lead singer Alicia Bognanno would be the first to admit that—but in simply summing up the gnarled and beautiful music of the group’s LP Feels Like as ’90s alternative revival, you would be dodging the razor-sharp point of the album’s very modern emotional core, and misrepresenting one of the freshest debuts in recent memory.

“I guess I would prefer to be called ‘grunge’ than ‘garage,’” says Bognanno, sitting in a booth at Canter’s Deli in Los Angeles with bandmates Stewart Copeland, Clayton Parker, and Reece Lazarus. “And I don’t think it’s ‘indie’ because I don’t know what the fuck ‘indie’ means. So I guess if I had to choose, ‘grunge’ at least makes sense. But if I didn’t have to choose, I would just…prefer not to.”

“I guess I would prefer to be called ‘grunge’ than ‘garage.’ And I don’t think it’s ‘indie’ because I don’t know what the fuck ‘indie’ means.”

Melvillian preferences aside, Bognanno has every right to readily dismiss the “garage” label in particular, given that she recorded, engineered, and mixed Feels Like in Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio studio in Chicago, where she had previously interned before going on to form Bully in Nashville. And like the frequent “grunge” descriptor, Albini’s name gets thrown around a lot in relation to the album, but Bognanno is quick to clarify that, despite being “the best engineer ever,” the In Utero producer had no involvement with the actual production beyond simply hosting it in his space.

Arranged to match the band’s sincerely utilitarian live show, and captured predominantly in a minimal amount of takes (barring the more “elaborate” tracks, “which means more than two parts,” cracks Bognanno), the LP feels specific of a time and place, and its energy is impossible to ignore—the absolute antithesis of elevator music. Columbia imprint StarTime International signed Bully to release it, which may sound fancy, but it’s 2015, and as Bognanno explains, “A lot of the contracts I’ve seen between quote-unquote ‘major labels’—or ‘indie labels that are owned by a major label’—and ‘indie labels,’ the difference is, like, a tour van or not.”

And that’s really at the crux of it, inevitably: Bully could have existed in 1993, but they don’t, and their unintentional defiance of common twenty-first century genre designations most basely indicates just how much they stand out from what’s predominantly going on in rock and roll right now.

“It’s not our immediate responsibility or whatever to know all of that,” says Copeland, speaking of their place within the industry. “Just kind of focusing on being a band presently, and writing decent songs, and playing well is.” That’s no doubt the right answer (particularly on such a topic while sitting in an establishment with Guns N’ Roses posters looming on the walls), but a telling one, nonetheless, as the quartet jettisons into an unknown (but in their case, promising) landscape.

“We have a manager and he can think about that,” Copeland goes on. “And people can write about rock and roll and stuff.” And so we will. FL

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