Alicia Bognanno walked into a record store and bought the very first thing she saw—a copy of Girls to the Front, Sara Marcus’ account of the riot grrrl movement. “Ooh, I’ve been meaning to read this,” she said while grabbing the last copy from the literature table at Rough Trade’s entrance. This was supposed to be an interview about the Bully frontwoman’s most influential albums and here she was buying a book. That’s sort of Bognanno in a nutshell, never really doing what she’s supposed to.
Growing up in Minneapolis, Bognanno, almost on a lark, elected to take a class on audio engineering in her senior year at an offsite alternative school that she describes as “like an art school, but in a zoo. Literally, they had a campus in a zoo.” At the suggestion of her teacher, she went to college to get a degree in audio engineering. But then once there, she didn’t really have much interest in learning ProTools and all of the digital techniques that would keep her glued to a computer screen for hours at a time. So instead, she focused on analog, a method being all but phased out by producers in the face of a digital future. But when putting together Feels Like, Bully’s much-anticipated debut LP, it came in handy.
Feels Like sure doesn’t sound like an album self-produced by a frontwoman with an audio engineering degree. It’s raw, simple, and devoid of studio gimmicks. But that’s exactly the point. The album more closely resembles the band’s live show than a professional recording. Bognanno, who now resides in Nashville and previously worked the sound booth at the local venue The Stone Fox, was able to cut all frills off of the album until it felt like the truest representation of Bully’s minimal, raggedy presence. Maybe that’s why it’s called Feels Like.
As we began our quest to find records that were influential on her songwriting for Bully, Bognanno, in true Bognanno fashion, asked, “Do they have to be influential records? Or can I just pick some records I like?”
Sure, why not.
Royal Trux - Accelerator
I haven’t listened to this one yet. But I’m gonna get it because it’s not on Spotify. Our local record shop had a Royal Trux box set. I went to get it the other day and they’d just sold it after having had it lying around for months.
I don’t know much about them but from what I know, it’s a girl and a guy. It’s just really messy. They’ll both sing at the same time, it’s not harmonizing or anything. “Rock,” I guess, but really just loosely put together. It doesn’t make any sense, but that’s why I like it.
Pixies - Surfer Rosa
Eyeroll, I know. But this was extremely influential on me, especially when I was around 17 or 18. Sonically, in one of my college classes called Critical Listening, we had to buy these really stupid expensive headphones and this was the first record I was sure to listen to on them. It’s simply just honest drums and guitars—just really upfront.
Patti Smith - Horses
I’m doing this one because of Just Kids, which is one of my all-time favorite books and I didn’t read it until about four months ago. But that book—her poetry and the bravery she had to do what she was doing at that time was pretty amazing. I mean, she started and was kind of doing her poems and getting into music and then slowly added instruments to her poetry and it just became this whole Patti Smith thing and it was kind of called punk rock. And it was just her attitude of wanting to be herself. She was obviously not concerned with what other people thought but also seemed really loving.
The Replacements - Let It Be / Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash
I fuckin’ love The Replacements. I love the way that Paul Westerberg writes his lyrics. Neither of these have “Achin' to Be” on them but that song, to me, is just perfect. He is so sweet and poetic but still so raw. I love how they can go through totally different phases where one minute, they’re really fast punk songs to another where they are well put-together pop songs. And they’re all equally as good.
You can tell that what they want to do is natural. It’s so careless but at the same time, there’s no way you can listen to a song like “Achin' to Be” and be like, “There’s no way you didn’t think about that.” It just sounds so natural and not forced.
Real, honest, humble.
Common - Be
Obviously Bully is not a hip-hop band but I have a sweet spot for Chicago artists. I love “Faithful.” It’s a song about being faithful to his woman. I mean, that’s really cool to have on a hip-hop record! And he pulls it off.
Jeff the Brotherhood - Heavy Days
Jeff the Brotherhood are from Nashville and we toured with them recently. Then I started listening to their records like crazy because they’re just so good live. Really guitar-heavy and Jake’s vocals are awesome. Just really good heavy rock that’s not trendy.
Thanks to Rough Trade for letting us browse your establishment with no intention of actually buying anything. Catch Bully on tour.
Dan Ozzi is on Twitter. - @danozzi