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The Evolution of Bully’s Alicia Bognanno 

The songwriter enjoys the luxury of time and space with a Nashville state of mind.

by Gregory Adams

Photo by Sophia Matinazad

Change can be good — healthy, even — but it has a knack for catching us off-guard. 

This was certainly the case for Bully’s Alicia Bognanno throughout the making of the Nashville alt-rock outfit’s gloriously glitz-and-grime-plastered fourth full-length, Lucky For You. For proof, take the album’s “A Love Profound,” a laid back, fuzz-driven groove that nevertheless finds Bognanno offering up an almost exasperated, spoken-word admission: “No matter how hard I try, I can’t wish away the idea of inevitable change.” It’s a presciently anxious note, perhaps reflective of the groundswell of life-altering moments that surrounded the recording sessions — an ongoing path towards sobriety and the death of a beloved pet among them.

On a cellular level, the fact that Lucky For You was also the first album that the artist had ever cut in her home state of Tennessee — producer/collaborator JT Daly’s MMK Studios a mere five minutes away from Bognanno’s abode — was also a game-changer. Took some convincing for Bully to settle in, though.

“The record I made before (Sugaregg, 2020) was out in Pachyderm, in the middle-of-nowhere Minnesota, in a studio in the woods. It was incredible; I didn’t have service,” she says of the previous album’s remote, hyper-focused conditions. “I was definitely hesitant about trading that off for being here [in Nashville], going into the studio and then coming home [at night]. I was really worried about what that would do, inspiration-wise and work ethic-wise.”

Bognanno notes that the bulk of Bully’s albums had been tracked and mixed in around two weeks. Comparatively, Lucky For You evolved over the course of seven months. While marked by an off-and-on pace, the material didn’t stagnate. Instead, she explains that the outstretched circumstances afforded the music “the luxury of time and space, which is really priceless when you’re reflecting upon a creative work.” After tracking a song or two, Bognanno and Daly would take a breather until inspiration hit.

It was during the downtime, however, that Bognanno faced a particularly crushing challenge: the death of her dog, Mezzi. Bully’s leader tenderly describes the late pet as having been “an emotional support figure” and “the only constant in the crazy past 13 years that I’ve had.” At home, Mezzi would sidle up whenever Bognanno would crank up her guitar (“I would have to constantly put her ear muffs on, like, ‘Babe…this is too loud for you.’ But she loved it!”); she was also an on-the-road companion through various tours and recording sessions. 

Mezzi’s passing left both Bognanno and a small, chihuahua-ish fur pal named Papa spinning adrift. The musician would stare out her window for hours and reflect on the idea of meeting her pet in another life (this scenario playing out in-song on “A Wonderful Life”). Eventually, she was able to channel grief and love into the sweet, bubble grunge-punchiness of Lucky For You’s “Days Move Slow.”

“There were a few weeks where everything felt like such a chore to do, even getting dressed,” the musician reveals. “This was [during] one of those breaks that we had while making the record. I was really avoiding coming into my room and writing, because [Mezzi] was always right there with me when I did that. The idea of doing it without her just felt lonely and uninspiring…but I knew I had to do something. I sat down and [“Days Move Slow”] was the first song that came out.”

“Days Move Slow” ultimately lands tributary, accepting, and hopeful (“There’s flowers on your grave that grow,” Bognanno sings). Elsewhere, she takes stock of an inward change. Lucky For You is notably the first album the musician has made since cutting alcohol out of her life. “Drinking was a big problem for me,” she notes. “I already have a lot of mental health stuff that I struggle with — [the] depression, guilt, and shame that came with drinking would make it way worse. I knew that I had to stop before something happened to me, or somebody else.” 

The album’s opening track, “All I Do,” hints at the decision to quit drinking through a determined cry of “I’ll never get fucked up again,” though the artist notes that striving for betterment also led to some confounding realizations. “I lost most of my friends,” Bognanno explains. “I say ‘friends’ in quotations because you should be able to stop drinking and not lose your friends. But it was just like, ‘Oh, the people that I hang around are usually all doing this one thing; that’s actually what we had in common, and we don’t have that anymore.’”

The flux of life manifests in various ways across Lucky For You. On the one hand, the album found Bully’s founder happily collaborating with new musical partner Daly, who added drums. The two both play bass and synth on the record, but “A Wonderful Life” is the first Bully piece to feature Bognanno honking on a harmonica.

On the other side of things, the precious, open-air strum of “Ms. America” is a potent response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, and how that move has further weaponized healthcare. A raw-throated Bognanno also drills into restrictive reproductive rights, gun violence, climate change, and more on punk-raging call-to-action “All This Noise,” though the musician admits she’s exhausted by the political spiralling of the past few years.

“I feel like I have talked about this shit for so long,” she explains. “When we first started touring 10 years ago, we’d take around note cards and petitions for every city that you could sign, and I would send [those] to the state representatives. The fact that it’s only gotten worse just leaves me kind of speechless…discouraged. I don’t mean that in a way where we should stop fighting. I think we should always be working towards getting to a better place, but I am [currently experiencing] a new level of rock bottom with that.”

With all of that in mind, RANGE asks Bognanno whether the title to Lucky For You lands with optimism or a sarcastic thud. Right now, it’s the former. At home, her other pooch, Papa, is thriving, even appearing on a new piece of Bully merch sporting Joe Cool sunglasses. Bognanno, meanwhile, has further opened her heart by fostering other pets, and is about to invite us into another stunning set from Bully. While ready to take her next step, the Bully founder credits the bond she held with Mezzi as a guiding principle.

“I’m so grateful I got to share this connection with someone. It’s not that my life was horrible, it’s just that [Mezzi] made it that much better, and for that I am so grateful for… I’m very lucky.”