When Toronto indie-rocker Lenny Bull wrote a jangly riff designed to be played at a rowdy backyard BBQ during the height of a COVID lockdown, she found ways to improvise. Her latest video single, “Feel Alright,” finds her throwing the party the song deserved with the best guests she could have found – respiratory system-free sock puppets, who act as her backing chorus and aid her in consuming mountains of Cheetos.
Previewing the warmer months ahead and her upcoming album, Strange Vacation, which will release on September 23, Bull describes the track as “your pool party jam and your summer night single,” adding that “you can finally kiss everyone you know again, so let this play in the background.” Bull gives off an aura of effortless cool in the video, strumming her black guitar while soaking her feet in a blow-up pool with a couple cans of PBR floating inside for good measure.
Played in a backyard adorned with string lights and a yellow shark piñata – which is, of course, ceremoniously destroyed – the track itself is drenched in reverb, the sunny backdrop and vintage-sounding backing vocals masking some more somber lyrical content about a couple’s argument. Bull is inspired by The Pretenders, and certainly emulates their blend of danceable melodies with a bit of an edge.
We caught up with Bull to talk about her latest single, motherhood, and the ongoing Cheetos debate — crunchy or hard?
What was it like being on set and shooting the video?
It was a very DIY scenario. We picked a sunny day, got our friend Erik Grice (of Altameda) to direct, spruced up my pal Jesse’s backyard, and shot a bunch of little vignettes. The only real challenge was that I was 12 weeks pregnant at the time, and was dealing with some pretty intense morning sickness. I don’t know how we made it happen, but we made it happen. I highly recommend making music vids with your friends. It was such a collaborative experience and everybody contributed hilarious ideas.
Where did the idea for a sock puppet party come from?
We wanted the video to feel like a party, but it was still lockdown vibes, so we needed it to be minimal. I guess the puppets came out of necessity to incorporate some guests?! It was actually my guitar player’s idea. I thought it was stupid at first. BUT THEN I CAME AROUND AND REALIZED IT WAS A GREAT IDEA.
I got my good friends Brandon Celi (he’s an amazing artist ya’ll, go check his work out on the internet) and Emily Dynes to help me create these grungy Wayne’s World-esque puppets. One of my favourite moments filming was watching my pals operate these socks. They had to position themselves so their bodies wouldn’t be in the shot and it was too funny.
While the song is positioned as a fun-loving summer anthem, the lyrics seem to be a little more somber. Was there any real-life inspiration behind them?
You got it! We love a sad song to an upbeat tempo over here. I wrote this one after a tizzy with my partner. He pissed me RIGHT OFF, and I wrote him a song about how it might make me feel better to be on my own. Once I wrote it I felt a lot better and we did a kiss and make up. I like to write about the day to day experience of relationships. The ups and downs of friendship, family, lovers, and crushes. It’s never failed me when I don’t know what to write about.
Who have been some of your musical inspirations? What are you listening to lately?
I’m all over the place. Let’s see, my most recents on Spotify are the Go-Go’s, Mac Demarco, Jane’s Addiction, Amyl and the Sniffers, Solange, Andy Shauf, and lately a lot of Raffi…. My long standing inspo always comes down to Pretenders and the Rolling Stones. They’re my tried and true.
You mention that you dedicate your upcoming work to the pandemic – what about it changed your approach or inspired your new direction?
Well, Covid really threw a wrench in my plans (lol, all our plans). I had a whole 2020 west coast tour booked, I had summer festival plans, I was ready to GO. I mean… this record was supposed to come out LAST YEAR. Instead I sat at home for two years and wondered if music was RIP, and got knocked up. So I dedicate this record to putting the shit show of Covid behind me and getting back on the horse.
What’s the meaning behind your upcoming album’s title, Strange Vacation?
The last few years have been a pretty strange vacation I think? It felt appropriate to acknowledge the alien world that we were in. I also have a few songs that lean into the theme of being somewhere else (I just wanna go to Vegas, is that too much to ask?!). I wanted the title of the record to play with both those concepts and so there you have it! Strange Vacation.
Congratulations on becoming a new mom! Can we expect any songs on the way on that subject? (Or perhaps an attempt to break a chart record for the youngest feature on a song a la Beyonce and Jay-Z)?
Thanks! Being a mom is a wild ride for sure. So one track on the record is called “Mother Lover” (we just released it in April) and it makes fun of being a mama’s boy. It was written before I even knew I was pregnant, but has obviously taken on a new relevance now, with my own little mamas’ boy.
We actually thought about including a cry track at the end if we needed an extra song on the record. We were initially planning on releasing these songs as an EP last year, to tide us over while we went in to record a new LP with funding from a recording grant… I found out I was pregnant two weeks after receiving the grant. Long story short they didn’t give us the extension we were hoping for; turns out having a baby isn’t a good enough reason for a grant extension, so we used these songs instead. We were worried we needed more material, and joked about featuring my wailing baby. It ended up that there were enough songs, so we didn’t need to, but he’ll for sure be featured in my next records.
Since your video contains a sock puppet wildly consuming Cheetos, we have to know your thoughts on the never-ending debate: crunchy or puffy?
CRUNCHY FOREVER. With some puffs on the side pls.
What’s next for Lenny Bull? Anything else you’d like us to know?
I’m still cautious (I got an infant to worry about!) but we’re dusting off the cobwebs baby! We’ve got NXNE, then Dakota Tavern on June 30 and a tour in the spring.