Bully's Alicia Bognanno Talks #1 Bluesman and Hilarious Harmonica Takes
BY GREGORY ADAMS
Bully guitarist-vocalist Alicia Bognanno’s Instagram feed has been a gear-hound’s dream lately. If you’ve been following, she’s been using her IG stories to show off an outsized collection of fuzzes, delays, and ‘verbs that speak to the dialed-up-and-blown-out approach of Bully’s explosive new Lucky For You full-length. She’s also been using the medium to explain exactly how character pieces like Earthquaker’s Bit Commander pedal have been affecting the tunes — in this case, the monophonic analog guitar synthesizer courses a vibrant, faux-twinned sound into Lucky For You’s grooving “Hard to Love,” making for one of Bully’s most unique leads.
In a piece through RANGE, the Nashville-based alt-punker told me that her fifth full-length Bully project was informed by the death of her beloved dog, Mezzi, and the dark political swing of the past few years. Despite that, the songwriter feels hopeful for the future.
While I had her on the line, Alicia was also contemplating how best to approach Bully’s newest songs in a live setting, and had been tunnel-focused on troubleshooting her arsenal of stompboxes.
“I am in the process of figuring out the live show, so I’m thinking [about] how to execute [the songs],” she said of an all-encompassing journey through the tone zone. “That’s all I’ve be been doing recently. I have two different pedalboards behind me that I’m setting up and nerding out on.”
From the tangy punch of a Russian Pickle pedal, to Alicia’s trustiest six-string, to the harmonica-honkin’ harmonies she chuckled through during the recording sessions, these are some of the gear choices that went into Bully’s Lucky For You.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
There’s some harmonica on “A Wonderful Life” that feels like a new bit of colour for Bully…
ALICIA BOGNANNO: That’s so funny, I’m so glad you pointed that out. I was cracking up when I did that. I don’t know if it started as a joke...[but] it just felt right!
I’[d] never played harmonica, [but] I whipped it out, did a few takes, and then [album producer/collaborator] J.T. [Daly] put them together to make it sound cohesive. The harmonica moment is very funny to me — just because it’s so dramatic — but it fits really well. It’s also funny that I played it and it sounds good.
Have you since bought one of your own?
BOGNANNO: Oh gosh, I have three right now. One [has] a neck-holder, which I don’t think I’m going to be able to use. But I’m trying to prepare for the live show, and I’m like, “what are we going to do here?”
With respect to the rest of the instrumentation on Lucky For You, were you playing any other instruments that were new to you? Any different guitars than on previous Bully records, for instance?
BOGNANNO: Definitely. I had a baritone guitar in there, [and] a bunch of different pedals — I’m a massive pedal nerd. I used the Russian Pickle for a lot of the insane distortion sounds, like in the choruses of “Days Move Slow”. I used chorus pedals; I used a good amount of the Walrus Slö pedal; I used the OP-1, which is a synthesizer that I’ve been messing around with that I hadn’t [used] prior to this record.
JT was as much of a tone nerd as I was, so we were coming in with the EBow, distorting it and looping it. I was hooking up a mic and making noises through pedals that we would then loop. We went deep!
What’s your number one guitar?
BOGNANNO: My number one guitar is [also] my first electric guitar. It’s this Frankenstein guitar, I got it as a gift. It’s a Bluesman guitar, [from] a small shop in Tennessee. The body is basically like a Fender Squier ‘51.
I’ve been gifted fancy guitars since then, but I never stray [from the Bluesman]. I think it was a cheap guitar when I first got it. I’ve put a lot of work into it, so I’m sure it’s a little more valuable now.
I try not to be attached to material things, and I feel like I do a good job of that, but the one thing that is so dear to me is that guitar. It’s mine! It’s been through everything. I’ve written every record on it. Yeah, I just can’t stray from it.
Lucky For You is out now via Sub Pop.