Alicia Bognanno’s solo project Bully is back for another round, dropping its third full-length, SUGAREGG, Aug. 21. The Sub Pop release is hypercharged and relentlessly confident from start to finish. Though it combines plenty of the grit and ferocity of their 2015 debut, Feels Like, with a dose of the prevalent lyrical focus of sophomore effort, Losing, SUGAREGG only nods to the past rather than relies on it for its power.
The singer and guitarist wrote the lyrics and guitar parts before hitting the studio with bassist Zach Dawes and drummer Wesley Mitchell to put the dynamic puzzle together. Bognanno is an engineer, usually applying that skill to Bully recordings. This time, though, she handed that job to John Congleton, whose lengthy resume includes acts such as Modest Mouse, the Roots and St. Vincent. Bognanno exclusively spoke to Alternative Press about the upcoming record below.
SUGAREGG is a powerful record, delivering punches from beginning to end. Its sound is noticeably harder than 2017’s Losing. What fueled this edgier output?
I was at a place [where] I just felt better. When I was writing Losing, I was in a weird spot. Not that I was rusty; I just wasn’t sure, with it being the second record, how much time was appropriate to take in between records to write. With this new one, since I knew I wasn’t going to engineer it, I could hand over those responsibilities and just focus on the songwriting, the music and the creative aspect of it. And I’m very glad I did.
Taking the time to dig into the process in a new way, what were the best parts?
Really having time with the writing process and just sitting down at my computer and trying a million different things and then being able to sit with them. I’d step away for a week and come back and listen to the different clips—I might have seven different lead guitar part ideas for a song—and decide which one I wanted to go with.
That sounds like a pressure-free environment.
It was a lot more comfortable to do it this way and really put my stamp on it and just fully forget that there would be people listening to it. I got to create something I wanted to do, find happiness with it and not have a fear of judgment in the back of my head.
Because you usually handle the engineering, was it hard to turn over the reins to someone else? Even when that someone else is John Congleton?
I thought it was going to be really hard on me and that it might be a little bit devastating. Honestly, though, when I went in, I didn’t even think twice about it. I was just fully in the zone. And I also realized I hired someone because they’re awesome and talented, and I need to let them do their thing. There’s no point in doing that if I’m going to micromanage it or push my engineering ways on the project. I wanted to go 100% in. But yeah, initially I had a lot of hesitation. The engineer part has been such a big piece of the storyline for Bully, but then I decided, “Fuck it, it’s time for a change.” It worked out. It was the most enjoyable time I’ve ever had tracking a record.
There’s so much power in relinquishing some of that control.
I just explained to him what I wanted, and there were no egos between the two of us. It was all very open and transparent. It was awesome.
You need personal strength to let things go. This Bully record feels like someone writing from a clear perspective, someone who landed on the right side of some hurdles.
So much of it was just me not necessarily having overcome a lot of stuff but definitely taking a lot of leaps that I might not have before. This time I was in a different and better place.
Did you start with any intent regarding an overall message or theme for SUGAREGG?
Not beyond sitting down and taking the time to do what I wanted. I always work song by song, and each of these means separate things. I was just so done with thinking about how it would be received, like, “Fuck that.”
Speaking of how things are received, you get a lot of comparisons to ’90s bands, including Hole and Nirvana. Does that make you feel any kind of way?
[Laughs.] It always makes me roll my eyes so hard. At the same time, though, a lot of my favorite music is from that era. I love the Breeders. I get those Courtney Love comparisons, I guess because I have blond hair and I scream. So you know, there’s some sexism right there.
Why SUGAREGG as the title?
Nothing to do with the music. I was listening to an interview on Radiolab with a guy I assume was in his 40s or 50s. He was talking about how he was given a sugar egg when he was 7 and kept it his whole life until it eventually shattered. Have you seen one?
I have now. It’s a delicate little craft item made with, unsurprisingly, sugar and eggs.
[Laughs.] Yes. I thought it was so sweet that he held onto something so delicate and so fragile for so long. Little trinkets or memorabilia from certain times in your life. At some point you move, and you’re like, “This isn’t coming. This doesn’t need to come.” He kept that as long as he could.
I’m guessing you were probably planning a tour before the coronavirus hit.
We were scheduling things, but luckily nothing was locked in yet.
Have you thought about Bully music beyond SUGAREGG yet?
I’m always writing, but I haven’t had time recently because I’ve been so buried in SUGAREGG stuff, but I have a lot of things in the works.