Friendship is at the heart of Bully

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Bully portraits at The Current
Bully portrait taken after their in-studio session at The Current; front: Alicia Bognanno, guitar and vocals; back, left to right: Clayton Parker, guitar; Wes Mitchell, drums; Reece Lazarus, bass. (Evan Frost | MPR)
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Bully frontwoman Alicia Bognanno talks about band chemistry and touring
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Something Bully frontwoman and bandleader Alicia Bognanno says she learned very quickly in her music career is the importance of chemistry among the band members — and not just musically. "We care very much about us playing well and how we sound, and we practice all the time," Bognanno explains. "That's definitely a priority for us and we care a lot about it. But it's almost more important, I think, to find people who are your friends."

Bully's lineup — Bognanno, along with guitarist Clay Parker, bassist Reece Lazarus and drummer Wes Mitchell — are exactly that: friends.

It's a formula that has served Bully well. The band made a big splash with their 2015 debut album, Feels Like, and are now enjoying the accolades of their 2017 release, Losing, which The Current's music director David Safar called "one of the best rock albums of the year." Bully will perform at The Current's 13th Birthday Party on Friday, Jan. 19, headlining that night's show at First Avenue.

Common ground in Nashville

The origins of Bully's lineup can be traced to a place called The Stone Fox, a now-defunct venue in Nashville. Bognanno was the house sound engineer there; Lazarus booked bands for the venue, and Parker worked the door for a while. Bully's original drummer, Stewart Copeland (who shares nomenclature but not bloodlines with the drummer from the Police), was a regular at the Stone Fox. "We were all at that place at the same time, were friends and had similar tastes in music," Bognanno says. "When I started writing the songs for Bully, we wanted to play together."

Copeland remained in the band up through the recording and touring of Feels Like, but the schedule eventually conflicted with his other interests. "He didn't know we were going to be touring so much," Bognanno explains. "He's in grad school now and was running a comic-book shop, so he had to ease out of it, and now we have Wes [Mitchell], who is amazing."

The members of Bully come from across the U.S. — Bognanno grew up in Minnesota, Parker is from St. Louis, Lazarus is from Seattle, and Mitchell is from South Dakota — but they all hang their hats in Nashville. Parker and Mitchell have been roommates for a long time, having met as co-workers at Starbucks some years ago. Lazarus, while a student at Ithaca College in New York, was a music director and program host at college radio station WICB. Bognanno, who earned a degree at Middle Tennessee State University, refined her skills as a sound engineer at Steve Albini's Electrical Audio studios in Chicago (where Bully recorded both of their albums).

All of the band members have played in other bands before Bully, some of which were successful (like Nashville's Pujol and St. Louis's Target Market), others not as much. "Sometimes some of us are like, 'Let's not talk about that one band!'," Bognanno laughs. "I definitely have bands like that."

Learning while touring

Being on the road so much makes Bully feel like family; Bognanno describes it as such. That also means sharing the same physical space. "We're crammed in a 15-passenger van, all in an Airbnb — really, really close," she says. "You really have to have people who are respectful of their surroundings and can try and stay positive no matter what."

Despite the ties of friendship, touring — no matter how well planned and organized — can still present challenges. Bognanno says she and her bandmates are continuing to get better at touring, thanks to experience.

"We all learn things that we have to do to keep us in a good headspace," she says. "A lot of it has to do with exercise, a lot of it has to do with eating healthy. A lot of it has to do with just going on a walk when you know you're getting irritable or that you need space.

"But I would say, really, it's getting up an hour earlier than lobby call to make sure you can either go run on a treadmill or get out of the hotel and walk around or sit by yourself and read," Bognanno continues. "It's a lot of that. I guess carving that time out for yourself really helps. And taking care of yourself in general."

Bully
Bully, l to r: Clay Parker, Wes Mitchell, Alicia Bognanno, Reece Lazarus Evan Frost | MPR

Headlining at First Avenue

Bully's previous shows in the Twin Cities have seen them play at the Turf Club, the 7th Street Entry and the Fine Line. They've played the First Avenue Mainroom as supporting acts for Best Coast and for Courtney Barnett. But Friday, Jan. 19, marks a first as Bully will headline night one of The Current's 13th birthday party in the Mainroom. "We're really, really excited," Bognanno says. "We've been wanting to play First Ave since we started playing Minneapolis in general."

That show marks the second date in a new batch of touring in support of Losing, which extends through the spring, crisscrossing North America before a series of U.K. dates in May. Bully's friendship and touring experience will continue to serve them well.

"To me, it's really important to be playing with people you can talk to and you can communicate with," Bognanno says. "Everybody has their ups and downs, especially being in a band because it's close quarters no matter how well you get along. Overall, I think it's just really important that you can talk to them and be able to work stuff out and that everybody feels comfortable. That's really important."

Resources

Bully - official site

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