Bully on “Losing”

Lost and Found

Dec 07, 2017 Photography by Alyssa Gafkjen Issue #62 - Julien Baker
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A sophomore slump can be a self-fulfilling prophesy, or deliberate subterfuge by a band looking to reframe expectations, or often just a lazy way for rock critics to build narrative around a band's second release. The idea is so engrained that following up a well-received debut can understandably cause  jitters. Bully frontwoman Alicia Bognanno says she's no different, and some nights of uneven sleep wait between the time of our interview in August and the release of her band's new record, Losing.

"I absolutely get anxiety nightmares in the middle of the night," she says during a call from her home in Nashville. "The last four months, and until it's going to be out in October, I always feel that way. When I write a song, I always tend to like something that's new and cool to me. But then I never know how I'm going to feel about it five months after that. It's just hard, you feel like you're in such a bubble. Like, when I was home writing it, it was just pretty much two months of me in my house just writing stuff alone. It's just this super-isolating cycle. And, yeah, it's really easy to get lost, or maybe to just get worried that you're lost."

Bognanno should rest easy. Losing is another blast of raw, Singles-era guitar rock that captures what made the debut (2015's Feels Like) so appealingBognanno's barbed scream balancing vulnerable lyricsand builds on that foundation with more nuanced production, again provided by Bognanno. She famously worked as a summer intern at producer Steve Albini's Electrical Audio studio in Chicago while studying to be a recording engineer, and returned to that studio to record Losing on analogue tape over several weeks this winter. It's hard to find a better-sounding rock record this year. Bass grumbles like an aftermarket tailpipe, and Bognanno's confident self-harmonies and increased attention on layering guitars is immediately apparent.

From the other end of the phone, she sounds more comfortable talking about recording techniques and room sounds than the precise meanings of the new record's lyrics. Each song is about its own interaction, she says, "but a common theme in those situations is sort of discouragement. And it's not super literal, it's not like, 'I felt like I was losing everything.'"

Most songwriting dangles unidentified pronounces. And the lyrics on Losing give the impression of being up-front, but like a tell-all memoir where the names have been omitted. If there are songs about the band's former drummer Stewart Copeland, who Bognanno dated (and who is not the same Stewart Copeland who drummed for The Police), she's not telling. In the end, she's the one who has to sing the songs every night, she says, and an audience's literal or non-literal decoding of her words can't worry her.

"In the best case scenario they kind of find a way to relate to them based off of their own personal experience or situation at the time," she says. "If I listen to a record and there are songs where I think I know what they're talking about, I don't have to know because it's more so how I can relate to it personally than what exactly the songwriter was writing about."

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Fall 2017 Issue (October/November 2017), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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Adana Koltuk Yikama
December 11th 2017
12:53am

there was a different writing. Thank you