Nestled between fast-food restaurants, a discount tobacco retailer, and a tattoo shop called Painful Genius is Thai Phooket II in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, a conservative North Nashville suburb where hunting camo doubles as casual wear. This is where Bully, a.k.a. Alicia Bognanno, has asked to meet. It’s nondescript in the manner of your family’s beloved suburban spot—with the exception that the green curry and the tofu pad see ew are truly banging—a far cry from one of the countless rock ’n’ roll-themed carousing joints across Music City. At some point in the last decade, Nashville has devolved into a giant bachelorette party disrupted by drunk dudes in Kid Rock cosplay peddling party bikes and stumbling their way through overpriced tavern tours. Bognanno is three and a half years sober, having dropped booze a few months before COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020. In some ways, this place could be viewed as a hellscape, with beloved spots like Thai Phooket II a remaining relic of the town she once knew, the one rock fans used to celebrate as the American epicenter of punky-garage in inactive bands like Diarrhea Planet and JEFF the Brotherhood. (And in a few active ones, like Bully.) Unavoidably, there’s a haunting feeling—hanging on to something that might not be there anymore, like the looming sensation of being the last one at a party you’re not so sure you wanted to be at in the first place.

When Bognanno arrives, she’s wearing a Bully hoodie (it’s comfortable, very soft, and does wonders for her fabric sensitivity—but it’s inside out. She’s embarrassed to broadcast her own band; I wouldn’t have known if she didn’t reveal it). Her hair is a rich brunette, the opposite of the long bleached locks she’s been known for across this band’s decade-long career. “Now my hair’s not blonde anyone! No one’s saying, [‘She’s like] Courtney Love!’” she jokes about the frequent comparisons. In conversation, Bognanno’s chatty and generous, attentive and friendly; treating our meeting with a disarming level of trust and familiarity. For years, I’ve sensed that the overwhelming majority of her interviews have been conducted by mouth-breathy wankers obsessed with the fact that she once interned at Nirvana/Pixies producer Steve Albini’s famed Chicago studio, Electrical Audio, and are more inclined to spend their 20 minutes together talking at her instead of to her about how much she reminds them of Hole, or the Breeders, or some other beloved band fronted by a woman—how boring!—eroding the unique experience of listening to Bully.

For most listeners, that starts with the scream. Throaty, expressionistic, fearless, controlled, otherworldly. Bognannoperforms a self-exorcism in her songs, relinquishing a furious and rapturous sound: first, in 2015’s “I Remember,” the opener to Bully’s debut album, Feels Like, with its embarrassing condemnations (“I remember my old habits/I remember getting too fucked up/And I remember throwing up in your car”) and spitfire riffs, heavily indebted to ’90s college rock (okay, so there’s some truth to the comparisons), but more brutal and with more melody. Bully’s latest album, 2023’s Lucky for You, is evolved from those impulses. It’s the band’s best release to date—and it’s hardest to listen to and talk about. Over the next two days, Bognanno and I will be doing exactly that.

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