Alicia Bognanno will see the insides of the Twin Cities’ best-known nightclubs more this year at age 25 than she did at 17. Which wouldn’t be all that surprising except for the fact that she now lives 900 miles away in Nashville and used to live only a half-hour out of town in the exurb of Rosemount.
“It was just always too hard to get to shows, being that far out of town and having to convince my parents to let me go,” the frontwoman of the ’90s-flavored roar-pop band Bully disappointedly recalled of her less-than-rocking childhood.
“I’m making up for it now, though.”
Bognanno and her three male bandmates have been to town three times this year opening shows for Best Coast, Hamilton Leithauser and Jeff the Brotherhood. They make their overdue headlining debut Monday at 7th Street Entry — the first show on their fall tour to sell out, Bognanno proudly reported.
“I think we’ve connected well with people there, even without most of them knowing I’m from there,” she said.
Praise from Ryan Adams
Bognanno went from her quiet Minnesota youth to fronting one of rock’s most loudly buzzing newbie acts of 2015 in seven short years. In that time, she pursued a bachelor’s degree in recording science, apprenticed at legendary producer Steve Albini’s studio and — the last piece of the puzzle — finally decided to make a full go of playing in a band.
Bully’s debut album, “Feels Like,” arrived in June via the Columbia Records imprint Startime International loaded with blaring, bleeding guitars, stop/go rhythms and poppy hooks of the Pixies, Breeders and Superchunk variety. The record earned high media praise from NME, Spin and Pitchfork.
Perhaps the biggest boost came from fellow rocker Ryan Adams, who said via Twitter, “In my opinion, @Bully are the best band in the world at this very moment.”
Locally, the Current (89.3 FM) has been heavily spinning the full-throated single “Trying,” in which Bognanno blows off the stresses of college life and young adulthood:
“Invisible handcuffs locked on me/Been praying for my period all week/And relief that I just can’t see/I question everything/My focus, my figure, my sexuality.”
Talking by phone from Nashville last month between Bully’s weekend jaunts to the Pop Montreal and Boston Calling festivals, Bognanno attributed her relative latecomer status as a bandleader to her upbringing in Rosemount.
“After I’ve been gone all these years, I realized it was a pretty great place to grow up — but not for someone who wanted to break into the rock world,” she said.
“I don’t really remember anybody I grew up with being in bands. There wasn’t any kind of outlet for that kind of thing. So I sort of had to find my own way in.”
Bognanno enrolled at Middle Tennessee State University out of high school because it offered a four-year bachelor’s degree in audio engineering (unlike Minnesota schools). She learned to play guitar only after enrolling in a music theory course and realizing “it felt more natural than playing piano,” she said.
Her expertise on the engineering front obviously came in handy once Bully started out — although it still comes as a surprise on too many occasions, she said.
“Sometimes we’ll go into a club, and the house sound man will automatically go to one of the guys in the band to start asking questions,” she said. “They’ll just point and say, ‘Talk to her.’ ”
Bognanno had nothing but nice things to say about her internship at Electric Audio in Chicago, though, despite its owner Albini’s reputation as being something of a prickly, cantankerous character.
“He and everyone there were very professional,” she said. “They really run a tight ship and keep that place orderly. Obviously, I had a good experience working there, or I wouldn’t have gone back to make our record there.”
Bognanno said Bully picked Albini’s studio to record “Feels Like” not just because of her familiarity with it, “but because I knew I could trust them and get in my own head space — not worry about the technical [engineering] so much. The way I write and sing is mostly based on a certain mood or period in my life, so I sort of have to go back to that moment each time.”
So far, most of those moments hail from her college years and current life in Nashville, which she praised as “a city where everybody takes music seriously, and treats it as a true profession.”
She may revisit her Minnesota roots as a songwriter farther down the line but has no plans to return here to live, especially because her parents have also moved away, and only a sister still resides here. Clearly, though, she’ll be keeping up appearances.