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Nine Songs

The Sub Pop-signed Nashville trio talk their favourite songs.

20 October 2017, 10:30 | Words by Steven Loftin

Bully’s favourite songs, whether inspired by the sound of a vocal, the feeling a lyric can evoke or what was happening in their lives when they first heard them, cover a multitude of genres.

Ever since the release of their debut Feels Like two years ago, the Nashville trio’s brash, natural sounding take on grunge, twinned with Alicia Bognanno’s forthcoming and frank lyrics has resulted in an unmistakably exciting storm. Their second record, Losing is another raw sprint through a grunge landscape that feels just as fresh as it did in the early ‘90s.

Taking three songs each, Bognanno, along with bandmates Clay Parker and Reece Lazarus chose tracks that you’d mildly expect, some that are new finds for them and some downright curveballs. Bognanno explains that how a song makes her feel is sometimes hard to put into words, “I never really want to break apart a song I love too much, because we have to do that for our own stuff and sometimes in doing that I get stuck and I can’t tell what it is that I love about it, so I’m sorry if I’m vague!”

“Mythological Beauty” by Big Thief

Bognanno: “I was actually introduced to Big Thief by Clay and he’s a big Big Thief fan, he was at their show the other day. They have this record called Capacity and I thought it was really cool and so I listened to the band and this was my favourite song on the record by far.

“I love the vocals, I think the vocals are really nice, melodically and lyrically and the guitar parts are amazing and compliment the vocals really well. It’s a really nice and easy listen, it’s pretty mellow and you can really just turn it on and be whatever, you don’t have to be in a certain mood to enjoy it. Those are a couple of my favourite things about it.

“I have been listening to this song nonstop recently, all in all it’s a great mellow song that’s easy to listen to any time or place.”

“Dry” by PJ Harvey

Bognanno: “This is my go to song whenever I’m not feeling great and I actually just listened it. I’ve been a huge PJ Harvey fan for a while and I had her record saved on my phone forever, but I’d never really dug in and spent a lot of time with this song.

“I was listening to it on a flight home from Minnesota this summer and I think I listened to it on repeat the whole flight. It’s really awesome, I love the gritty guitar and the way the slide guitar fits in so well with the song, very rarely do I hear a slide guitar in a rock song that can take it up another level.

“I also think her vocal delivery is amazing. Whenever I listen to any of her stuff it just sounds so raw, there’s so much emotion in the delivery of the vocals and it’s pretty rare when is artist is able to get that across to the listeners. So whenever I hear that from an artist I’m immediately a fan, this is so heavy, but it’s also very sweet at the same time and I really like that.”

“Iris” by The Breeders

Bognanno: “This dissonance gets me every time with this one. The drums sound amazing and there’s so much space within the recording that really allows you to break down everything that’s going on so clearly.

“The part in the vocal where she’s singing is kind of mellow and then she goes “all the books she’d write!” and then the drums come in. Every time I hear that part I’m like ‘Oh my fucking god’, it’s so amazing. You can hear the space in the room and you can hear her just letting go vocally, it’s just so cool to me and I think it sounds so good.

“I also love how you can hear her lip roll in between the verses. We do all our stuff on tape and I don’t know if this was the case for this song in particular, but I’m assuming it just happened while they were tracking vocals and they decided to leave it in. When bands decide to leave natural mishaps that happen while tracking on the record it’s easily one of my favourite things in the world.”

“The Cassingle Revival” by The Lucksmiths

Lazarus: “The Lucksmiths were the second band I was really obsessed with, the first one being Green Day, but that was maybe more of a middle school phase and I remember getting into this band when I feel like I was starting to like music that I’d like for the rest of my life.

“I picked this song because it exemplifies the things about the band that I really loved, their ability to write songs about melancholy, everyday things that feel timeless and match that with a melody that also gives you a feeling of a peaceful melancholy.

“There’s a couple of lines that really get me, like “I spent this afternoon nostalgic for this morning”, the little melody lines that come out of that harmonica or the things at the beginning, the music just totally echoes the sentiments of the lyrics and I can forget that I’m even listening to the song and just feel what they’re getting at. I got so obsessed with this song that I think when I first started to sing I sang with an Australian accent, because I listened to too many songs by them, I had to stop.

“The Lucksmiths have so many beautiful songs but this one always stands out to me. The melody line seems so comfortable with its sadness. It echoes the sentiment of the lyrics perfectly.”

“Plant White Roses” by The Magnetic Fields

Lazarus:“This is another song where I greatly admire the setting of the words to the music, it’s just a really beautiful song that stuck out to me. I could talk about every Magnetic Fields/Stephin Merritt love song for hours.

“I read this song as a conversation between two friends, one helping the other through heartbreak. Merritt switches the lyrics in the bridge to the second person with the pronoun “you” and at the same time he suggests a possible modulation and introduces a driving rhythm, leaving a slight sense of warning, as if the friend senses danger in the “plant white roses” decision to not move on from the relationship. It’s so meticulous and subtle and a perfect encapsulation of the feeling on both sides of that situation. I think he’s really nuanced about what he’s getting at in the song, he’s famous for writing love songs, but I think it’s not as simple as it seems.

“Claudia Gonson normally sings it, but the first time I saw Magnetic Fields Stephin had to sing it as Claudia was sick and it works both ways. I honestly can’t remember if I heard this record Obscurities before I saw the show or if I heard it first at the show, but the first time it resonated with me was at that show - a SXSW show in 2013 or 2014 I think. Of all places to have a meaningful experience at a concert, it was SXSW.”

“How Does it Feel” by Kamaiyah

Lazarus: “This is my current hype song. Her attitude is infectious, this song always kills at a party.

“I thought I had to mix this up a little bit. There’s not a lot to say about this other than this song is really fun to sing along to, and it’s relatable. I mean that’s like a really good, feel good, party song. I didn’t want to just put like three real sad, drown myself, songs on there!”

“Almost Crimes” by Broken Social Scene

Parker: “I first heard Broken Social Scene in freshmen year of college, when that record first came out. I remember going to the college bookstore back when this was a big thing you know, that’s where you bought all your CDs and I think I listened to it for a month straight. I had a little Discman that I carried around in my backpack and this song was also an introduction to Feist and so many other bands and indie rock in general for me. I think I wouldn’t be where I am today without that record.

“It’s genre-less for me, in my opinion. It’s kind of all over the place, but it just works in a way, as an album, it’s such a great, cohesive piece. The next album could be totally different, they’re so good at keeping things new and fresh, and trying new things, which is really an inspiration for me as well.

“Freshman year of college is a very impressionable time in any person’s life and this song opened the floodgates to a whole new world of music.”

“Major Leagues” by Pavement

Parker: “I’ve picked these songs and now I’m only just realising that they were all really important parts of my life.

“You know, years and years ago when you first fell in love - and people don’t seem to do this anymore - couples had their song and this was my first serious girlfriend and I’s song. I just really love the metaphor of “Bring on the major leagues”, that I’m ready to commit, and it could be used in anything in life, it’s a good metaphor of stepping up to the plate in a way.

“That thing may have fizzled out but I still have an appreciation for this song and that period in my life, it didn’t change the fact that I love the song despite things not working out necessarily. Everyone knows what a love song is, but you don’t truly understand what a love song is until you’re in love for the first time. This is that song for me.”

“Fantasy” by Mariah Carey

Parker: "My father played a large role in my musical upbringing. On the surface he’s a classic 70’s rock and roll kind of guy but he also has a love of all things pop.

“Among the many things that my Dad introduced me to, bands like Led Zeppelin and things like that, we also listened to a lot of Madonna and Mariah Carey and pop music in my house, which, if you saw a picture of him you’d think that guy doesn’t listen to that kind of music, but he does!

“He loves it all, which is great and left a really strong impression on me as a child which I’ve carried on into my adulthood, and without him I would never have a love of all things pop music.”

Losing is out now via Sub Pop

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