Three years after Bully’s last record, lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Alicia Bognanno has returned with new music from the project. The new album, SUGAREGG, is the result of a three-year process buoyed by a new producer and changed writing process.
It shows, as the Nashville-based rocker has explored themes that differ from the anger of her earlier work. Instead, SUGAREGG is more upbeat, offering a sense of acceptance even amongst the most unpredictable of times. We caught up with Bognanno, calling in from her home in Nashville to discuss releasing music during a pandemic, how NPR affects her writing habits and her new record.
mxdwn: First of all, what has it been like to record, finalize and release an album at this time, especially knowing you really can’t tour it?
Alicia Bognanno: Yeah, we had pushed it back pretty much as much as we could and eventually we just had to release it, which I’m pretty glad we did because it seems like it’s going to be this way indefinitely. So I don’t know if we would have held back, how long we would have been holding back for. But it’s just going to be interesting to see, since touring is usually what prolongs the longevity of a record cycle. So it’s interesting to see how long there’s going to be buzz about it without playing shows.
But, I’m just going to try and stay active and post about it as much as possible and use the resources that I have to try and promote it without being able to play it. It’s been interesting definitely, doing live streams and stuff. It’s not really something I ever assumed I would ever be doing, but it’s a learning experience for sure and I think I’ve grown as an artist now having that as an option. So, it’s got its ups and downs. But I mean, what else are we going to do, you know? I don’t want to hold off forever.
mxdwn: So what’s the significance of the name of the record?
AB: Yeah, that was just based off this radiolab podcast I heard. And it was this guy who seemed to be in his mid-50s, and he was talking about having kept a sugaregg since he was seven as a token that he was invited to a birthday party. He had moved a bunch growing up, so [the sugaregg] was very dear to him. It doesn’t have much to do with the songs or anything. I just really liked the story, thought it was really sweet and I like thinking about it. And I really liked the word, so I decided I was going to name it that before I had actually wrote the material. And then, when I was done and finalizing things, I still wanted to call it that, so it just stuck.
mxdwn: When did you hear that name then? Would that have been 2018? 2019?
AB: Probably 2017!
mxdwn: You did some stuff for the film Her Smell starring Elizabeth Moss. How did working on that soundtrack influence this album? Was there an impact?
AB: No, not really, it didn’t really influence it. But it did get my gears turning to start writing again, because I had taken on that project as the touring cycle for Losing was winding down, and I was just beginning to write for the third record. So it gave me a nice break in between those two situations to kind of get out of my comfort zone a little bit and write for something other than Bully, and try and write based off the character and for the movie. So, I would say in the way of getting my gears turning and kind of having something to push me into writing again, it helped out.
mxdwn: Speaking of the writing process, I read some of the materials about the album, and it said there was a bit of change of mindset for you? Something about listening to music rather than reading the news in the morning? Can you explain a bit about that?
AB: Yeah, after the election I could only consume so much news first thing of the day. And I have times now, usually maybe once in the middle of the day, and around five, when I’ll look at the news. But I had kind of gotten into this habit of waking up and turning on NPR. I was so exhausted of everything I had been playing. I’m not really sure what got me going again as far as listening to music, but it makes a big difference. I have a radio in my kitchen and it’s habit for me—I live alone—whenever I have down time, it’s just usually me here and I’ll want to hear something or have something going on in the house, it’s just been a habit to turn on the news, NPR. Not doing that and playing music instead, it’s interesting to see how my energy throughout the day has kept up as opposed to listening to the news. I have been trying to be a lot more aware of that.
Yeah, I think it was just because of the election at that time, and now there’s so much going on, I’m tuning in again. I didn’t really take a break, just monitored it a bit more. It’s kind of interesting how your habits of that intake how much it can affect you and your day really. It’s good to be aware of it, I think.
mxdwn: Yeah. So you tweaked with the record for about five months after you had most of it recorded. Why exactly was that? What was missing?
AB: Yeah, I had gotten back from recording the bulk of SUGAREGG thinking it was totally wrapped up. But I sat with it a little bit, and my manager did as well and he just kind of suggested that maybe something was missing. He really liked the material, and so did I, but just it needed something to like balance it out, and have it be a little more well-rounded. Really, he just thought that, you know, I could do a little bit more. I love being challenged in that way, and I agreed too. I wanted to take outside opinions because I just get so close with the music, I don’t really have any separation. I don’t even feel like when I come out of recording a record that I really know what it sounds like, if that makes any sense?
AB: So, yeah, he suggested it. I sat with the idea and decided absolutely, I would keep writing. So I kind of wrote that second round on bass, and “Let You” and “Where to Start” stuck and ended up on the record from that writing session. And we used “Where to Start” as the single, so I’m really glad we did it. I’m glad those two are in there. They’re lighthearted and fun, and it was cool to take a bit of a different direction and have the bass really carry those songs. There’s a little bit more room for little guitar chirps and random vocals and harmonies and stuff. It just feels good to have that in the mix. After I got done with everything, I went back and realized that I had 32 songs started—like 32 demos. We had just narrowed it down to 12. I think there was 17 that we ended up professionally recording. So five of those got cut. But yeah, it was just kind of a feeling that I should try a little bit more, and I’m really glad that I did.
mxdwn: Sure. And you worked with a new producer for the first time. Is this the first time you’ve ever brought in external help for a record?
AB: Yeah, I worked with John Congleton. I just didn’t want to take on the weight of that responsibility this time around. I really wanted to focus on the music, and I kind of wanted to see how it would turn out with being able to fully insulate, just focus on the music and the songs themselves while I was recording. And I’m really glad I did it, I’m really happy with the way it turned out. And I think overall, the experience was a lot less stressful and it was nice to have help and have somebody there to kind of notice when I was getting frustrated or when I was getting stuck, and to tell me to take a break or when I was comparing lyrics to have an opinion on which one they liked better—little things like that where it was just really helpful and beneficial to have. I was super hesitant going into it because I had never worked with anybody else, and I thought I’d be really bummed out when we started, and kind of micro-managing. But as soon as we got going, I wasn’t paying any attention to that. I knew that I hired John because he’s really good at what he does, and I just wasn’t worried about it. And so, it felt good to change it up in that way.
Photo Credit: Kalyn Oyer