My best friend since seventh grade, Molly McInerney, became close with Marisa Bognanno while living in Chicago. After college the three of us would gallivant around the streets of Logan Square cackling, dancing, and partying like clowns. They introduced me to the music of Marisa’s older sister, Alicia Bognanno, a.k.a. Bully. During the crazy year of 2020, Bully’s album SUGAREGG was on repeat as I drove across the country a couple times. It sounded like it was recorded in 1993, the kind of music you can blast in your car and wail along to. I couldn’t get enough. I sat down with Alicia to chat about dogs, tour life, and the coming of your 30s.

The last time we talked you said your dog, Papa, was in the hospital. Is he doing okay?
Yeah, one of his lymph nodes was very, very swollen. I was literally at three different animal hospitals with him. They did a biopsy and it ended up being benign. He’s doing much better now. Yeah, it was very hectic. 

Oh, my god. Three hospitals?
I was kind of panicking. I was thinking that he was on his way out. He was just acting so lethargic and not himself. And then I was so fucking relieved that he is back at it. He’s back in the game.

Marisa told me that you foster dogs. How did you get into that?
So actually, this is really weird, but I went through a respite fostering program to foster kids who are in emergencies. If they were picked up at night and didn’t have placement they could come to my house. So that was a few months of training and then I did that for a while. Then touring happened again and so I switched over to fostering dogs because there are a lot more things that I have to regulate with fostering kids. They do quarterly checkups, and it’s just weird stuff—”How hot does your water get?”—or whatever, and it just wasn’t sustainable for me to keep up with it. So that was when I switched to fostering dogs. It’s great because they just need a 10-day commitment. And if you can do it longer, that’s great, but because of that I’m able to do it in between touring. 

My roommate and I are thinking about fostering, but I also travel a lot. It sounds like it’s more flexible than I thought, though?
I would absolutely recommend it. I think it’s a little bit more involved than you would originally think off the bat because the reality is they just got in, so they don’t really know if they’re house-trained, or if there’s some sort of medical thing going on that they need to address. Lots of times it’ll just be as simple as kennel cough or something, but a lot of the dogs will just come in straight from being strays on the street. So, it’s kind of a lot, but it’s worth it. It’s really rewarding to see the different personalities the dogs have. It’s funny and sweet.

Yeah, I feel like it’s dangerous where you could end up adopting. 
You have to kind of know your boundaries going into it, I feel like. It’s tough, because they’re so cute and sweet. And a lot of them really want attention because they haven’t gotten it, so it’s even cuter. You stop petting them and then they’ll put their paw on your lap and you’re like, oh, my god, you’re so cute right now.

So, when you’re hanging out with your dog and writing a new song, do you try it out to see how he’ll react to the music that you’re writing?
Well, Papa hates music and fun.

What do you mean fun?
He’s just anti. All he wants to do is cuddle up in blankets. But Mezzi [Bully’s former dog, since passed] was right next to me all the time in my music room. If she could, she would’ve put her head in front of a kick drum. She even made an appearance on “All I Do”: I kept a vocal take that was just supposed to be a scratch, but in the beginning of it you can hear me talking to her. And it’s because she’s sitting right next to me while I’m doing vocals and I was petting her head while tracking. So I never did anything musically without her. But now when I pick up my guitar, Papa’s like, how can I get out of this room as fast as possible?

You’re like, I’m sorry, Papa. I have to.
Yeah, and he can barely hear, anyway. He’s definitely pretty deaf, but he can hear enough to know that he doesn’t want any part of it.

Do you ever get to a point where you want a month to write, record, and be by yourself, do nothing, and hang out with your dog at home?
Yeah. Well, usually things are planned out months in advance, so even if I get to that point, I can’t take the break. But I’m also very unhealthfully involved with music. I love playing, and I am single too, so that changes things a lot. And Papa will tour with me as well. 

You feel normal doing what you love.
Exactly. And honestly, a lot of the times when I’m home, it’s like the work that I have to do, lots of it is just stupid shit, more so on the business side. But when I’m on tour, I feel like I can just have more of an excuse to ignore that and I can just play guitar for fun. I feel like this weird thing I’ve been doing for ten years has slowly evolved into this big experiment where I’m constantly trying to put myself in situations that I haven’t been in to see how I react. Whether it be something that’s very uncomfortable or something that I end up liking. I don’t know why I do it to myself. I make my life way more difficult than it needs to be. But that’s the way I’ve been operating for the past few years because I am so committed to this. There’s nothing else that I want to do so I just go all in.

I’ve learned that when you put yourself in uncomfortable situations that’s when the best shit happens—at least for me. 
It’s really the only way that you can grow. Especially in a creative field. It only gives you more to write about. But it is weird being in my 30s and single and doing this because I didn’t think that I would be here. I guess I thought that maybe I would be navigating a relationship or thinking about having kids. But it feels right. Because it’s so much, it’s so fulfilling to me that it is just weird. It’s one thing when you’re 23 and doing it. It’s another thing when you’re 10 years in and you’re just like, yeah, every day I love this even more.

I am about to be 30, I’m also single, I just moved, I changed careers, and I never thought that I’d be here, but it does feel good. In your 20s, you’re all confused and trying to figure yourself out, but now I know who I am. Maybe I thought I’d be in a relationship, or have my shit more together, but it’s not my time for that, it’s time for me. 
Yeah. I would say that I feel like I totally have my shit together. It’s interesting to see how love and life choices work into doing things like this—or skating—like jobs that require so much time, traveling, and energy. It’s just weird. Right before this tour, I drove from Nashville to California. I was in California for a month. I rented a place by the water. And then on my way home I made a last-minute decision to go to Joshua Tree for a few nights. And now in February I think I’m going to try and see Antelope Canyon on the tour. I’m kind of in this weird phase where I’m just doing whatever I want and trying to see as many things as I can see. And it really works because I’m single. 

It feels good with no worries—besides taking care of Papa, of course. 
Yeah, I am loving being single. But it’s interesting because I think that I’m alone all the time, but I’m not. I have Papa with me and I think that if he wasn’t there, it would be a totally different existence. So, human to human, I’m fine being alone. Human to animal, I need.

It’s just such a different feeling, being single and being older, but I don’t fucking care. I just care about skating, getting clips for projects, and doing whatever I want. Maybe I’m also not emotionally available? I just don’t care, I guess.
Yeah, I agree. And, honestly—this is the truth that I am actually running around and trying not to admit—but I’m so emotional and sensitive that relationships are really difficult for me because I feel like they’re very consuming. So, it’s kind of easier for me to avoid them. I’m fully aware that that’s unhealthy, but it’s also the reality. I just am like: if I don’t let anybody in, then I don’t have anybody here to potentially hurt my feelings. So, this is great.

Are you trying to manifest anything right now besides seeing cool stuff like Joshua Tree?
Yeah, one of my favorite things to do when I was in California was to walk to the beach at night when no one was there and completely empty. It was pitch black, so it was really cool. I feel like I got into this in Joshua Tree. My bungalow was in the middle of the desert. It sounds very corny to talk about this, but I think it’s really real. I feel like as a woman, you’re just kind of traveling alone, you’re constantly trying to be aware of your surroundings, and making sure you’re in a good spot. Doing stuff like this, and I don’t really know how to relate that with what I’m going to say, but basically, I’ve just been on this kick of doing things that I would normally be scared of and not being scared of them at all. And I feel like that has been empowering, and whatever, for better or worse. There is something about the dopamine hit that I’m really addicted to. So there’s been a lot of that. But yeah, I would say that’s what I’m manifesting is just making the most of traveling. You can tour and not see anything, or you can make the most of it. I’m definitely at a spot where I want to see all that I can see and make it more than just playing 45 minutes every night.

If you actually make the most of it and do stuff, it’s more than just work. Any woman would be scared in the middle of the night walking on the beach by themselves, but it also sounds rejuvenating.
Yeah, it’s a weird freeing. I’m not trying to advocate for poor choice making, I’m just saying that in my personal soul-searching experience I have enjoyed conquering things that normally I would be afraid of. It’s more a rite of passage—more so because I’m not going to let the thought of some random man rob me of this experience.

Well, I’m jumping on rails and shit, so I totally get the liberating feeling. Sometimes I think, what the fuck am I doing, I’m almost 30 years old?
You totally get it. I think it’s so cool. I went snowboarding a few years ago and that was the first time I had gone since I was 14. But that feeling that I get when I go is so fun. Whenever I see people skating, I’m like, I bet you’re feeling that feeling all the time. That feeling is fucking priceless. There’s not a lot of places that you can go to get that feeling. Being on stage in front of a crowd probably is the same feeling. It’s fucking wild.