On tour with her rock quartet Bully, bandleader Alicia Bognanno follows a code that’s her own spin on the Golden Rule: “Always be nice to other people and treat them like you would want to be treated — because you never know who’s going to be mixing your group,” she says.
It’s wisdom she acquired the hard way at her old straight job, running sound for Nashville nightclub The Stone Fox, usually for three sonically-diverse groups a night. It wasn’t the future she imagined for herself after earning a bachelor’s degree in audio recording.
There were countless challenges to be overcome at concert mixing desks, says Bognanno, who brings Bully to San Francisco this week, backing its Breeders-brusque debut “Feels Like,” distributed through Columbia.
First, you’re always dealing with ear-splitting feedback. Second, you can be hampered by the poor quality of the artist’s instruments. “Or, say, someone has the softest guitar with no pickup, and you’re trying to push its amplification but people are talking really loud? There are so many things with live sound that are completely out of your control, and it’s super-frustrating,” she says.
Bognanno cut her teeth in actual studios, and interned, post-graduation, at Chicago’s mostly-analog Electrical Audio, under the tutelage of stellar producers like Steve Albini and Greg Norman. She wound up working 9 to 5 at a posh hometown facility, while overseeing Fox concerts by night.
No dissatisfied performer ever yelled at her. “But I remember dealing with this huge prick, who kept insisting on using in-ears monitors for a hundred-capacity room, which seemed overly dramatic, while he was angrily trying to rewire our whole system,” she says. “It was a nightmare. I still see him in Nashville, and I’m like, ‘I will never forget that — the hell that you put me through.’”
Secretly, the singer had been toying with the idea of putting her own outfit together on the side. In her last semester of college she formed Bully, taking its moniker from a bass-heavy anthem she had written by the same name. It captured the band’s spirit perfectly, she says, “because the song is about when you get older, and you look back at all those times in your life when you’ve been mistreated, and you wish that you could have reacted differently.”
Now, when Bully loads its gear into venues, sound engineers sigh with relief,” Bognanno says. “Because we’re really basic – just two guitars, bass, drums and vocals, and no 17 keyboards or anything. So I’m always overly nice to them, because I know how it feels to be on the other end of it. I have felt their pain.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 19
Contact: (415) 861-2011, www.ticketfly.com