Bnny: “I don’t see myself as a musician. I see myself as an artist who happens to write songs”

From grief to hope to somewhere in-between – Jessica Viscius shares the Bnny state of mind

One Million Love Songs, the second album by Chicago’s Bnny (the project of singer-songwriter Jessica Viscius), is a lot about inevitability. Loss, heartbreak, change – these things are all inevitable. But so is finding new love after loss, even if you don’t want it. So is the sound of the birds outside, even if you shut yourself in your room. The first thing we hear on the album’s opening track, ’Missing’, is the sound of those birds.

Viscius wrote her first album, the raw and grief-soaked Everything, after the death of her boyfriend, Chicago musician Trey Gruber. One Million Love Songs details a new relationship and subsequent break-up that came after that loss. The post-heartbreak pendulum swings from defiant optimism, such as on the single ‘Good Stuff’ (“I’m hanging on to the good stuff / I’m hanging on to my big love”), to numb resignation like on closing track ‘No One’ (“No one loves me anymore,” are the album’s parting words). 

She recorded the album in North Carolina with Alex Farrar, the in-demand producer who’s worked with some of US indie’s hottest recent breakthroughs such as Wednesday, Squirrel Flower and Indigo De Souza. Together they crafted an atmospheric sonic world that places you right inside heartache’s breathless haze. It’s an album that proves Bnny one of the most promising new artists on the indie scene. Ahead of a UK tour, she sat down with us to chat about how it all came together.

Bnny - Something Blue (Official Music Video)

On your first album, Everything, you wrote about your grief after losing your partner, Trey. How did you go about channelling that into your songs? Did they just kind of pour out of you, or was it a process of wanting to sit down and do justice to this feeling?

It was a little bit of both, and I think that’s why it took me so long to write, because there were those moments where I would sit down and it was just an outpouring of grief and emotion. But I was also very aware of how sensitive this was, and how I wanted to honour Trey and his memory by putting out this album. I was putting all this pressure on myself to make this album that Trey would like. But yeah, I think mostly it was sort of a therapeutic process. It felt more like a therapy session when I would sit down and play guitar. For the first year after Trey passed, I didn’t write any songs, but I would sit down to play guitar a lot and I would just end up crying. That was therapeutic in its own way.

You’ve said that for One Million Love Songs, you wanted to write from a slightly less heavy headspace. How did that manifest?

Yeah, it was challenging to play live songs that were about such a sensitive subject. So I was very cognisant of that when I was writing. I wanted to just make songs that were exciting to play live, and fun, and less pressure. That was my intention, but I think I still wrote a very personal album that is about new love and new breakups, new heartache. It’s certainly not as devastating as my first album. But this is why being an artist is hard, because it’s just so much of yourself that you’re revealing. It takes a lot out of me to release these songs into the world.

Something that feels like a real step up from the last album is the atmosphere of the whole thing. The album really feels like it has its own world. What’s your approach to creating atmosphere in your songs?

I think that was with the help of Alex, because he had all these ideas about what pedals to use. It was different from how we recorded our first album, where the gear that we practice with and that we play live shows with was the only gear that we used during the recording sessions, for the most part. We were at this amazing studio, so we had access to all of these amazing instruments and pedals. It was more so just experimenting, and then sort of crafting that world together. 

I’m the opposite of a gearhead. The possibilities of one pedal paired with another pedal stresses me out. I just like everything to be super simple, that way I can focus on the songwriting. Which is why working with Alex was so great, because he had this vision, and he just executed it immediately. I’m always sort of wishing that I was more invested in figuring out new sounds and whatever. But I’m not necessarily interested in being a great musician; I feel like my songs are more about the feeling in the lyrics. Even though I’m a “musician” in quotes, I don’t really see myself as a musician. I see myself more as an artist who happens to write songs. 

Bnny - Good Stuff (Official Video)

I really like the song ‘Good Stuff’, and I feel like it encapsulates the more hopeful side of the album, even as it sits alongside a lot of heartbreak. How did you channel that hope in that song?

I think that having experienced a lot of loss in my life, I’m very cautious of falling in love again. I’m just always aware that things are fleeting, and I think the older I get I’ve just gotten more pessimistic, and more jaded. Which isn’t a good thing. My good moods are also fleeting, so when I’m in this mood where I’m like, “Oh, I feel great today, and I’m writing this positive, happy song”, it feels very rare. 

I wrote that song shortly after a breakup. It was last year, it was spring, so the sun was out for the first time in what felt like weeks, and everything was coming back to life. I was feeling very hopeful, and sort of reflecting on this relationship and choosing to remember the good things. It’s more of a delusional song! [laughs] Where the breakup has happened, you should be moving on, but you’re in this stage of grief that’s the denial stage, and you’re like, “Well, there were some good things, and I remember all the good things.”

What’s special about the music scene in Chicago, and how has it shaped you as an artist?

It is such a supportive city. When Bnny first started playing shows, I felt like the scene quickly became a real community. Right now, I feel like I’m in this weird place where I’m not really as involved in the music scene as I used to be. I think after Trey passed away, it’s just been harder to be involved in music in the way I used to be, because that was something I did with Trey. I’ve just been working on separating myself and my identity more from music and the music scene, and focusing on other things that make me happy, that are less ego-driven. So I’ve been drawing a lot, I love foraging, I love hiking. I also recently got a new puppy. She’s a terrier mix, and she’s just a little angel. 

Bnny plays London on 14 May, and Manchester on 18 May, either side of stages at this year’s Great Escape festival in Brighton. Find tickets here

One Million Love Songs is out now.