Laura Bell Bundy Interview: Nashville Newcomer Scores with 'Achin and Shakin' and 'How I Met Your Mother'
Broadway veteran Laura Bell Bundy is called one of the most talented Nashville newcomers of 2010. Her debut album, Achin’ and Shakin,’ was released on April 13, 2010. It debuted at #5 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart as well as #28 on the all-genre Billboard 200.
Achin’ and Shakin’ is a concept album that is essentially two separate albums within one project; the Achin’ side is a collection of slow and sultry country songs and the Shakin’ side is a group of sassy songs that are equal parts humor, confidence, and attitude.
"So I’m hoping there’s a women’s movement in country. I think the women are ballsier than the men by far."
The first single off the album, “Giddy on Up,” debuted on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart at #60 for the chart week of February 20, 2010. The second single off the album is the first track on the record entitled “Drop on By,” and it is currently at radio stations around the country.
Although fairly new to the Nashville music scene, Bundy is most well known for her Broadway roles of the original Amber in Hairspray and the original Elle Woods in the musical version of Legally Blonde.
The Lexington, Kentucky native has appeared on television in the CBS daytime drama Guiding Light and just recently performed on the season finale of Kathy Griffin’s My Life on the D List. The talented actress also landed a guest stint in the fall on the hit CBS comedy How I Met Your Mother.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you come up with the idea for a concept album before or after you had begun writing the songs?
Laura Bell Bundy: Basically I started writing a bunch of songs and I was sort of going for a Norah Jones country kind of a thing. But then I thought if I did that I wasn’t going to have a really entertaining live show, which is important to me. There’s just so much energy and fun there. So I thought I should do Amy Winehouse and country and basically take licks from old country songs and make them new again. That was an idea I had in the very beginning so I thought I’d do one or the other.
I started writing these as old country meets old soul songs produced modern. They were all either coming out really slow or up-tempo. Someone at my label said, “Why don’t you just do two albums?” I thought, “Well, that’s really too ambitious for a new artist.”
I was talking to the head of my record label and I played him the songs. He freaked out on “Giddy on Up,” but really liked the slow songs, too. He said, “Why don’t we have a split album?” You know, they’re doing these six packs and things now like an old record where one side is this mood and you flip it over and the other side is this mood. So we could have all of that on one CD. We just decided to commit to that. I think we questioned it along the way but eventually we decided we were going to have the balls to do it (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): During your songwriting process, how much do you draw from your own life experiences?
Laura Bell Bundy: I can’t sing anything that I haven’t lived through unless I’m playing a character or something on Broadway. I can’t write a song that I can’t relate to. I can’t say anything about a tractor because I don’t ride one. The only time I rode a tractor was with my grandfather when I was a kid so there are things I’m not going to say in a song because I haven’t been there before. If I haven’t been there I can’t understand it. If I don’t understand it people listening to the music aren’t going to understand it.
I definitely pull from life. I can also pull from my parent’s perspective. I can relate to “Curse the Bed,” but I can also think about my parents in that song because they went through a divorce. I can relate to “Should’ve left my lipstick on a cigarette,” “Drop on By,” “Giddy on Up, Giddy on Out,” and “I’m No Good (For Ya Baby).” I feel like I have lived all of the songs at some point in my life.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Given your background in theater, did you think about the album possibly making a great musical on Broadway?
Laura Bell Bundy: It’s interesting because I really love telling stories. My favorite thing to do is tell stories with music. I get to do that as a songwriter and a performer in music videos (like “Giddy on Up”). Obviously I think I learned to do that in the theater. If anything in musical theater has helped me, it refined my ability to tell stories through music.
I think, in some sort of subconscious way, this album is telling a story because I’m used to doing that. “Giddy On Up” is about losing love, getting over it, and moving on to someone else. If you buy the physical album it describes each song. So I think you could have … it’s funny because if I’m doing an acoustic set (I’ve just started doing that actually), in order to make that show interesting I decide to tell a story. I basically say this is a concept album, there’s a story behind the album, and I’m going to tell you the story. I call it, “When it All Goes South” story time with Laura Bell Bundy. It’s going south just because it’s country, but it basically starts with a little of that song and goes right into “Giddy on Up, Giddy on Out,” then “Curse the Bed,” “Rebound,” “Drop on By,” “Can I Call You My Boyfriend Yet?” and “If You Want My Love.” It basically goes on that journey.
I think, in time, in order to make a full musical, I would need to combine this album with songs from other albums to really make a full story. I used to say, “Absolutely not, I don’t want to do that.” But now I say, “Yeah, there isn’t this kind of music on Broadway.” Broadway is very much geared to middle America because they’re the tourists coming to see theater in New York. My music is for those people, too. I think it might work one day. It would really be fun to do that. I’ll have to work on it (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was it difficult to work with two different producers?
Laura Bell Bundy: Oh God, it was amazing to do that! I loved it because they have completely different styles and I was able to extract different parts of my personality with them. I also wrote with them. I actually worked with three different producers (Shakin’ side was three).
Mike Shimshack and Nathan Chapman and I did a lot of writing, All of the songs Mike produced I wrote with him. Nathan produced three of the six songs and we wrote them together. It was just so easy because we were inspired together. We knew the direction we were going and what the meaning of the songs were. It was very experimental with both of them because we had never done it before. But, I actually like working with different producers.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I definitely heard some Dolly Parton in several of the songs.
Laura Bell Bundy: Very much so. I love the cadence that she writes songs in. It’s very bluegrass. “Giddy on Up” has that and “If You Want My Love” has that. There’s sassiness to it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I heard it in “Cigarette,” too.
Laura Bell Bundy: Really? It’s so funny because many people say “Cigarette” sounds like Norah Jones or Tanya Tucker. I was very influenced by Loretta, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, and Tanya Tucker. The way they sang and what they said when they sang … there’s a real confidence there. For Tammy, it’s very vulnerable, for Loretta, it’s really ballsy, and for Dolly what you see is what you get.
There’s a sense of humor in it, too. I basically took those influences … and a lot of Jerry Reed (the speaking parts), his sense of humor. Then I took those James Brown, Otis Redding, and Aretha Franklin influences to give it a more soulful feel. My father is from Muscle Shoals so I get some of that also.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I think I heard some Melissa Etheridge in “Please.”
Laura Bell Bundy: Yes. I could see her singing that. Also growing up I loved Bonnie Raitt and that’s some of the bluesiness and the bluesy rock thing, that sort of “I’m going to accept that about myself now.” I loved her and also Melissa Etheridge. “You are the only one.” (sings)
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How much fun was Miranda Lambert’s video to do?
Laura Bell Bundy: Yeah, you know what, I love those girls! We’re all really different, but when we’re together … Miranda’s pretty ballsy, Kellie’s pretty ballsy, I’m pretty ballsy, Hillary’s coming into her ballsiness. It was really funny. Everybody has a unique sense of humor, different and unique.
I actually helped Miranda come up with the concept for that video. She loved the director she had and is influenced by Wanda Jackson, so I said, “Why don’t you have a Wanda Jackson kind of rockabilly as a feel with two different sides – the socialites and the greasers, like the film Cry Baby?”
We had more fun being the bad girls than we did being the good girls! Everyone on the set kept saying, “You guys are so much better at being bad girls than you are being good girls!”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That’s usually the way (laughs). Do you think there’s a female movement going on right now in country music?
Laura Bell Bundy: I hope so (laughs). I think one of the things that was amazing about Miranda was that she was being so generous with her video. She said, “Listen, we’re not competing with one another. We’re all uniquely different. We all have our place, we respect and love each other.” I think more women need to say that in general because many women are too competitive with one another. Instead of understanding our similarities we sometimes focus on our differences or things that we’re jealous of.
I think a lot of women love country music. In areas where people don’t necessarily like country, women are more drawn to it in those areas. Taylor and Carrie Underwood have attracted people who normally listen to pop because they’re talking about female experiences. So I’m hoping there’s a women’s movement in country. I think the women are ballsier than the men by far. We’ve been told women don’t sell and women have a hard time on country radio. All right then, let’s do whatever the hell we want. If we’re going to have a hard time anyway we might as well put up music we like.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You also recently appeared on Kathy Griffin’s My Life on the D List.
Laura Bell Bundy: Yes (laughs). That whole experience was hilarious. I was in a dressing room with Cloris Leachman and Rip Taylor. Oh my God, when I’m they’re age, I hope I’m as funny! I mean, obscenities … and I thought she was dead when I walked in because she was lying on the cot (laughs).
I had to help Cloris Leachman get dressed. It was just the funniest thing. If the camera had been in that room, that episode would have been so much funnier. I’m not saying it wasn’t funny. I haven’t seen that episode yet, so I don’t know. I don’t like to watch myself on TV.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’ve heard several actors say that. Is it because you are overly critical of yourself?
Laura Bell Bundy: Yeah, I’d go like, “Oh God I did something terrible or embarrassing.” I think it’s a personal thing and a self-critical thing. I like watching my videos when we’re editing because I go into the head of the director. I can see things that people won’t see that I want to have changed. When I’m hands on like that I’m okay with watching it on TV.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Laura, were other family members interested in music professionally?
Laura Bell Bundy: My grandfather was a radio DJ in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, and he started doing the news, but he’s a great singer. There was always music in the house and he sang. He sounds like Bing Crosby.
My aunt taught herself to play the piano and is also a great singer. She was Miss Kentucky and in the semi-finals of Miss America. She has a powerful singing voice. So she and my grandfather definitely have that gift. My family has often compared me to the two of them. They didn’t really pursue singing in a professional way, and that’s why I believe they encouraged me to do it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You were rather young starting in New York with Off Broadway shows.
Laura Bell Bundy: The first thing I did was a Christmas spectacular at Radio City Music Hall. I was nine years old. I auditioned for the show. They wanted a twelve year old and my mom said, “Oh she can still audition.” So I got the part.
The guy who was the musical director of the show was writing the music for a brand new musical which ended up becoming Ruthless! The Musical. That was the first Off Broadway show I did, then one thing led to another. I worked on that show for several years. I was living in New York at the time and ended up moving back to Kentucky shortly thereafter.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Your mom stayed with you in New York during that time?
Laura Bell Bundy: Yeah, my mom was with me, and my dad stayed home in Kentucky. That was hard. But I think, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve had to examine just what I want do to. I know that I love being creative.
I love writing music and being on a stage, because in a way, it became like home for me. But it was important for me to go back to Kentucky and have somewhat of a normal life, go to high school and play sports, then decide what I wanted to do. I think that was very important for me to do that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was it exciting to be nominated for a Tony Award for your portrayal of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde: The Musical?
Laura Bell Bundy: Definitely. When you’re 10 in the theater you watch the Tony Awards. So to be nominated was definitely a dream come true. I worked really hard on that show and making that part technically mine, although I think you should never judge your work by what other people think about it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will you be producing a Broadway show in the future?
Laura Bell Bundy: It’s in the works that I’ll be producing a lot of Broadway shows (laughs). I don’t really want to talk about it right now because I don’t want to jinx anything. But I can see myself becoming a producer or director, whether it’s a music video or a Broadway show. I just love that whole creative process. I don’t just like the acting, singing, and songwriting. I like it all.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Speaking of acting, did you enjoy your experience playing the rebellious Marah Lewis on Guiding Light for two years?
Laura Bell Bundy: I did. It was important to me. I was 18 and it was that thing where I had happened to audition for the part. I was getting ready to go to college (NYU) and I got the soap opera so I deferred. I thought, “This is fun and what I want to do.” At the same time I had a country band with another girl and we were playing gigs all over the city.
The soap opera was a really great training ground for acting. I had to learn 30 pages of dialogue in a day, sometimes more and very rarely less. I had a nervous breakdown, was kidnapped, mugged, sexually assaulted, danced on a table, dated a mafia member, was in an earthquake, my mother went blind, my parents got divorced (literally) … just anything you could possibly imagine. How do you possibly relate to these things? It was really great training.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You have How I Met Your Mother coming up in the fall. Did you audition for the role?
Laura Bell Bundy: I did not. They came to me. They had this character they were creating and I think Fox suggested me and then CBS suggested me to the creative people. The creatives met with me and a few weeks later I was offered the role.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you watch the show?
Laura Bell Bundy: I love the show actually, so I’m super excited! Neil Patrick Harris is one of my favorite entertainers. He’s so brilliant. I’m also friends with him, have known him for years.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you know how many episodes your character will appear?
Laura Bell Bundy: No, and I tape my first one in September.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is it a recurring role?
Laura Bell Bundy: It’s more than one episode (laughs). I don’t think I’m going to be the mother (laughs). I’m like, “How can I be the mother? I’m younger than everybody!” So, no, I don’t think I’m the mother unless they tell me later on. They probably wouldn’t tell me anyway, though, know what I mean?
I’m kind of along for the ride, whatever ride they’d like me to be on. I haven’t done anything on TV for a long time because I’ve been focused on the music. The good thing is that it won’t take me away from the music. I’ve been doing concerts, going to radio stations, and promoting “Drop on By,” and working on a new record all at the same time.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you have any time for yourself?
Laura Bell Bundy: Well, the good thing is I love what I do and thrive on it. It’s my hobby at the same time. I think if I ever have kids there are two things I’m going to teach them – have compassion for people and situations and for yourself. Have compassion and do what you love. If you do what you love, if you find your hobby, and you make that your job you’ll be happy. You have to make a living and support yourself so you might as well be doing something that you feel like you thrive on.
I also love spending time with friends. Fortunately I can travel and see friends in different places. I love reading so I read when I’m on an airplane (laughs). I spend time with my dog. Sometimes she travels with me, other times she stays with friends or with my mom.
I have this sketch stuff I do called Cooter County. All of my characters live in this town. There’s a character I do called Shocantelle Brown and that video had almost 300,000 views in a short amount of time on You Tube. I do Euneeda Biscuit who just did an interview with Kellie Pickler. That is a big hobby of mine and it’s becoming my version of Hee Haw, a slightly dysfunctional, slightly risqué Hee Haw. I’m constantly writing skits and working on that. That’s how I play.
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