Laura Bell Bundy is no stranger to the limelight. With her stints as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde — The Musical and Amber in Hairspray, she already had a successful Broadway career under her belt when she made the decision to pursue another dream — country music.
Her first single, “Giddy On Up,” and its video have burst onto the scene, especially on CMT.com where it consistently ranks in the weekly High 5. She displays a more subdued side in her new video, “Drop On By.”
The outgoing triple-threat performer with a penchant for impersonations stopped by the CMT offices recently to talk about her move to country, her life-of-the-party personality and the concept album, Achin’ and Shakin’, that was released Tuesday (April 14).
CMT.com: You grew up in Kentucky. Did you have to choose between doing theater or singing country music?
Bundy: You know, my mother and my family always instilled in me that anything was possible and I didn’t have to make a choice. … I think that you can do anything that you set your heart and your mind to. But, yeah, you split your focus. I kind of focused more on singing than dancing, and then the acting thing just came naturally and developed over time. The more life I had, the better actor I was. … I think the songwriting didn’t come until I was a teenager, and that was something that I kind of had to put on hold. I always did it. I always wrote. I wrote kind of as a therapy, but I wasn’t able to focus on it because there were all these other things going on. And while I was doing some of the Broadway theater work, I would also try to do the music. But I was still spending the majority of my time on Broadway stuff.
You did really well on Broadway, so was it hard to leave that behind?
No, because I had spent 10 years pursuing country music and had decided at one point, “I’m not going to try to get a record deal. I’m going to do an independent album.” And I did. It was before I did Legally Blonde. And while I was doing Legally Blonde, I would do these gigs on my days off. My contract was coming up for renegotiation. They wanted me to stay for an additional year, but I was like, “I’m gonna stay for six months, and that’s it,” and I made the decision that I was going to move to Nashville. I had no deal. I had nothing, and I was just going to move because I wanted to be in this community and finally give my songwriting and my music a chance like I had given the other things a chance.
I guess your whole story just shows that nobody’s path through life is a straight line.
I don’t think anybody’s is. I also don’t think that there are mistakes. I think you either have one choice or another choice, and your life just takes on that direction. And if you feel like you made a mistake, you learned something from it, so it wasn’t really a mistake.
Your video for “Giddy On Up” might be the best example of all of your talents in one place. Was it hard to make?
It’s interesting that you say that because I was trying to think like, “How do I throw all of my abilities into one video?” Just, like, slam people over the head with it, scream it to them. … But, no, I think I’m one of those people. I’ll write a song and then while I’m writing it … I get the video idea in my head. I kept thinking about the rap section — which I call the Jerry Reed rap. I was listening to a lot of Jerry Reed when I wrote “Giddy On Up.” Especially “Amos Moses” and “She Got the Gold Mine (I Got the Shaft),” and I kept thinking, “Well, I guess you could say that I was blind” [referring to the lyrics to "Giddy On Up"] sounds like Jerry Reed.
Maybe that can be another impersonation you could do.
Yeah, I don’t know. [Impersonating Jerry Reed now, almost yelling] “Turkey!” “She got the gold mine!” “I got the shaft!” “Split it down the middle and give her the better half!” Oh, I love him. Anyhoo, I kept thinking that during the Jerry Reed rap section that I would be clogging, because there are fiddles in the background, and then it would also be like hip-hop. So I was like, “Clog-hop — how do we make clogging and hip hop together?” … And the opening, I kept thinking, reminded me of Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. … So it was like, “How do we do the saloon girl look and then go into looking more modern?”
Has the dancing always came easy to you?
Well, I don’t consider myself a dancer.
Really, because I bet a lot of people do.
I consider myself a mover. I move well. In the dancing standards of Broadway or So You Think You Can Dance, I’m not one of those dancers. I’m a pretty good tap dancer, that I will say, and I’m also pretty good at shaking my junk at a club. I’m pretty good at crumping. I can do that kind of thing. I have a lot of rhythm, but it takes me a while to learn specific steps.
You’re funny, but what is your sense of humor like for someone who’s never met you?
Hmmm. I wouldn’t say campy, and maybe not snarky so much. Somewhere in between there?
I’m self deprecating, and I like to be goofy. I’m not afraid to make fun of myself.
Or maybe some other people once in a while?
Yeah, yeah, I just like to state the obvious, OK? And, you know, I think God has a sense of humor. But I just think it’s great to be able to laugh in life. My sense of humor is shock value — shock value is really big for me — and punch lines. I love punch lines in my lyrics. And I also love innuendo, sexual innuendo. I think it’s just hilarious, and you’ll hear it in my music. … And I think, [from] doing a lot of theater, I kind of gravitate towards that sort of — how do you say it? — gay sense of humor. (laughs)
There’s at least one more side of you, too. Can you tell me about the two themes on the record?
It’s [called] Achin’ and Shakin’, and the Achin’ side is comprised of all slow, sultry country ballads. And the Shakin side is all up-tempos, and it’s almost got a little of a country Motown feel. There are horns in it, there’s gospel singing, and then there’s fiddle-mandolin and some bluegrass elements, as well, and then there’s also Jerry Reed. [In yet another voice] So what you do is, on the Achin’ side, you listen to it when you in the mood to chill out, make out, wallow in your sorrow, have a glass of wine, hang out with your dog or your man or your girlfriend or whatever you do. That’s the Achin’ side. For the Shakin’ side, you can have your friends over when you’re getting amped up to go out. You gonna be able to understand this?
I think so. I don’t think I’ll be able to forget this, actually.
And then you can work out to the whole thing, ’cause I try to work out to it.
I personally like the slow ones.
Quite honestly, they’re the ones that touch me the most. My favorite songs on the album, I gravitate toward “Cigarettes”, that’s one of my favorites, “When It All Goes South.” … Those make me think.
How does “Drop On By” make you feel?
It makes me feel sexy. It’s groovy, not too slow. It’s like a Norah Jones for country vibe. You can dance to it. It’s a waltz, so you can two-step. And it’s just a sexy song.
Is there any way you can describe what your stage show is like?
Yeah, I mean I’ve been rehearsing it and figuring it out … I dance in my show. I clog. There are backup singers. I’ve got some horns, depending on how big the show is. So far, I have one costume change — if I get an encore. But I’m a new artist, so you don’t get an enormous budget to go out on the road. You’re going to open for somebody. It’s their lights, they’re stage. If I had my own stage and I could afford to do that big production, I have a lot of ideas of making it huge and making it theatrical, so it’s like a rock show meets Broadway. It could be funny. Maybe I could come out dressed in character.