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BWW Interviews: Laura Bell Bundy Unscripted; Talks New Album 'Achin' and Shakin' - Singles Drop Tuesday, Jan. 19

Broadway leading lady and country singer Laura Bell Bundy spoke exclusively with BroadwayWorld recently about the upcoming release of her sophomore album, Achin' and Shakin' (Mercury Records, a division of Universal). A follow-up to her previous Dixie-flavored pop/rock Longing For A Place Already Gone, Achin' and Shakin' is a concept album - part soulful and sultry "Achin'" ballads and part upbeat and sassy "Shakin'" tracks. Says Bundy of the idea: "'Two records, one woman' is my motto."

Laura Bell Bundy has been performing lead and feature roles in New York and in Regional Theater since she was nine years old. A triple threat, she originated the roles of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde: The Musical, and Amber Von Tussle in the Tony Award winning musical Hairspray.  She also performed as Glinda in Wicked. On screen, Bundy has appeared in "Dreamgirls," "Life With Mickey" and "Jumanji." She has been seen on television in "Guiding Light" from 1999-2001, "Cold Case," "Veronica Mars," and Comedy Central's "Strangers With Candy." 

Bundy's first two singles from Achin' and Shakin', "Giddy On Up" (on the Shakin' side) and "Cigarette" (from the Achin' side) will be released on iTunes tomorrow Tuesday, January 19. Her music video for "Giddy On Up," featuring fellow Legally Blonde tour star Brian Patrick Murphy and choreography by original Rock of Ages choreographer RJ Durell, premiered this morning on CMT and CMT.com. Watch the video premiere right here on BroadwayWorld.

In this interview, Bundy talks to BroadwayWorld about making the jump from Broadway star to recording artist, what it took to put together a country album, and just how much Legally Blonde has changed her life.   

Congratulations on the new album. Up here in New York most people identify you with Broadway. How did you come into a recording career?

This is my second album, actually. I did my first album, Longing for a Place Already Gone, before I did Legally Blonde. That one I co-wrote, co-produced and funded on my own. Before that I had a band with another girl, Amber Rhodes, and we would do gigs around the city during when I did Hairspray and Wicked. After that when I finally did my own thing with Longing, I realized the true passion I had for writing all of the time and producing my own stuff. So while I was doing Legally Blonde I pursued my writing and would do gigs in New York on Mondays - my days off - at Birdland and clubs like that. Looking back, I probably shouldn't have because I exhausted myself, but I really loved having that outlet of being able to perform my own music and having a band. Of course, my band was guys from the orchestra pit of Legally Blonde (laughs).

At what point did the record deal come?

You know, at the time, while performing in Legally Blonde I wasn't really pursing a record deal. I was working on some variety show project ideas with regard to my music, actually. I thought I would do variety show things first and then maybe the record deal would happen - and in the meantime I could do my own records like I had done before and fund them myself. I've always wanted to put on these Bette Midler meets Dolly Parton kind of concerts -you know what I mean, with all of the theatrics and dancing, but country style. So for me, that was the next thing to pursue, as it had been in the back of my mind and a dream since I was a little girl. But, while I was doing Legally Blonde, I got a really amazing manager from Nashville and throughout the last six months of my run I was taking trips to Nashville on my days off - just once a month if the time allowed and my health allowed - and had some meetings. I got noticed by two different record labels, Capital Records in Nashville and Universal Music. And literally for the last two months of my run in Legally Blonde record execs would come up from Nashville and see me do the show. I would have meetings with them in the dressing room, while I was eating soup with pin curls in my hair! That my showcase for Nashville - it was wild. I already had my first CD so they knew that I was a writer and a country singer from Kentucky. And then they saw that I could perform do whatever other skills Legally Blonde required. Actually, for my last performance in Legally Blonde, the president of Universal Music flew a private jet up with a bunch of people from the Nashville office to see me do the show because otherwise they were going to miss it. Of course, being my last show it was the craziest, most out of ordinary show that you could possibly see in your entire life!  By the time I left Legally Blonde I had two offers, one from Capital and one from Universal. But, my intention was to move to Nashville anyway, even if I didn't have a deal. But within the next few months I made the decision to go with Universal and I really officially made the move in the fall.

Why Universal Music instead of Capital Records?

I really, really loved the people at Capital. But I knew that at Universal I was going to have a little more creative freedom. I knew that the music was their priority, and I knew that Capital had a vision, but I think they were a little timid about what I might do over there, and maybe thought that like having a television outlet might help it, whereas with Universal the music alone was okay. And you know sometimes you just have a gut feeling. I follow my gut and my gut told me to go with Universal. I am still friends with the people at Capital, but I know that I made the right decision. At Universal I was given a lot more rope to hang myself and I have compromised minimally. When I signed I thought "Okay I'm going to do the big label thing and I'll probably have to compromise, but I'm prepared for that and I'll just try to keep my integrity through this whole process and protect the integrity of the music." Are you kidding? I've kept the integrity of the music, I've kept the integrity of myself...I can't even believe it. I got so lucky. That just reminds me that I made the right choice and that my gut instinct about my creativity was correct.

What did you do in the months between the end of your Legally Blonde run (July, 2008) and the start of the album?

In the interim I took some time off and went home to Kentucky and taught classes to kids and played different cities around the country with Paul Caanan from Legally Blonde. We did Take It From the Top. I felt that it was really smart for me to take some time off from doing Broadway. I was really exhausted and a bit overworked, to say the least. But that's my pattern: I'll do a Broadway show for a while and then I have to take time off from the genre itself for a bit just to sort of air it out and get some new perspective. Then I'll charge right back into it at one point. Excuse me, I have to open a red bull (she drinks). Anyway, I bought a place here in Nashville - talk about impulsive - and I went into my creative cave. I met all of these amazing writers here and I had writing appointments every day. I wrote like 50 songs in six months. I just kept writing and writing and there was something so good about that. I was so extroverted when doing Legally Blonde that there was this replenishing of my introspective and introverted creative self that really needed to happen. The darkness of me needed to come out and linger. I needed to have a social life and have a drink. And as the time went by over those couple of months I had the realization of what I was going to do with this album and what the concept was going to be. It happened quickly, actually, for Nashville standards. For me, when I focus on a task, I focus on a task-I get it done with no time to dawdle.

What album concept did you arrive at?

When creating an album one of the first things you have to think about is what you want your production style to be. I first started out thinking that I was going to do a ‘Norah Jones for country' album. And then I thought, maybe I want to do an ‘Amy Winehouse for country' sort of thing. What ended up happening is that I did both and I made a two part album called Achin' and Shakin', representing the two different sides and qualities of the album. And the production of those two and the process of those two were totally different. Two different producers, and two different ways of doing production. So, whatever mood you're in, you can listen to the Achin' side or the Shakin' side. If you're in an introspective mood or mourning, wallowing in your sorrow, crying, or you're in a coffee shop, you're making out, or you're having a dinner party, you listen to Achin'. If you want to run, drive really fast, if you want to shake your butt, have the girls over, or you're at a gay club, then you listen to Shakin'

Can you talk a little bit about what goes into making a country album? What was the process for you?

Well, like for any album it depends on whether or not you are a writer. I am. If you're not a writer you first go through the process of picking songs that are right for you. But, it took me longer because I had to actually create the material. You may write five songs and there is one that you can keep. I actually had a week where I literally wrote four songs and all of them are on my album. But sometimes you'll go a week where you'll write songs and they never see the light of day. So that process takes a long time. For the Achin' side I basically just wrote songs with other writers and then we went into a studio, hired a bunch of musicians and for two days in a row we recorded the album all live, meaning that I sang live while all of the musicians played their tracks. We did not do any other vocal overdubs, which is unusual. We didn't try to do a lot of manipulating in terms tuning or anything. It has a very live sort of feel and sound and that was a magical, magical process. After these two recording days we did background vocals, some of which I did, and added some extra electric guitar and violin. After that, we mixed it, listened to it, changed it, and went back in forth like that for a few days. On the Achin' side it was really quick, quicker than we thought it was going to be - probably a week and a half to two weeks in the studio. But, prior to recording, for this side I wrote probably about 35 songs which took time. I had to pick 6 of the 35 and that's a PAINFUL process. It's like "Oh there's this one song I really love..." But it's like the theater term 'you have to kill your baby.' Actually for Achin' we recorded 7 songs and had to cut one off, which was even harder because the one we cut off was my favorite one.

I'm sure Universal will find something clever to do with that bonus track.

(Laughs) Yes definitely. We'll release it on the second album.

Now the other side, Shakin', is very different. I met this guy named Mike Shimshack who is actually from New York, and had moved to Nashville a couple of months before I did. I was on the phone with him saying that I had wanted to take samples of old country songs and write songs over them. And I wanted it to be crazy and up tempo and, again, like this 'Amy Winehouse for country' sound. He interpreted that to mean putting a little 60s and Motown into it. He made tracks like a pop producer because he had done pop before - for Britney Spears and a girl named Tina Parol - and he made a track. And then me and this other writer, Jeff Cohen, came and with Mike wrote a song on top of that track. That was our process for the Shakin' side. So the production and writing of the song took place almost simultaneously, which made the process take longer - maybe six months. After writing the song over the track, we would go back into the studio and I would record a vocal and then we would have musicians playing on it overdubbed. Then, we replaced everything he made for the track with live instruments. So in the end there were horns on it and black back-up singers. So this side wound up sounding like Dolly Parton meets Bonnie Raitt, meets James Brown and it's all up tempo. I have, by the way, done a gay club remix of "Giddy On Up," my first single, and it the most fun hilarious thing you have ever heard in your life. I love it.

How many tracks are on the album total?

Six on the Achin' side and 6 on the Shakin' side.

"Giddy On Up" (from the Shakin' side) and Cigarette (from the Achin' side) are your first two singles. What specifically inspired these songs?

"Giddy On Up" was the first single that I wrote with Mike and Jeff. I asked Mike to just create a track. And when I first heard it I was like "This is crazy..ok let's go at it." It inspired an idea to do a song about a girl who saw this really cute couple making out and then realized that the guy was her boyfriend. Here she is admiring this couple and then she is like "Oh hell no that is my boyfriend." The song ended up taking on this really country theme so we created a western video for it. We had so much fun writing that song and when we came up with "Giddy On Up, Giddy On Out" (which is what it means), Jeff and I started hysterically laughing and then jumping up and down and we were like "That is it!" With Cigarette, I wrote that song with a guy named Nathan Chapman and he had this idea of ‘I left my lipstick on a cigarette while he was out walking my dog.' That idea made me think about regret - like I should have smoked a cigarette because that would have been less bad for me than you. And we wanted that really sexy country thing with all the darkness of it in the production. So the lyrics are, "I should have let my hair down for dancing, I should have wrapped myself in a blanket" (basically, instead of your arms), "I should have been drinking to forget" (instead of to hook up with someone), and "I should have left my lipstick on a cigarette." So it's the story of when you're single and you're lonely. Or if you're not single and you're lonely. The story of that kind of loneliness you feel when you've been drinking and you hook-up with someoNe You know is not good for you whether they're already in your life or you've just met them.

A familiar Legally Blonde face appears in the "Giddy On Up" video.
 
I used Brian Patrick Murphy from the Legally Blonde tour for my cowboy! I thought "Brian Patrick Murphy! He's perfect, he's such like a little cowboy and he's an actor and a singer and a dancer so he will get this." I texted him and I was like, "Is there any chance that you think you can come out and do this video?"  So the producers of Legally Blonde graciously let him out of a tour show to come in last minute and do this - those people have always been so amazing to me. Brian was great. I mean, he literally did stunts throughout the video. He had to jump out of a break-away glass window, I had to ride a horse and drag him behind me by a rope, and even though he was on this plastic sheet, the poor guy's shoulder was on the ground and he got this horrible massive bruise from it. I had to shoot his clothes off...I mean, I put him through the wringer. He ends up looking very cute in the video, even though he's supposed to be an a**hole.

Have you found that your Broadway tie has been helpful in your transition into singing/songwriting or hurtful because people in some way attach a Broadway stigma to you?

There is definitely that thing here a little where people are like "Oh that Broadway girl has come to Nashville' and I'm like "Listen you guys, I was singing country before I even got a Broadway show. And I'm from Kentucky." I go to New York and people joke that I'm this country girl with a twang and then I come here and I'm the New Yorker. But it doesn't concern me. Because I am truthful. I'm not putting anything on with this album. You know, a lot of people go and do Broadway and then move to Hollywood because they want to be on television shows. For me, my dream since I was a little kid was to be a country singer so I feel it is a natural move. I love performing whether it's doing my own music or doing a Broadway show. There's a really strong connection because Broadway is telling stories. Country music is telling stories. For me, my Broadway experience has offered far more opportunity than detriment that will ever hold me back. The things that I've learned from being on stage - how to understand an audience, how to entertain, how to tell stories - I'm already using that on this album, writing songs that I know will be fun to perform, hiring choreographers that I worked with on shows. I did the original production of Rock of Ages in Los Angeles and the choreographer from that production, RJ Durell, choreographed my "Giddy On Up" video. It was the best decision I could have made. He was fantastic. I will only use him forever. I can be fearless onstage and I got that from working on Broadway. So I think it's all going to help me.

You of course have an extensive performing history and songwriting background, including the writing of nearly all of the songs on Achin' and Shakin.' Do you have aspirations to write a musical?

Yes I do! I am dabbling with writing a musical. I can't say what it's about yet (giggles), because it's too premature.

Do you think you might be returning to the stage sometime soon?

I always have plans to return to the stage. I leave myself very open. I think what would be more likely is if I did a limited run of something, whether it be a play or a musical. I'm actually currently working on something that has a little bit of the country music thing involved that would eventually go to Broadway. But I don't know when I'd be returning. It all depends on what the project is and the timing, as I'm going to be very busy over the next several months with the album.

Do you have any interesting promotional appearances or tour plans for the album?

I'll let you know more specifics when they come up, but I am making dancing remixes of several of my songs from the Shakin' side of the album, and I will be making appearances at certain nightclubs in New York and around the country...and more specifically certain gay clubs. I'm sure Splash will be included in there somewhere. I'll be bringing probably my back-up singers and two of my dancers.

How does Achin' and Shakin' differ from your first album?

Well, I have had some money to do this one for starters, so you can hear the difference in production value and the musicians because of the money we got. I feel like I am a better writer now and that I was more specific and focused in my vision this time around. There's also more maturity. The first album I crunched out was really indie and really raw. This one is a little bit more polished.

What is the most significant and poignant way in which Legally Blonde has impacted your life?

I started to become much more true to myself when I was doing that show. I learned a lot from the character I was playing, really taking away that I had to be true to myself before caring what other people thought. Elle realized that all she really needed was herself, and that she could do anything that she put her mind to with positivity and a sense of integrity. Doing that show also taught me how to truly let myself go onstage. I learned how to use everything that was going on in my life on that stage. I learned how little you have to perform to be funny. And I've taken from that show some of the greatest friends I have in my life.

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For more information on Achin' and Shakin', all things Laura Bell Bundy, and to stream her singles, "Giddy On Up" and "Cigarette," visit www.laurabellbundy.com.


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