By Denise Torenbeek.
Another Piece Of Me…
It is a rare treat when an interview with an artist turns out to be a delightful, laugh-out-loud interlude like my recent chat with the very funny, bubbly-as-Barossa champagne, Laura Bell Bundy.
I was an early sceptic re Laura Bell Bundy’s music. Reading her advance bio re childhood stardom and Hollywood small and large screen history, I suspected another wanna-be, ‘pop princess’ of poking her nose and other perky bits into Nashville’s country-city limits.
That was her 2008 first album and by the second song I was a convert. Her twang-credibility was in mighty fine fettle, superbly showcased with bona-fide chops – the title should have been a hint, Longing For A Place Already Gone. Since then, 2010 gave us more of a good thing with Achin’ & Shakin’ (identifying the Shakin’ as the good times and the Achin’ as the hangover) and now the newly-minted Another Piece Of Me appraises the many and varied faces and facets of this busy actress, songwriter, singer and producer at age 34, five years on from her last record.
Having grown up in Kentucky, almost everything she touches turns chicken fried. But her southern roots extend far beyond her hair extensions. Her passion for performing, writing music, and telling stories combined with her talent and determination took Bundy from her southern comfort zone to the bright lights of Broadway and way beyond.
Debuting at age 9 in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular was the fuel to the fire. Since then, she has originated the roles of “Tina Denmark” in Ruthless The Musical, “Amber Von Tussle” in Hairspray, “Elle Woods” in Legally Blonde, and took a turn as “Glinda” in the smash hit Wicked. She has earned numerous nominations including a Tony Award nomination Leading Actress in a Musical.
Aside from Broadway, she has infiltrated a string of network television shows such as Cold Case, Veronica Mars, Home Improvement, Malibu Country, “Becky” on How I Met Your Mother, a recurring role as “Shelby” on Hart of Dixie, and her current lead role as Dr. Jordan Denby on Anger Management. She also played the disgruntled teen, “Marah Lewis” on Guiding Light. Laura Bell’s film work includes Dream Girls, Jumanji, Life with Mikey, The Adventures of Huck Finn, CMT’s first original movie To The Mat, Watercolor Postcards and Hallmark’s Dear Dumb Diary.
But let us go back and get the story from the beginning: the nitty gritty on the genesis of LBB.
“You’d have to ask my mother Lorna Bell Bundy – well, Lorna Bell Bundy Jones now, as she’s remarried! No, what happened was my Mom did some work with the Miss America pageant, and that had come about after an aunt won Miss Ohio, and she started me at dance classes really young and the dance teacher noticed me singing while I was dancing and mimicking the beauty contestants I’d seen with Mum. So then she entered me in a local Tiny Tots quest –it was pretty outrageous but it was definitely not false eyelashes and spray tans on four year olds like now! Anyhow I won that, then the State version, and before you know it here I am, crowned Miss Peewee Hemisphere! I kid you not! At five years old I was signed to a five year modelling and acting contract and I’m the winner of a brand new car!”
At this stage we are both in gales of laughter and I suggest, “So, you pulled on your Big Girl’s Britches and got your license at six, I presume?”
“Well no, but there’s another killer story from that, because we got flown to New York to appear on the Phil Donohoe show which was a BIG deal, first time ever in the Big Apple, and Mom was like ‘Wow, we’ll have to go to Target and get proper clothes…’ but anyway, it transpired it was an expose, like an investigation, scrutinising child beauty pageants… but we think we’re there to be celebrated and there’s a psychologist and a shrink and the whole nine yards!”
Having covered that piece of her and recomposing ourselves, we get back to music.
I am fascinated how a girl who developed in that extraordinary environment of pageants and glitz and glamour, basically a ‘working life’ from kindergarten, gravitated to country music. In all this I actually omitted to ask what form her education took, but it obviously served her well as by fourteen she was writing her own songs. Being from Kentucky was she imbued with a natural bent toward Bluegrass?
“Absolutely! To this day Dolly is and will always be my hero, I love Loretta too and Willie is as constant as Bill Monroe for me – the more classic it is the more I’m drawn to it. But in saying that, I don’t try to take more than inspiration from them, as I want to be myself and very much a contemporary artist. Jerry Reed! He was my inspiration for the rapping in ‘Two Step,’ (duet with Colt Ford) as he did a version of it all the time way back in the 80’s, and I love those songs!”
A prolific writer, Laura’s contribution to this album was whittled from sixty songs.
“The whole idea behind Another Piece of Me is that each song represents a different version of who I am. Whether there’s like the zany, energetic, crazy, ‘Two Step’ version, or ‘Kentucky Dirty,’ or ‘She Only Wants to Dance,’ then there’s also like the commitment phobic part of me that has a sense of humour in ‘Let’s Pretend We’re Married,’ or the reflective side which is ‘China and Wine’ or ‘Another Piece of Me.’ It’s almost like you take a little journey down the road between my head and my heart.”
There are instantly recognisable names in the writers Laura has worked with for these songs. Kristian Bush, half of Sugarland, who was also here for 2015 CMC Rocks Qld on the same bill as Laura, Rascal Flatts’ Jay DeMarcus, Shane McAnally, Sarah Buxton (‘Stupid Boy’ Keith Urban) and former Oz visitor in Buxton Hughes duet with Jedd Hughes, and three tracks are penned in partnership with the wonderful Jerry Flowers, Keith Urban’s bass/piano/guitars/everything/ man extraordinaire. I point the Australian connections out to Laura who says she hadn’t realised and must be an Honorary Aussie by association. “Jerry and I have written a lot together and he had a cut on my first album too.”
Ashley Monroe co-authored ‘Wait Until The Sun Goes Down,’ and Laura said “Now there is a beautiful voice. That girl has the sort of voice I would like to have singing me to sleep and to wake up to on the radio (referring to the recent kerfuffle regarding females on country radio).”
Asked if her March visit to appear at CMC Rocks Qld was her first trip to Australia LBB said, “No my second, I’ve been there before just for fun – we celebrated New Year’s 2014 down there – and originally I was to go for ten days this time, but then commitments here intervened and canned that, but I still fit in a couple of days at Byron Bay and had a great time. It was a fantastic festival too and the crowd was a hoot. They were super into it all and really very warm and welcoming.”
Does she intend to capitalise on the great impression she made here and return to headline a tour?
“I would absolutely love that. It is my very favourite thing to do, going on tour, I call it ‘moneymoons’ or ‘workations’ – I am going to Italy next and straight after, to Ireland next month.”
I note that the clip for current single, ‘I Am What I Am,’ is made in Switzerland with her cavorting and dancing in the same ‘flower-flocked’ green meadows as Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music.
“I recorded the song right before I was to go play Staad CM Festival and there was this lightbulb moment, ‘Oh My God we have to film the video over there!’ so we dragged along a film crew and it was SO much fun, and yes, obviously ‘The Hills Are Alive’ is the influence. I love mountains, and am never happier than when I’m up in the mountains, so it was a great place for me being who I am and backgrounding that song.”
Also worth checking out, should you be inclined and up for it, is Ms Bell Bundy’s LBBTV which is her production company and online home to ‘Cooter County’ and ‘Skits-O-Frenic’ where she gives her hyperactive creativity full rein with some wild, wacky and wonderful characters and scenarios… “it’s like Hee Haw on crack” she explains. Seriously though, she does believe it is time the country music variety show made a comeback in an updated format. “Who knows! I might get that done some time!”
There’s a quote that could be her mantra. “I want to make you laugh till you pee your pants and dance till you slip a disc. I want every night to be like Saturday night. The motivation is not to be famous. It’s to have fun until I drop dead.”
For this spunky dynamo with more talent than any one woman is entitled to, I think both are inevitable. And that is a good thing.
But I do wonder what the findings were from the Baby Beauty Pageant enquiry…