A uniquely high charged bundle of energy, Laura Bell has dipped her toes into almost every musical outlet imaginable, including live stage musicals (Hairspray, Wicked, Legally Blonde – The Musical), concerts, and studio. Attitude, sex appeal, and an uncanny knack for comedic timing, it’s as if the gods took equal parts Kristin Chenoweth, Brigitte Bardot and Betty White, and brewed a dynamic concoction.
Achin' & Shakin' is her first major label release, and she did it her way, splitting the CD into two sides. So far, so good: the "Giddy On Up" video, shown below, has well over a million views already.
Laura Bell Bundy: I go by both. Either one is fine.
SF: You have written almost all the songs on your current CD Achin’ & Shakin’.
Laura: I think people don’t realize that I’ve written the songs on the album. They see, Oh, she’s the girl in the mini dress, gyrating. I wanted to have songs where I could gyrate across the stage, because that’s something I do. (laughing) And I also want to have songs where I can make people really feel something deeply. That’s important to me.
SF: This CD was quite an ambitious project. Was the concept of an "Achin'" side and a "Shakin'" side your idea?
Laura: Well, I started writing a lot of these sort of old school country-politan type songs. Slow, ballad-y, like Norah Jones for country. And I really liked that direction. My dad’s from Muscle Shoals, and my mom is from Kentucky, so my music interests are almost split down the middle between my parents and where they’re from. So I’m writing all these slow songs, but I have written in the meantime two up-tempos, one of which was “Giddy On Up.” So I came in and I played these slower mid-tempo songs for my producer on several occasions. And he wanted to hear something more up-tempo. So then I said, “Well, I’ve got this other song, and I’m really not supposed to play it for you yet, because the guy I wrote it with is also a producer, and he really wanted to put background vocals on it and we haven’t had a chance to.” But literally everything else on the track of “Giddy On Up” was done. The track you hear on the record and on the radio is a demo. People do not know that. I’ve never told anybody that.
So I started writing more of the up-tempos. And then we started demoing the up-tempos. And we ended up using those demos as the full record. So for four out of the six on the Shakin’ side, those were demos. They were upgraded. And it’s just wild how it ended up coming together. But I finally committed to the idea. And even in the end, people were like, “Don’t you think you might need something in the middle?” And I wanted to slap whoever said that upside the head. The point is that it’s two completely different sides. Sometimes you’re in the mood to listen to slow stuff that makes you want to cry or drink or you want to have a dinner party or go to a coffee shop or whatever. And sometimes all you want to do is dance to a fast song or drive to a fast song or run. I tested the album for running – very good. The Achin’ part is not good for running, it’s good for hiking, though.
And we knew it was risky. And we knew we needed to show both sides. The thing is, “Giddy On Up” has had all this crazy response to the video, and people want to see me shaking. So we did the “Drop On By” video, and we put it out there, because this is the other side of the record. We need you to know that this is the other side of the record and not expect that this entire record is the Shakin’ side.
SF: “Drop On By,” is that the video with you in the bathtub?
Laura: Yes. (laughs)
SF: Yeah, those are quite different. (laughing)
Laura: Oh, yes.
SF: In the liner notes, you have a little storybook, and each song goes through a different phase. If you started with a song like “Giddy On Up,” where did you go from there?
Laura: “Giddy On Up” was one of the first songs that I wrote within the first week that I was in Nashville. Beginner’s luck. I had said to (co-writer) Mike Shimshack in the beginning, “Amy Winehouse takes a throwback ‘60s and then makes it pop again. I want to do throwback country and then make it more contemporary.” And he said, “Put horns in it.” And this was “Giddy On Up,” and I was like, “I love this! I love this funk music.” And so he did the track for “Giddy On Up.” Jeff Cohen had figured out, “love, love, you let me down,” that chorus. And I came in and was doing the verses, and Jeff and I together came up with “giddy on up and giddy on out,” and we were like jumping around in his living room. We started laughing and we knew it would be cheesy. We were like, Is this too cheesy? But it’s funny! It’s hilarious.
So within a couple of weeks I wrote “Rebound.” Then I wrote “I’m No Good For You, Baby.” I wrote it with Mike and Jeff. And that came about because I like to write at nighttime. I am not a morning writer. And so Mike and I got together and had some dinner, and he was telling me some stories about how he’d said to a girl at the bar, ‘My motto with these women is saying, I’m no good for you, baby.” And I said, “That is so funny. That’s our song tonight that we’re gonna write.”
It was a little different, it had a little bit of, (singing) “very superstitious,” it’s got a little bit of Stevie Wonder in there. And it’s (singing) “I don’t think you heard me correctly, I’m no good for you, baby.” So that’s what I picked out of it. I was like, “That kind of sounds like Stevie Wonder, but we can’t really copy it. So let’s bring the funk in.” So Jeff started playing his guitar over this very loose track that Mike had done, and we started singing and throwing out “I’m No Good For You, Baby,” and it was very ‘60s. Then the black-grounds, or the black-ups – does that sound horrible? (laughing) It’s all right, they call themselves that. It’s just that when other people hear it, it does sound a little bit weird. It’s like an inner band term. So even if you’re black, it’s a black phrase.
So we finished that, and it was about the phase right after a breakup, and “Giddy On Up” was the breakup, so it could go right into that song. Then I had “Rebound” produced to sound like that. So I end up with three songs that tell a story. In the meantime, I had written this poem for a guy I was seeing at the time. And we didn’t label our relationship. We didn’t call each other “boyfriend/girlfriend.” I was on the phone with my friend one day and I said, “Yeah, I’m out visiting my man toy.” He said, “I have never heard anybody call their significant other man toy. That is awesome.” So I started coming up with a poem, and I came up with “man toy, lover boy” all these things that I was saying instead of “boyfriend.” “Sweetheart that brings me joy, better half, sweetie pie, yes, I’m still seeing that same guy, no labels, or can I call you my boyfriend?” I had this in my computer for months. I got together with Luke Laird and Barry Dean and we started looping some beats and stuff, because with the Shakin’ side that’s kind of how we did it, we looped beats, we came up with these melodies first. And then we wrote the lyrics. So we started doing this, and they started playing piano, and I realized on the chorus part I could sing “man toy, loverboy” over it, and I was like, “Oh my god, I have this poem. It’s a great idea for a song.” And that was it. It fit perfectly, it fit absolutely perfectly. And then we started creating the verses on that. So honestly, it was like the story was blatant in front of me. It was blatant. It was, “Giddy On Up,” “I’m No Good,” “Rebound,” “Boyfriend.” All right, now we fall in love.
So “Everybody” was written shortly thereafter. And that was the same thing, Mike had done this track, got together with Luke and I, we wrote the song in 2 hours. And we wanted a feel-good up-tempo, in-general love, not like “I love you and you love me.” It was like we love each other.
So we wrote that. And then I had “If You Want My Love.” And Jeff and I had written “Homecoming Queen,” and then he just started playing this song, this melody, and I loved it. I was like, “Can you write another song today?” And he said, “Yeah.” So we stayed and wrote “If You Want My Love” like in an hour and a half. Very quick. And we were yelling in my apartment, screaming out these ideas, and it was really fun.
SF: You were talking about “Boyfriend,” and you said that you wrote that about a guy you were dating. This is obviously somebody that you’re not dating anymore. Does he know that this is about him?
Laura: Yes, he knows.
SF: Was it an amicable breakup?
Laura: It’s an amicable breakup. We’re still good friends, we’re fine. In fact, I sang it on Leno, and he said, “Great job on Leno. It’s hard to swallow hearing that song. It’s hard to hear you sing that song.” Because he knows that’s about him. And it was almost like when we started calling each other boyfriend/girlfriend, because I wrote that song. So yeah, it doesn’t feel like I’m singing it to him now. When you write a sad song about somebody, that feels like you’re singing it about them. But when you write an up-tempo that’s kind of sassy, it’s like it could be anybody you’re saying. It’s not like I don’t think about him, but it doesn’t wreck me. If we weren’t friends it might wreck me. We’re friends, so there’s some peace now.
SF: And who had the biggest hand in writing the lyrics for “Homecoming Queen”?
Laura: I think it was pretty mutual, actually. I probably wrote the verses. Jeff came in with something about, “I never needed to be the homecoming queen.” He brought it to me going, “I know you’re gonna love this song. This reminds me of you in some kind of way, you never needed to be this.” And I was like, “Not that I didn’t want to.” (laughs) But this is about someone who is internally strong, who knows they’re different. So we started to switch it around - it was very mutual. But it became about me. His idea of this woman that didn’t need to be a homecoming queen became about me. And about me being different, and all the stuff about playing with the dolls and the GI Joe, that was me. And then Norma Jean, I have a fascination with Marilyn Monroe.
SF: What song off of the current CD do you hold intensely personal, that really ripped your heart out when you wrote it?
Laura: On the Achin’ side?
SF: On either side.
Laura: Well, “Boyfriend” is probably the most personal on the Shakin’. Definitely the most personal. The one that has the strongest memory. Because I rewrote the verses with him, with the man toy, loverboy, I was trying to figure out how to rework the song with him, so there’s even more memory of him being present.
And I think “When It All Goes South” is the hardest one for me to sing now. It’s the one that when I wrote it I was like, Oh my god, this is the best song I’ve ever written. And then “Cigarette.” And I was like, Oh my god, maybe this is. Now, since then I’ve written some doozies. And there were a couple that I’ve written before that didn’t get on the album that are very personal.
SF: Are those planned for the next one?
Laura: I hope so. It’s interesting. A lot of the Achin’ stuff is relationship. Oh, this whole Achin’ & Shakin’ stuff is about relationships, and it’s about vices. And the time I was in my life was the time where I was coming into my own and I stopped judging myself for trying these things, and for making mistakes. And yeah, I’ve been in a situation where I’ve cheated, and I’m sorry about it, and I don’t want to do it again, and I could lose somebody for doing it. So that’s personal. I’ve been in a situation where I have regret, where I should have left my lipstick on the cigarette. And yeah, I wrote a song called “Bourbon and Boys Give Me the Blues.” Yes, I’ve gotten too drunk off of bourbon. And “Curse the Bed,” kind of a deep one, too. There’s two things with “Curse the Bed,” though. There’s two meanings for me. It’s the ending of a relationship, and what that bed signifies for me personally, but it reminds me of my parents and when they divorced more than it reminds me of my life. So when I sing it I’m almost thinking of them. But I definitely feel like “When It All Goes South…” for me, every relationship I get into I fall in love and then I leave. I have to go somewhere. And I don’t mean I leave because I leave the relationship. I physically leave and move to a different town.
Laura: Because of work. I dated a guy for 5 years. We started long distance, and at one point we were in California together, and then I moved to New York, and we were apart for a year, and then we broke up. And I dated someone in New York, and then I moved to Nashville, and then it all went south. I rode on an airplane leaving New York City, and I kept thinking, when it all goes south, like, the double meaning of it. I left and went south, and the relationship goes south. But it wasn’t like it’s gone south, it’s like it’s going to go. It was almost predicting it, and it’s almost beautiful, because it’s like "what goes up comes down, and you took my feet off the ground, over the moon, I’m seeing the stars all around. And no thanks to you, when I finally land it’ll be more than I can stand... When it all goes south." So it’s like when it finally hits me, when I finally come down to reality, its going to be hard. "I’m going to cry my way through the clouds, I’ll try to spread my wings but they’ll be tied and bound." I won’t be able to move, but it’s inevitable. It’s horribly sad. (laughs)
But it’s interesting because I had this idea, I’m on an airplane, I’m writing some lyrics, I was writing the idea of “When It All Goes South.” I was really stuck on it, too, because I had this writing session with Nathan Chapman the following day, and I kept bringing it up, “I really, really want to write this idea.” And he’s going through something at the time, and he’s like, “I’m in the mood to write a sad song.” I was like, “Me, too.” He was going through something that was relatable, but not like his relationship with his wife, it was something else. And he felt like this idea of if I didn’t need you, just wanted you, I never would have let you make me feel so high. So for him that was the line that really represented the situation that he was in, that he had let someone or something be so important to him that he needed it. And then when it left, it was too hard for him to bear. So we were in a relatable situation, we had similar emotions about different situations. And the idea of making someone your gravity, giving them the power over you. And the whole time/space, amazing grace, you need it all to just be. For me it was, Oh, you need time, and you need space. You also need Jesus, you also need this, but can you just be. That was that idea. That was me almost commenting on myself, too. Like, can I just be? And can this person just be? But we need all these things, we need time and space. And we meant that almost scientifically, like you believe that there’s time and space that exists in the universe. You also believe in God and amazing grace. That’s where it gets real deep.
SF: Believe it or not, I get that. (laughing) Back to “Curse the Bed,” I love that that’s got ideas of your parents, and also you. When you say, “I took a shower, put on a long white dress, and then danced for hours around the flames,” what is the meaning of this long white dress?
Laura: I think it was the idea of, you wear white when you’re cleansed again. It also kind of represents what you wear when you get married, and what you wear when you’re baptized – you wear white. And what you wear at your first communion. I was raised Catholic, so it’s like there’s something pure and really cleansing about wearing white that I feel like, I’m gonna wear a flowy white long dress. There was something pure about it. Now, I’m gonna take a shower, I’m gonna get rid of this, and I’m new again. And I’m gonna dance around these flames that are burning up high. I’m okay. But I curse this.
SF: I wanted to ask you a couple of questions about your first CD. “Between Me and You,” that’s the one that hit me between the eyes. Can you take me through that?
SF: Talk to me about “Lovin’ and Lyin’.”
Laura: “Lovin' and Lyin'” is about being in a relationship and falling for someone… else. And having to choose. And so you’re loving both and you’re lying to both.
SF: Did this happen to you?
Laura: Ummm… (laughs) I plead the 5th.
SF: (laughing) Nice.
Laura: It’s happened to me so many times. But it’s not a cheating song. Maybe it is. It’s not a physical cheating song. It’s an emotionally cheating song. It’s emotionally caring about someone – two people at once. You know when you’re single and you’re dating people, and you’re not committed to anybody, but you’re kind of loving two people at once? It’s that. And it’s also having feelings for someone that you shouldn’t be, too. Those songs, when you get into that kind of stuff, that’s when you get scared, when you’re writing it down and you’re like, Oh my god, what am I saying right now? What am I admitting about myself? That’s the stuff that scares you. And that’s when you know you have a good song.
It’s an emotional song, so I’ll go to the emotional place, because it’s an emotional song. When I perform, I can channel that emotion or that feeling from the time that I wrote it, or about what’s going on in my life. So I could definitely go back to that place.
SF: “Designated Drunk” is hysterical.
Laura: (laughs) Oh, I love “Designated Drunk.”
SF: Is that a Laura Bell Bundy original? Or did you have help with that one?
SF: Well, you succeeded with that. (laughing)
Laura: Interestingly enough, when I did that record and I decided I wanted to move to Nashville, and that’s all that I had done to play for them, they immediately got that I have a sense of humor. And I happen to like the old school stuff.
SF: “The C-Word” and “Designated Drunk,” I was surprised when I found those after having listened to Achin’ & Shakin’. Those showed a side of you – I mean, I think there are three sides to Laura Bell Bundy. There’s not just the Achin’ and the Shakin’ part, there is this incredibly humorous side of you as well. I don’t know if this recent CD is so much funny as it is fun.
Laura: I like that you’re saying this, because everybody else goes, “Oh, this is kind of like funny or campy,” but there’s a part of me that goes, “you have no idea the stuff that I’ve written.” Like “The C-Word,” which is probably one of my all-time faves, and I love performing it live. I just need to get the band to learn it.
SF: Did you write that one on your own? “The C-Word?”
Laura: Well, it’s kind of the melody of “Makin' Whoopie,” it’s those blues chords. But I have an obsession with chocolate. I wrote it in the car. I write a lot of stuff in cars and on airplanes. I hum, and then I record it with a tape recorder. And, I mean, a lot. I wrote this song called “Bourbon and Boys Gives Me The Blues,” and that’s the other one that’s funny, it’s like a sad/funny song. At the end of the song: “Come tomorrow morning either way I’ll be screwed. Bourbon and boys give me the blues.” (laughing)
SF: Are there any others that you want to tell me about?
Laura: “Cigarette” is probably my favorite song on the album.
SF: Okay. Special reason for that?
Laura: I like the second verse. Usually your first verse is better than your second, the second one can sometimes be a throwaway. But this song, it was like, Oh my god, we love the second verse. It was all this comparison with ashes to ashes, cigarette smoke, and dying slowly. And I love the idea of I should have left my lipstick on a cigarette. I love that it’s a beautiful way and an ironic way of having regret.
SF: Why can’t I find any copies of your first CD Longing For A Place Already Gone?
Laura: It’s interesting. The label, Universal, asked me to take it off iTunes while they released this new album. At some point I’m going to put it back out. But it’s one of those things you kind of sit there and go, I produced that album, I wrote that album, I own that album. But I don’t really want people to be confused. I feel like I’m a different person than I was then. I’m a different writer, I’m a different singer, and I just feel different. And so I’m kind of okay with it. But I’m gonna re-mix it and re-release it at some point.
Laura Bell shared her “morning” with us (1:00 p.m. Nashville time) on May 6, 2010.
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