Laura Bell Bundy rarely gets a break.
On a relaxed day that was only supposed to include a short phone interview and some laundry before a night in Las Vegas with her girlfriends, her washing machine explodes.
“I now have no more clean socks,” she exclaims with a frazzled laugh. “I have already been matching striped ones with solids and knit-matching the different feelings of socks, like a running sock with a walking sock.” She laughs again. “I’m wearing my boyfriend’s socks today.”
For a young woman with major supporting roles on both FX’s Anger Management and The CW’s Hart of Dixie who is also managing a production company while working on a new country album, it makes sense that Bundy would be a bit behind on her laundry.
“The good thing about it is my job is my hobby,” she says. “It’s like when you’re a kid and you play, you’re playing pretend, which is just acting. That’s why they call it doing plays or playing music; it’s playing. It’s fun! I feel like as an actor, they don’t pay me to act; they pay me to sit around and wait. The acting is the fun part. With music, music is the fun part; all the schlepping is the hard part.”
All that fun is what gained Bundy her initial following as she took over as Galinda in the Broadway production of Wicked before launching the hugely successful role of Elle Woods in the musical Legally Blonde, and she has been racking up fans ever since, especially in her recent television roles.
“I love working with Charlie [Sheen],” she says of her role as Jordan Denby on Anger Management. “He’s a hoot and a half, and he’s so much fun. I’m just really enjoying it.
“With Hart of Dixie, the highlight is that I’m pretty much doing an impersonation of my mom, and it’s been really good therapy for me. My mom is such a big character: she’s like Dolly Parton meets Donald Trump. Whenever I’m trying to figure out if this choice is grounded enough or honest, I think what would Lorna do?
“My mom’s name is Lorna Bell Bundy,” she adds with a laugh. “I don’t know if that explains anything at all!”
Whether on stage or film, Bundy thinks the best part is being with the cast, building close relationships with those people, and telling their characters’ stories to an audience together.
That storytelling led her back to her previous love of country music, and she launched her second album, Achin’ and Shakin’, in 2010, along with a sketch comedy web series, Cooter County—that Bundy affectionately refers to as this generation’s Hee Haw.
“Cooter County is a little bit quirky,” she says. “It’s a little off the wall. It’s definitely politically incorrect. It definitely pushes the boundaries a bit. Some of the sketches are ‘The Euneeda Know Show’ or ‘Unbeweavable with Shocantelle Brown,’ where we have guests on the show and they have to do Shocantelle’s hair care or confessions of a girl with a weave. We have a lot of fun with it.”
While she would love to see her wacky cast of characters on a Saturday night variety show with music, dancing, and sketch comedy, Bundy would rather keep Cooter County as a web series so that it keeps its personality and doesn’t become bland.
“I really feel like Cooter County is this little world I created to help me focus my multiple-personality disorder,” she says, laughing. “My whole life, I’ve always been doing these characters, but there was never a place for them. Cooter County was this world where I could create and I could play, like in a sandbox. I could actually expand on some characters that I had thought of.
“Some of the characters were just a name to begin with,” she continues. “Euneeda Biscuit was just a name, and then I created the character. The character of Shocantelle Brown was just me being dumb with all my friends on Legally Blonde. We would do ghetto night, and Shocantelle Brown would come to ghetto night. She didn’t have a name, and she didn’t have a place of work. She was just me doing ghetto.”
Producing Cooter County herself with those friends from Legally Blonde led Bundy to establish her production company, LBBTV.
“It stands for ‘Little Bit Bitchy,’” she says, coyly. “I was producing Cooter County on my own and funding it, and then I started to acquire this great team of women and gay men that were doing Cooter County with me. I decided to form a production company and really start producing some things in addition to Cooter County.”
Bundy began with music videos, her own and another musicians’. Then, she started to produce a country music style show.
“My favorite thing to do is to create, to come up with ideas,” she explains, “and having a production company allows me to do that. So, I’ve been working on building my infrastructure. We’ve not done huge things, but I hope at some point that becomes more of a possibility. I definitely think, in the last five years, I’ve really started to train that muscle.
“Almost every single music video I’ve done, I’ve actually had the concept for,” she continues. “‘Giddy On Up,’ I came up with the concept for that when I wrote it. The same with ‘Drop on By’ and ‘Two Step.’ Then, there’s the four concepts I had for ‘Kentucky Dirty.’”
For “Kentucky Dirty,” her latest single from Big Machine Records, Bundy went with her idea that was mostly University of Kentucky themed, because the song had been featured on a documentary about the UK’s basketball team and band.
“We made the ‘Kentucky Dirty’ video very much about Kentucky and getting dirty in the field and used the University of Kentucky dancers,” she says. “‘Two Step’ was straight up in my dad’s factory.”
A few of the LBBTV crew appeared in the videos as well, and Bundy calls them her dream team.
“One of [the girls in the video], Tiffany Engan, choreographed the video,” Bundy explains, “and she’s one of the twins that’s in Cooter County. She and [her sister] Brooke Engan are also choreographers and great writers. The girl who shot the video, who’s the DP and co-directed with me, her name is Becky Fluke, and we’ve done four videos together, two of which haven’t come out yet. They all did ‘Two Step’ and ‘Kentucky Dirty’ with me.
“We’re working a lot on very, very small budgets,” she adds. “I’ve learned how to do things very inexpensively, and it’s not always what you want.”
However, working on those small budgets has allowed Bundy greater control of her musical creativity.
“Music that excites me is music that is original,” she says. “When I was dropped from Universal Records, which is the record label I was at until last December, I was wondering what I really wanted to do musically.”
Bundy realized she didn’t have to do anything. She didn’t have to make music for the Billboard charts. Instead, she began looping hip-hop beats with country music samples and then writing songs over the mashup.
“‘Two Step’ was a song I had written at the last label for a former project,” she says. “It was the song that kind of inspired this whole new project. ‘Two Step’ had the beats in it; it had the dance track that we wrote a country tune for. I wanted to continue to do that, because I love country music and, being from Kentucky, was kind of born into that really. But, I’m also a dancer; I love to get down and go party.”
Bundy then wondered how cool it would be if the world of hip-hop and dance music could merge with that of country music. What if she put beats with banjos?
“When I was sixteen and driving my jeep in Kentucky, I would be going down the street with Tupac and Dixie Chicks and Bone Thugs and Shania all on a mixtape,” she says, “and that’s what we’d listen to at our school dances. We’d slow dance to Garth Brooks, and then we’d be dry humping each other on the dance floor to hip-hop music.”
While several artists are exploring this musical blend, Bundy has noticed there are not a lot of women doing what she’s trying to do. Yet, she is still taking it a step farther.
“I’m putting out these monthly mixtapes, which are these five to six minute mashups of country songs with hip-hop songs,” she says. “You can find them on my website if you go to www.laurabellbundy.com. You’ll hear how I weave hip-hop songs in and out of country songs and vice versa. It’s like a party mix for your night out or your tailgating or your car or your pre-party or whatever. That’s the point.
“I call them Beats & Banjos, but I’m thinking of calling it Mashville,” she adds. “In those mix tapes, I’m featuring a minute or two of a brand new song; sometimes it’s a song that no one’s heard yet. The most recent one, I did ‘Two Step,’ but I did an interesting mashup with Usher’s ‘Yeah!’. The first mixtape is called ‘Do Si Do,’ because it features a song of mine called ‘Do Si Do’ that’s brand new and isn’t out.”
The mixtapes are a fun way for Bundy to get her music out while allowing her to get back to a place of creativity and passion.
“There’s a really fine line between commerce and creativity, and you have to straddle that when you’re a recording artist, especially if you’re a recording artist at a major label,” Bundy says. “That’s been hard for me. I think right now I’m just really passionate about making music and making it interesting and cool and hoping that the audience finds it.”
Listen to the Beats & Banjos mixtapes at www.laurabellbundy.com.
Catch up on the shenanigans of Cooter County at www.cootercounty.com.
(A version of this blog post appeared as an article in UNITE Magazine. Reposted with permission.)