Drake Bell is definitely at the wrong place and the wrong time. He's the kind of person that would say, "All my favorite artists are dead" and mean it. His latest album, the third of his career, Ready Steady Go! has a rockabilly sound, which might seem like a departure for the Nickelodeon pop star we all grew up with, but Bell has been an old soul all along.
He spoke with Complex about his new passion project album, working with his hero Brian Setzer, and possibly making electro swing music.
How was the recording of Ready Steady Go! compare to previous albums?
It was a bit different. First off, I recorded in Nashville. Usually when I record, we build the tracks in the studio. But this one, we went to Nashville, got the musicians together, rehearsed for five days, and then cut everything live in the studio. It was really awesome.
How did you get Brian Setzer to collaborate with you?
I’ve been a fan of Brian ever since I was 11 years old. One time he was playing a concert at a friend of mine’s club and I couldn’t believe he was playing such a small place. He had taken a break from the orchestra where he was playing the Hollywood Bowl and he wanted to do something else so he tried it at a small club. I couldn’t believe it! So that was the first time I met him; I was about 15. I asked him to sign my guitar. From then I just kind of figured out how to get backstage. I’d wait by his tour bus to get an autograph, so I became a familiar face. He has kids, so he knew me from Drake & Josh. We built that, "Hey! You’re Drake" when he’d see me backstage sort of relationship.
Then I had this crazy idea. This is the kind of music I want to make, to make this rockabilly record. This is something I’ve always wanted to do and to have Brian Setzer play on it, so I suggested it to him thinking he would never entertain the idea and just laugh it off. But he said, "What? You wanna go make this kind of music?" That kind of jazzed him that some young cat wants to do this type of music. I guess he dug the idea so he agreed to work on the record. I couldn’t even believe it. I was in shock.
How was it like meeting him for the first time?
I was at the Coach House and I had my Gretsch guitar. I remember we were having our house fumigated that day and I was so bummed because I had all this memorabilia that I wanted him to sign. That night we go, and luckily, I had my Brian Setzer Gretsch guitar with me. I went to have him sign it and my pen wouldn’t work. That was my little fanboy moment. I got a picture with him and he was really really cool and let my band come up at the time and get pictures with him.
Who else would you like to work with?
Paul McCartney would be the end all, be all. To work with Paul would just be amazing. A lot of the people I’d love to work with, like John Lennon, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, aren't alive, unfortunately. I’d love to work with Billy Joel. I would love to work with Rufus Wainwright. That’d just be a dream come true.
What influences your sound?
The ‘50s. When I’m trying to get my guitar tuned I’m thinking, "Does this sound like Eddie Cochran?" I’m not really thinking, "Does this sound like Eddie Van Halen?" The ‘50s sound is really what I love, the hot rods and pin-up girls.
Do you have a favorite track on this album?
"I Won’t Stand in Your Way" is probably my favorite. It’s one of Brian Setzer’s songs and it was one of my favorites growing up. To be able to hear it with him playing on it and my vocals and both of our guitars together. It boggles my mind that it exists.
What artists or songs do you listen to when you’re having a bad day or a good day?
Rufus Wainwright is my go-to for any kind of emotion. He’s got songs for all of it.
How did your '05 accident affect you musically? Has it influenced your lyrics?
I think it influenced the whole record and project in general. You gotta love what you’re doing and you only have one chance. Don’t compromise. I was laid out for so long and I was able to play guitar, but I wasn’t able to sing. I wasn’t mobile. I was bedridden. It let me know you have to do what you dig. Going into making this record, I just said I want to make the record I’ve always wanted to make with the music that’s always inspired me. I wanted to bring that music to a younger generation.
Where do you see your music going?
I love the direction that I’m going in. This is the most fun I’ve had making music and playing live so I hope to continue in this direction. On the next record, I'd like to do more cool collabs. I did a collaboration with one of my favorite bands, Caravan Palace. They did a remix of my song "Bitchcraft" and I couldn’t believe it. It’d be cool for the next record to evolve into that sort of a vibe. I really like Caravan Palace's electro swing stuff. They incorporate the electronic, but when you see them live, they’re all on stage playing live music. They’re all playing their instruments. They drop these beats with the DJs that are so incredible.