If Drake Bell seems wise and worldly beyond his years, it’s because he is. A born entertainer and an old soul, Bell would be most at home in the company of the likes of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Elvis, performers who didn’t allow themselves to be limited to only one form of entertainment. Bell has already conquered TV with a hugely successful Nickelodeon show (“Drake & Josh”), starred in several feature films (“Superhero Movie,” “College”) and has made a successful foray into the world of music, with two full-length albums and a handful of EPs under his belt. Oh, and did I mention he learned to play guitar from Roger Daltrey? Not bad for a 25-year-old.
After laying low for a couple of years, Bell is back on everyone’s radar, appearing in the Nick original film “Grow Up, Timmy Turner!” and releasing his first EP since 2007, appropriately titled “A Reminder.” He’ll also be returning to the small screen next year as the voice of Peter Parker in the cartoon adaptation of “Ultimate Spider-Man.”
I recently caught up with Bell to talk about all of this along with his music influences, his love of silent film and working with the late Leslie Nielsen.
We reviewed your latest EP, “A Reminder,” a couple of months ago. What has the response to it been like, from critics and fans?
I mean, people dug it, you know. It’s gotten [a] pretty good response from the reviews I’ve read and stuff. People seem to like it.
Any plans to release a full-length album in the near future?
I definitely have plenty of material to do it. It’s just a matter of getting in the studio, getting it all recorded and getting it down. So, yeah, definitely, definitely in the near future I want to cut a full record. I like the EPs too; maybe I’ll put out a few of those every once in a while, because I really like getting the music out there a lot and fresh and quick, so I like that idea. But, yeah, definitely a full-length album down the road.
Awesome, I know a lot of fans are wanting more, especially after hearing the EP but only having the four songs.
I know, I know [laughs].
Great! You’re obviously inspired by artists like The Beatles and Elvis Costello. Is there a musician or artist that you dream of one day collaborating with?
Well, I mean, Paul McCartney, of course! And Brian Wilson, those are really the top. That would be the end-all, be-all of collaboration for me.
I’m a huge Beatles fan myself, so I know what you mean. Is there a song or an album that you love so much you wish you had written it?
Any Rufus Wainwright record.
Yeah, I mean, any time he comes out with a new record, I’m just like, “Why? What do I do this for?” His records are so incredible.
You learned to play guitar from none other than Roger Daltrey of The Who. Those are some pretty amazing bragging rights! That had to be an incredible experience. What was it like?
It was awesome! I had to do a movie with him a few years ago, and I had never played guitar [although] I’d played a little bit of drums before. I was really into music and I was already a huge fan of The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Who, all of that stuff. When I got to work with him it was just so amazing. I had to learn to play guitar for the movie and he played the guitar keeper in the movie. And it was just so awesome. When we were hanging out on set, he was just such a cool dude, he’d be like, “Hey mate, come here, come here! Let me show you something!” This was the first time I’d ever learned to play guitar, [and I was] sitting there with Roger Daltrey for two months, getting my first chops.
That’s awesome! That sounds like something you’d see in a movie.
Yeah, completely! It was just so cool, the stories he had to tell and everything. It was just so great.
An enormous portion of your fanbase live in Mexico. What is the reception to you like when you tour or make an appearance there?
It’s incredible! It’s out of control. The fans are just amazing. They’re BIG fans out there. The music, like the Beatles, pop music, melodic power pop – they’re just huge fans of it. So, when we go down there it’s out of control. [We play] huge, 20,000 seat arenas. It’s amazing. [Those are] some of the most fun, to go down and do.
Wow, but is there any kind of a language barrier when you go down there? Or do they understand you pretty well?
Well, yeah, there is [a language barrier]. I sometimes speak a little Spanish onstage. Once I’m in the country, I kind of pick it back up, you know, I’ve been there enough. But yeah, there definitely is a little bit of a language barrier. But we travel all over; Brazil, Switzerland, Germany, so wherever we are there’s always that, but that’s what’s fun about traveling.
Moving on to your film and TV work, you co-starred with Josh Peck, Miranda Cosgrove and Yvette Nicole Brown in the enormously successful Nickelodeon show “Drake & Josh” which lasted from 2004-2007. Do you still get to see or talk to them often?
Yeah, I actually talk to them all the time. I talked to Josh yesterday and Miranda not too long ago. It’s like a family. We stay in touch. It’s really cool.
You guys were such a great ensemble cast, it’s cool to know that you guys are friends outside of it.
Yeah, they’re awesome. And I talk to Dan [Schneider] all the time, we’re really good friends. I mean, everybody, like Jerry Trainor, who played Crazy Steve on “Drake & Josh.” The studio is just down the street from my house, I just drive down the street and I’m at the “iCarly” or “Victorious” set, hanging out with everybody. The whole Nickelodeon family is really small and everybody is friends with everybody. We all just kind of keep in contact. Everyone is really cool.
You’ve appeared in several films for Nickelodeon (“Drake & Josh,” “Grow Up, Timmy Turner!”) as well as several major releases (“Yours, Mine & Ours,” “College,” “Superhero Movie”). You clearly love working in both film and the music industry. So, do you consider yourself primarily a musician or primarily an actor?
I just like to entertain people. I like playing music and I like acting and I like being funny. I like being in a sitcom, I love playing in a 20,000-seat arena. I love being in a recording studio. I love being on location for a movie...I just love entertainment. I grew up on the Frank Sinatras and the Dean Martins, guys who, when you can entertain, you can do it all. So, I just always saw myself as wanting to be an entertainer.
Is there a particular director or actor that you’d love to work with someday?
I’d love to work with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Johnny Depp, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, there’s tons of people I’d love to work with. Directors, I’d love to work with Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Charlie Kaufman. I mean, Leonardo Dicaprio, Brad Pitt [as well], I’d love to work with tons of people!
Speaking of people that you have worked with, you got to work with comedy legend Leslie Nielsen on “Superhero Movie.” What was it like to work with him, especially in a movie that was very much in the same vein as “Airplane!” and the “Naked Gun” series?
Working with Leslie was awesome. He was one of the people I grew up wanting to work with. I loved “The Naked Gun” and “Airplane!” growing up, so getting to work with Leslie on something like that, it couldn’t have been cooler. And Leslie was just a laugh a minute. You know, he wasn’t even there to work, he was just there to play. He was a really cool dude.
Speaking of superheroes, I hear that you’ll be voicing Peter Parker on the upcoming show “Ultimate Spider-Man.” Have you started work on it yet?
Yeah, we actually finished the first season, and it’s incredible. Actually, it’s ultimate [laughs]. It’s really, really cool. The animation is some of the coolest animation I’ve seen, the scripts are funny, the writing is great and the cast is incredible. They’ve got a dynamite cast. For example, J.K. Simmons who plays J. Jonah Jameson in the movies with Tobey Maguire is going to voice the character on the show. The actor who plays Agent Coulson in all the Marvel films is actually playing Agent Coulson in the cartoon, Chi McBride is playing Nick Fury. It’s just a really incredible cast and it’s going to be really, really, REALLY cool.
When is that due to air?
Next year, 2012.
Getting back to your influences, “End It Good” off of “It’s Only Time” references classic Hollywood figures like Howard Hughes, BeBe Daniels, Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis and Burns and Allen. It’s one of my favorite songs of yours because of the combination of silent film references and the very ‘20s and ‘30s reminiscent music. Do you consider yourself a film buff, or do you find yourself drawn to silent and early film?
Oh absolutely, if you came over to my house, all the posters on the walls are all silent movies. I love Chaplin and Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton and BeBe Daniels and Mildred Davis, all of those are actually in the song, that’s funny. I love classic films. That’s what I grew up on, that’s my heart.
That’s so cool, I mean, I’m a film buff myself, especially silent and early film, so that was always one of my favorite songs from your albums, just for all those little references.
Oh, awesome. Thank you! And clearly you got the references, that’s great.
What is next for you? Any big projects coming up?
Right now I’m just kind of laying low, working on a bunch of new music and hopefully doing some more stuff with Nick. I just did a film for them in Canada and I did the “Fairly Odd” movie that came out not too long ago, so I’ve just been keeping pretty busy. I just got off the press tour for that movie and the EP, so now I’m just chilling out until the next thing comes along. But I think I’m, hopefully, doing something pretty cool with Nick here pretty soon.
Awesome, well we’ll definitely keep an eye out for that!
Be sure to follow Drake on Twitter (@DrakeBell) and ‘Like’ him on Facebook (facebook.com/bell.drake)!
Check out our review of “A Reminder."