Any time Drake Bell is in New York City, it’s rarely because he is sightseeing.
Bell, best known for his role as Drake Parker in the early-to-mid-aughts Nickelodeon mega-hit series “Drake & Josh,” was in NYC for his appearance on the MTV reality competition “The Challenge: Champs vs. Stars” while doing interviews and magazine photo shoots to promote his latest EP “Honest.”
Though he released this new music almost a year ago and Bell is no stranger to the stage or the promotional grind, this time around feels different.
“It’s like introducing a new artist,” said the 31-year-old actor and musician. “It does definitely feel like that.”
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Part of that may come down to what fans of Bell’s TV persona and/or his previous albums are used to seeing and hearing.
Between his initial appearances on Nickelodeon’s hit sketch comedy series “The Amanda Show” opposite Amanda Bynes and later on “Drake & Josh,” Bell’s certainly conjures up some joyful nostalgia to a certain generation.
His portrayal of Drake Parker, ace guitar player and consistent girl charmer, helped him build a fan base that pretty evenly distributed between male and female. As evidenced by his co-writing the show’s popular theme song “Found a Way,” Bell thinks his ability to play and sing was a key factor to his likability on TV.
“It’s like the same thing with ‘Full House.’ Uncle Jesse’s rad, but as soon as he does The Rippers (his band on the show), you’re like, aw man. He’s so cool,” he said. “When you’re little, he’s Elvis.”
Bell continued to keep a presence on screen through both acting and voice-over work following “Drake & Josh,” but he also maintained and grew his audience through his musical talents. While Bell’s early TV work give some of his fans nostalgia, the music he has written and performed in the past has its own vintage quality to it.
Bell grew up in a household that was filled with the sounds of classic rock and pop artists, which is certainly reflected in both his 2005 independent debut album “Telegraph” and the 2006 follow-up and major label debut “It’s Only Time.”
Each album is chock full of guitar- or piano-driven pop rock that frequently featured sonic touchstones from the wayback machine, whether it was Buddy Holly hooks, grand Queen-inspired arrangements, Beatles-esque key changes or warm Beach Boys-style vocal harmonies.
His third album came on an independent label in the form of a full-on, rockabilly-style indulgence and nod to one of his all-time favorite guitar players, Brian Setzer, with 2014’s “Ready Steady Go!”
“I fell in love with anything vintage. Anything retro,” he said. “I’m such a fan of music that it’s kind of hard to not make music you want to actually listen to.”
As a self-proclaimed “problem child” for A&R reps and labels for his refusal to jump on trends, the sound he has put forth on “Honest” feels like a drastic departure. The four-song EP forgoes the guitar and organic sounds of previous releases for more modern-sounding digital production, not to mention an image portrayed in album covers and music videos that is decidedly more ladies' man than boy next door.
But whether it’s the driving dance beat of the confessional title track or the reggae-flavored “Run Away,” Bell insists that his songs’ ability to fit into today’s mainstream pop music doesn’t take away from the focus of writing a solid tune.
“That’s what I like about this record is that everyone who says, oh, it’s still electronic. It’s like, strip it down. Watch. I’ll play it on the piano. I’ll play it on the acoustic guitar,” he said. “I just think in the production is when they took on that life.”
When Drake Bell comes to Lexington to perform at Manchester Music Hall, fans will be able to hear Bell play songs both old and new in a more stripped down and intimate fashion. He said he’s been happy with both the response to his new sound on social media and the crowds that have shown up on the road, whether he is playing an intimate pop-up show for a few dozen hardcore fans or playing for 10,000-plus attendees in Mexico City.
He knows fans at his shows are sometimes there for the childhood nostalgia or are hardcore fans of his recorded material, but he’s just happy to get the chance to bring some joy and occasionally flip some perceptions with his songs.
“It’s cool to see new people are digging it that didn’t even know I played music,” he said. ““Honestly, growing up in my style of musicianship, it’s always been the troubadour, Give me a guitar, I’ll stand in the middle of the street. Wherever the audience is, you’ll play for that audience.”
IF YOU GO
When: 7 p.m., Tuesday, June 12
Where: Manchester Music Hall 899 Manchester St.
Tickets: $22 advance, $25 at the door, $100 VIP package. Ages 18 and older.
More info: 859-230-5365 or www.manchestermusichall.com