"When I was growing up, for some reason I was so attracted to the vintage style -- I was so fascinated with the eras that I wasn't able to experience," Bell tells Billboard. The 27-year-old singer/actor says that his first two albums, 2005's "Telegraph" and 2006's "It's Only Time," nodded to the Beatles and the Beach Boys in their power-pop arrangements, but that he wanted his studio return to encompass "a modern throwback record -- like an Amy Winehouse or a Bruno Mars [album], but even more stripped-down rock-and-roll."
On Dec. 29, 2005, Bell was involved in a car accident that forced him to have his jaw wired shut and stopped him for playing music for months. During that downtime, Bell decided that he was no longer interested in releasing standard pop songs.
"I wouldn't have felt comfortable representing myself with this music," says Bell, who dabbled in film projects and released the EP "A Reminder" in 2011 before hunkering down on a new album. "I thought, this could all be taken away tomorrow. I just need to do what I love, and what I want to do. I want to sling a guitar over my shoulder and rock. So that's what I did with this record."
Bell had known Setzer, the Stray Cats frontman and leader of the 90's swing revivalists Brian Setzer Orchestra, as a fan and acquaintance for years before casually tossing the idea out to the guitarist to collaborate on an album. Eventually, Setzer agreed to helm and play on the project, working on "Ready Steady Go!" in Nashville with a giddy Bell. "If I told my 14-year-old self that this was going to happen," says Bell, "my head would have exploded."
Before its April release, "Ready Steady Go!" will be previewed by Bell at South By Southwest in March, and in between, the singer will be performing at high schools across the U.S. as part of the High School Nation tour, which also features Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas. He might just have to tweak the lyrics to "Bitchcraft," a new single that was released last month, for the high school crowds.
"It's not specifically about somebody," Bell clarifies. "I think it's generally about everybody that I've ever dated."