"Live how you want to live/If you wanna be free." "Do What You Want"

For a 20-year-old, Drake Bell is an old soul when it comes to the music he listens to and plays on his Universal Motown Records debut It's Only Time.

Songs like the first single, "I Know," which sounds like it could have come off Rubber Soul, and the empowering, Elton John-like rocker "Do What You Want" boast a bittersweet pop sound, with catchy harmonies and plenty of exuberant vocal hooks, which is no wonder considering the Newport Beach, CA, native, whose mother is two-time world champion pool player Robin Dodson, was raised on the classic rock of the '60s.

"I'm a huge fan of the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley, everything about them," he enthuses. "The songs, the way they were as people, their style. I love all those old vinyl albums."

Learning how to play guitar from The Who's Roger Daltrey, with whom he worked in the 1998 movie Changing Destiny, Drake proved a natural student.

"He was just shocked, because here was this 12-year-old kid who knew about his band playing the Isle of Wight," says Drake. "He was not your quintessential rock star. He was just so real and cool. When I began playing guitar and writing songs, I fell in love with it right away. I started putting these little bands together and just kept going."

A child actor who began appearing in commercial and feature films when he was 5, Bell says: "I was always an entertainer. I loved being the life of the party. I watched all the old TV shows, Dick Van Dyke, Bob Newhart, Mary Tyler Moore, and The Osmonds. When I was a kid, I wanted to be Elvis Presley so I could star in movies and TV while also playing music."

He was John Cusack's son in the HBO film The Jack Bull, receiving a 2000 Young Artist Award for Best Supporting Young Actor in a TV Movie or Pilot. He also had a memorable role in Jerry Maguire, as the son of a hospitalized hockey player client of Tom Cruise's sports agent who got to tell the superstar to "eff off" because he tried to talk his father out of retiring because of recurrent concussions.

"He's the nicest guy," says Bell about Cruise. "He was so good to me. He invited me into his trailer to play computer games. He treats everyone the same way."

Bell went on to roles in the feature films High Fidelity and Yours, Mine and Ours as well as the TV series Seinfeld, The Drew Carey Show, The Pretender and Home Improvement while appearing in the cast of Nickelodeon's sketch comedy series The Amanda Show, which led to his starring role on the network's popular The Josh and Drake Show.

Bell says his character Drake Parker is merely an extension of the musical persona he has in real life, composing all the songs he plays on the show and penning its theme, "Found a Way."

"The character on the show is pretty much me," he says. The series just completed its fourth, and final, season on the air, leaving room for Drake to pursue his musical career.

"It's really convenient my schedule is working out that way," he says. "Now that the show is over, I have plenty of time to go out and promote the album by playing live."

Bell put out the indie release Telegraph on his own last year, recording it in his home studio with singer/songwriter/guitarist/producer Michael Corcoran, who also collaborated with him on his major-label debut. "We did this album in the same grass-roots way," explains Drake. "Playing all the instruments, Paul McCartney Ram style, except its more complex instrumentally and more orchestrated than Telegraph."

That can be heard on the album's centerpiece four-song suite--"Fallen for You," "Rusted Silhouette," "Break Me Down," and "End It Good"- forming a narrative about the ups and downs in three different relationships, an admitted homage to the second side of the Beatles' Abbey Road.

"We like to experiment, mess around and see what comes out," says Drake of the creative process. "There's not really a lot of planning involved, but doing it as we go along, putting it together like a puzzle. It's a lot of fun."

Much of the joy on It's Only Time comes from Bell's survival of a head-on collision late last year in his '66 Mustang on the Pacific Coast Highway as he was sitting at a light, suffering a broken jaw, fractured neck, six lost teeth and a six-inch gash to his chin. "That's one of the reasons this album is so upbeat and fun," he says. "I wake up every morning thinking I'm lucky to be alive."

That spirit comes through loud and clear during Bell's live shows with his band, which has performed at the House of Blues in Atlanta, Anaheim and San Diego as well as the Roxy in L.A., helping ignite a bidding war among labels won by Universal.

"When we play concerts, we have everyone from five and six-year-olds to teenagers to their parents and grandparents," he says. "The older people come up to me and tell me they enjoyed themselves as much as their kids.

"When you come to one of our shows, you can tell immediately we're not fake. The way we sing and play our instruments on-stage, no one can say it's contrived or pre-fabricated. It's real."

One listen to It's Only Time and you know... Drake Bell's time is now.

Listen To "I Know":
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