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Brittanie Shey | Photo: Amanda Elmore | July 23, 2013
Emily Bell dreams in color. Or rather, In Technicolor, which is the name of her new record.
The May drop was part of an eventful summer for Bell, 27, a Texas-rock singer-songwriter and retro-inspired fashion trendsetter whom critics have called the missing link between Janis Joplin and Adele. She also played Free Press Summer Fest, and is prepping for a fall tour.
Now an Austinite, Bell grew up in College Station and was weaned on community theater. As a teen, she was accepted into Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, and the move from a small town to Montrose had a major effect. Though she graduated high school early and went to New York to study at Marymount Manhattan College, she returned to Houston after only one semester. “I was just dying to focus on music,” Bell says.
She got a job tending bar at Helios—now Avant Garden—which introduced her to Houston’s rich live music scene. “That was such a pivotal moment for me,” she says. “It was the first time I really got a glimpse of live music. The veil was lifted.”
At 21, Bell wanted broader horizons, moving to L.A., where she worked for R&B star Raphael Saadiq as a songwriter. “I wanted to immerse myself in as many types of styles as I could,” she says. “I wanted to learn.” Bell says working in R&B actually wasn’t much of a stretch; she’d grown up with her dad’s records, which included Motown classics and blues-influenced bands like The Rolling Stones.
When she made her way home to Texas again, to get “her feet back on the ground,” she joined forces romantically and professionally with John Evans, a noted rock guitarist in Houston. Evans co-wrote and plays guitar on In Technicolor, which the couple recorded in a remote East Texas cabin. “I was burned out on studios,” Bell says. “And we were also working with a tight budget. I really wanted an experience where we just dove in and lived the record.”
For Bell, the upcoming tour is a way to inject a little of her theater training into her music. And her passion for fashion plays a big role, too. She prefers flared jeans and flowy vintage dresses, and likes to shop at Austin vintage stores. “I really go for comfort,” she says. “I don’t wear skinny jeans. I hate the way they look on my body and hate the way they feel.”
For Bell, music and fashion are intricately tied; she notes David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust phase and the Babydoll dresses of Portland’s riot girl scene. “Music is transcendent, and fashion is a big part of that,” she says. “What you wear, it almost changes the perception of the music. Because I come from a love of the stage, I want it to be a show. Why not be bigger than life?”