Bell says she wrote “Can’t Talk Back” a few years ago in Nashville, Tennessee, and it had been in her concert repertoire for a while. The song was in the running to be on the follow-up to 2013’s In Technicolor, Bell’s first album, but then tragedy struck, altering her life and career. Abigail Evans, daughter of John Evans (Bell’s boyfriend and bandmate), died in December 2013 at age 20. (Abigail, born with the debilitating skin disease Epidermolysis Bullosa, was the subject of the 2014 documentary Butterfly Girl, which was directed by Cary Bell, the singer’s sister.)
“It was sudden and unexpected and really took the wind out of us, so we took some time off,” the Austin, Texas-based Emily Bell recalls from a bar along the city’s bustling 6th Street. “Abigail was our biggest fan; she was John’s merch girl. She was part of our makeup.”
When Bell and her band, The Talkbacks, resumed working on material for her next studio effort, they scrapped all of the songs that were written before Abigail’s death — except for one.
“ ‘Can’t Talk Back’ was the one we kept because that was her favorite song,” Bell says, adding that it became “a lot more aggressive” in the aftermath.
Abigail remains deeply rooted in Bell’s thoughts as well as her music.
“She was the first one to hear the new songs,” Bell says. “She was the first one I would show our new music to, so nothing musically that I will ever do for the rest of my life will not be affected by that. I have a completely different idea of what life means now.”
Bell and the Talkbacks’ Kali EP is out now.
— By Chris M. Junior
Emily Bell in Austin, Texas. Photographed March 16, 2017, by Chris M. Junior