If there were ever a darling of the Canadian Country Airwaves, it would be Brett Kissel. Not only has the 30-year-old won numerous Canadian Country Music Association Awards, he has three number one hits and numerous top-tens on Canadian Radio.
But the main reason I wanted to interview him was because his music really is that good. His songs are all over the spectrum sonically but they resonate with the listeners.
Kissel admits that absolutely no one in his family is musical. “Not a grandpa, not a dad, an uncle, an auntie, nobody ever played music, period.”
The fact that he picked up a guitar, the fact that he can sing, the fact that he can write songs, and the fact that he moved to Nashville and made a go of it, is nothing short of remarkable.
He states that his Memaw bought him his first guitar from the Sears Catalog when he was six-years-old.
He recalls, “I asked Santa if I could get some Legos, I come down the stairs and look at the Christmas tree, I don’t see Legos, I see a weird shape with a long top and my Memaw said, ‘That’s a guitar.’”
Although he was disappointed, he opened it up and gave it a strum. Somebody showed him the G and D chords and he figured out that guitars make music. He would sit at the kitchen table and listen to the radio and tried to copy what he heard. He never had formal lessons. To this day, he can’t read music.
After learning guitar, there was never a time in Kissel’s life where he didn’t want to play music for the rest of his life. He started playing publically when he was nine and ten-years-old. At every small-time rodeo, every little talent show, at the Ford dealership’s Customer Appreciation Event, Beef-on-a-Bun or Pancake Breakfast, Kissel would be the entertainment. And he got paid, sometimes as much as $50.
At 12, Kissel remembers playing a dance for the Alberta Teacher’s Association. He got paid $500. However, by the time he hired extra musicians, lighting, and sound equipment, he ended up losing about $600. It was at that point he realized how the music business really works. Since then he is always cognizant of the bottom line for any project on which he embarks.
Music has always been his career and at some point, he was called a “professional musician.”
He exclaims, “I don’t know when that happened, but here I am today, 30 years old.”
His newest record, What is Life? is coming out in April. It is a 14 track collection of original material which he produced alongside Bart McKay and Jesse Frasure.
When I told him he said, “I’m glad that you selected that song, because in particular says so much about me. You don’t need to know anything about me, just listen to that song for three minutes and you know exactly who I am.” (The Deuce Vodka that he and his wife own is proudly displayed in the video.)
The fan-favorite “Drink About Me” wasn’t what I was expecting. He states, “It was a drinking song disguised as a love song and a love song disguised as a drinking song. It’s the play on words that makes that song so special.”
“Drink About Me” is the biggest song of his career to date and has eclipsed 40 million streams. Additionally, it got great airplay on CMT in the U.S. It is the first country song nominated at the 2021 JUNO Awards in the Single of the Year category in a decade. Kissel joins an elite group of talent in the category that includes Justin Bieber (“Intentions” [feat. Quavo]), The Weeknd (“Blinding Lights”), JP Saxe (“If The World Was Ending” [feat. Julia Michaels]), and Lennon Stella (“Kissing Other People”).
Kissel’s first number one hit “Airwaves” was about a couple in a new relationship. With the words, There must be something in the airwaves/ because every song that the DJ plays/ she leans a little bit closer in/ Lets go what she’s holdin’ in I wanted to know if the song was about him and his wife.
He proclaims, “Every song without question expresses different moments of our life and love story that come into the songs.”
Kissel recently wrote a song for his wife called “Cecilia.” He thought, “If Simon and Garfunkel can write one and if I claim to be a songwriter, I need to write one called “Cecilia” for my wife.”
In an interview, she was asked, “Isn’t it special that Brett wrote a song about you?” She replied, “Every song that he writes is about me. There is a little bit about us in each song he records.”
With another platinum single that was released in January 2020, Kissel breaks the country music mold with the tune, “She Drives Me Crazy.” Even though the song/video are great, in my opinion, the song isn’t country at all.
He explains, “For me, one of the best things about country music is that it truly is a welcoming genre. The umbrella in country music is much bigger than any other genre has.”
There are many subsets of country music: pop country, dance country, cowboy country, beach country, etc. along with the traditional country. If Dan and Shay can sing “10,000 Hours” along with Justin Bieber and it is labeled “country” then “She Drives Me Crazy” must also be included in that list.
He continued, “For me, I never wanted to be in just one box as an entertainer or performer. To reach as many fans as I possibly can, it’s important to show different sides of me.”
Although his experience behind the soundboard is limited, Kissel has had a part in co-producing all of his records. He expounds, “Writing, creating, really comes into the production element. I was really proud that they (Bart McKay and Jesse Frasure) allowed me the opportunity to co-produce with them.”
Everything on his newest record, What is Life? was done with intention. He wouldn’t say he “mailed it in” with his other records, but before, he always had a plane to catch, somewhere to be. With this album, Kissel has had nothing but time and was able to focus on making every single decision on this record a good decision. There is a lot more maturity that comes with this record and he gives fans a much deeper look into who he is.
The only song he has released from What is Life? is the chart-climbing “Make a Living, Not a Life.” The autobiographical song talks about what is really important. The one thought that is always front and center for him is doing the best he can with what he has and making the most of his life, not just making a living.
Even though Kissel does write some of his songs, he is more about telling a story and entertaining his fans. His country music influences are George Strait, Reba, and Tim McGraw. And yet they rarely write the songs they sing, they are massive stars who sing life-changing anthems. He clarifies, “I would be doing my career a disservice if I didn’t cut outside material.” He continues, “There are very few artists who are good enough to write everything they sing.”
Two exceptions that he gives are Alan Jackson and Thomas Rhett. But artists with this kind of songwriting genius are rare indeed.
There is a pinned tweet on Kissel’s Twitter account from October that has a voicemail to him from Dolly. She was doing a press tour in Canada for her newly released Christmas album. She agreed to do a small interview for Kissel’s own Christmas radio special.
A few nights before the interview, he won four Canadian Country Music Awards. Someone from Dolly’s team emailed Kissel’s producer asked, “Is this the same Brett Kissel we just read about online who won those Canadian CMA’s?” The producer advised it was.
Somewhere in between they all must have talked, and they surprised him with a voice message from Dolly herself, that was texted to his personal cell, from an unknown name / unknown number.
The voicemail said: “Hey Brett! This is Dolly Parton! I just wanna congratulate you on winnin’ all those country music awards! Well, you deserve ‘em. You’re the best. Love you, Dolly.”
He recalls, “I was in the mountains, at Lake Louise, with my wife Cecilia, when we received that message out of the blue. Cecilia nearly needed to call down to the lobby, to get a defibrillator, because I legitimately had a heart attack!!”
He jokingly says he can now retire. “There’s nothing left to do in this business. I mean, when Dolly says she “loves you”, is there anything better?”
Kissel has a home in Nashville but has spent the majority of the pandemic hunkered down at the family farm in Alberta, Canada. He decided, “If everyone is going to be meeting via Zoom anyway, I might as well be out on the farm.”
The energetic entertainer acknowledges he is ready to get back to Nashville as soon as possible. And the minute he performs anywhere in the area, I will be there.
What is Life? will officially be released on April 9th. You can pre-save if you order now. In the meantime, go listen to YouTube or any streaming service and listen to all his past collections of songs. You won’t believe what you’ve been missing.