Brett Kissel is on a roll. The 22-year-old country singer from Flat Lake Alberta was recently signed to a major record label deal and he has already scored two Top 10 hits with Started With A Song and Raise Your Glass. He also just won two Alberta Country Music Association Awards for Rising Star and single of the year (Started With A Song), although he couldn’t make it to the ceremony for what turned out to be a very good reason; he was busy opening a show for Vince Gill on a Grand Ole Opry cruise.
Hopefully he’ll be able to make the Junos where he’s been nominated for Breakthrough Artist and Album of the Year. Right now he’s out on the road with the dynamic duo One More Girl on the ‘Young Guns’ cross-country tour of Canada. Brett checks in with Open Spaces before a western gig and it sounds like he has some nervous excitement in his voice.
“Well, It’s my first time headlining or co-headlining, but I’ve performed at a lot of these places before so there’s no nerves, just excitement,” he says. “This tour features a hybrid version of my band and One More Girl’s band. The girls have their rhythm section which is their drummer and bass player, and I’ve got my front guys on guitar and fiddle. We have the best of both worlds and we alternate who opens and closes each night.”
Although Brett is young he’s a music industry veteran as he released his first independent album Keepin’ It Country at age 12. He followed with three more self-released records prior to the Started With A Song album, the title track of which talks about people connecting music to special events in their lives. Brett says that in his case it wasn’t a particular song that kick-started his career.
“For me it was about going to some live music events,” he explains. “I saw George Fox play in our hometown when I was about seven and I absolutely loved that concert. My mom also took me to see a Brooks and Dunn concert in Edmonton and that was life changing for me. To hear those stars and their songs on the radio is great but to see them play live changed my world; I knew that was what I wanted to do.”
Brett has relocated to Nashville and he co-wrote many of the songs on the album with some of Nashville’s finest tunesmiths. While he has a wagon-load of upbeat numbers there are also a few poignant moments such as Tough People Do, which reflects upon some of life’s harder moments such as dealing with the death of a grandparent and riding out a rocky relationship.
“That phrase, Tough People Do, is tattooed on my brother-in-law’s forearm,” he says. “My wife Cecilia and her family had a bit of a tough upbringing so he had the tattoo done to inspire him. When my grandfather and grandmother died in a car accident two years ago my dad reminded of that phrase when he said ‘No matter what you’re going through, tough times won’t last but tough people do’. That moment inspired me to write the song.”
The latest single from the album is 3,2,1 is a jangly gem of a song that describes the countdown to ecstasy the singer experiences each time he sees his cowgirl. Like the two singles that preceded it, 3,2,1 incorporates some very strong pop elements into the mix that make the song jump out of the speakers when you crank it up. Brett acknowledges that it’s important for his numbers to pack a punch but he won’t lose sight of his country roots in the process.
“I think it’s important to have some pop and rock elements in order to stay competitive. Country music, however, cuts across a very wide genre. There’s an artist like Jason Aldean who really rocks, but right next to that is a George Strait song which is as country as it gets. Then there’s Taylor Swift and Rascal Flatts who both flirt with a lot of pop influences. I want to make sure that even though we have some pop and rock to keep it contemporary and sound good on radio, I still incorporate some traditional country elements because that’s what I grew up on. Songs like Country In My Blood are very much about what I am.”
A song you probably won’t hear on the current tour is Hockey, Please Come Back, a number he wrote during the 2012/13 NHL lockout, pleading for an end to the standoff and a return of the game that is his number one love. (“Quite frankly I’m a hockey fan first and I’m a big follower of the Edmonton Oilers, having grown up in Northern Alberta”) Of course when Brett hits Toronto he could give the song new life by reworking the title to Stanley, Please Come Back.
“Could be,” Brett laughs. “You know I was at an Edmonton game a few weeks ago so you expect to see a lot of Oiler jerseys and a few Bruin jerseys, but I saw one guy wearing a Toronto Maple Leaf shirt which I found to be a bit odd. I went up for a closer look and saw the number 67 on his back and the crest above it said ‘Loser Since’, which refers to 1967, the last year the Leafs won the cup. I bought the guy a beer.”
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Beer (of the 5% alcohol variety) is just one thing that Brett sings about in Canadian Kid, a heartfelt number about his roots which also includes references to second-hand skates and home grown girls. The song is perhaps the album’s centrepiece and one that surely would have made Stompin’ Tom smile.
“I’m a very proud Canadian and that’s one of my favourite songs to play live,” he says. “It says who I am and no matter where I lay my hat I’ll always be a Canadian kid. I may live in Nashville but I’ll never forget my roots. As far as Stompin’ Tom goes, my music is a little more commercial and I know he was more anti-commercial. Still, I was definitely inspired by him and what he did to make a name for himself in our great country.”
These are indeed heady times for Brett Kissel as he enjoys his chart runs and the award hardware already coming his way, but he knows what has made it all possible.
“The fans are what matters,” he says. “One of the things I enjoy most is interacting with them so to anybody who wants to talk country music, hockey, good food, cattle and all the good stuff, just drop me a line.”