by Roman Mitz for Open Spaces
How often do you find a country record that features guest performances by legendary Grand Ole Opry star Charley Pride and Megadeth guitarist Dave Mustaine? That would be a pretty rare bird indeed but Brett Kissel, the winner of four 2017 Canadian Country Music Awards (CCMA’s) including Best Male Artist, likes mixing things up and so he snagged both of these artists for his new disc ‘We Were That Song’. He is showcasing his latest release on his current cross-Canada tour, named after the album, and he says that thus far the audiences in Alberta and Saskatchewan have warmed to the new songs, even with the cold climes.
“Yeah, right now I’m in the holiday hot spot of Yorkton Saskatchewan, where it’s -41C with the wind chill,” he laughs. “The crowds have been amazing. This is the 14th or 15th show that we’ve done and all but one have sold out so we’re very thankful for that. The audiences are giving me everything they’ve got so we’re doing the exact same thing for them. The reaction has been particularly strong for the new single “Anthem”, and the song on which I did the duet with Charlie Pride, “Burgers and Fries” also seems to be a favourite. It was a thrill working with Charlie on the record because I’ve always looked up to him and I love traditional country music more than anything. I first met him on a country music cruise where I headlined International Night and he headlined American Night. We sat together every night at the blackjack table, him, his wife Rozene, myself and my dad. Charlie and I started texting back and forth after that and I asked him if he’d ever consider doing a duet and he said absolutely, but that I would have to come to Dallas. We went down to Dallas with my producer and we cut the song and, at 83, Charlie’s vocals were pitch perfect.”
On the other side of the coin you have ‘Damn!’, the song on the album which features Dave Mustaine’s scorching guitar. Brett says he originally wrote the flamethrower of a number at Mustaine’s behest.
“Dave’s daughter Electra is a musician and she invited me and a few other writers to go to a castle in Scotland to write for her project,” he begins. “Dave was over there as well and that was where our friendship really blossomed. He talked to me about my new album and the direction I was going in. I said that I just wanted to be random and that the best song is going to win in terms of record placement. When he suggested that he play guitar on the record, the only stipulation he gave was that it would have to be on the most bad-ass track I’d ever written. I found Damn! and he said ‘Perfect, let’s rock it’. Anyone who talks to me knows that I’m the least heavy metal guy, but I thought it would be really special for my brand to have one of the greatest heavy metal guitarists join me on a track. It’s just super cool.”
The album’s title track and first single, which went Top Five, is a jaunty little number that immediately hooks the listener. Brett felt it was the best song in the first crop of new material he had for the album, because it was bouncy, catchy and lively, and served as a great ode to his previous album, ‘Started With a Song’. The current single is Anthem and fans may well think that the song was inspired by Brett’s infamous performance of the American National Anthem at one of last year’s Edmonton Oiler playoff games. This is the one where the sound system famously crapped out and the crowd spontaneously performed an a cappella version with him that raised serious goosebumps.
“”I’ll never forget that moment,” he says. “It was pure magic because it was the worst situation for any entertainer. I mean you look up YouTube anthem fails and some of these people don’t have careers any more. It turned out to be the opposite as I had 19,000 people at Rogers Place rally behind me and sing with all their hearts. I guess it makes sense that people would think that the song Anthem is connected to that, but that number is actually about looking at love from a unique perspective. When I first heard the demo I thought it had this Calvin Harris – Brett Kissel kind of feel to it so I brought it to my band and said we’re playing this live so we may as well record it. Magic happened in the studio and we knew it needed to be released as a single.”
Speaking of his band, Brett is one of the few artists who, despite the fact that he lives in Nashville and has access to all of country’s best pickers, insists on having his road warriors play on his records. You would be hard pressed to argue with his decision when you listen to how well they change gears from rocking little numbers like ‘Shootin’ It’ to the more traditional twang of ‘Drink, Cuss and Fish’.
“Using my band was my Number One priority because I believe that my boys are as good as if not better in some circumstances than the top guns,” he says. “I’d put these guys up against anybody. Knowing that my favourite thing to do is play live and be up on stage, I can talk with these guys when we’re in the studio doing a demo or song that I wrote, and ask how this is going to fit in at the Boots & Hearts Festival or at the Big Valley Jamboree. It was, like, let’s take a shot of whisky and pretend it’s a live show. I don’t think you can do that if you’re working with nine to five guys who have another session in two hours.”
While the new record does take a turn down Megadeth Row, the last three songs in particular show where Brett’s true love lies. Despite wanting to offer up a mixed bag for his listeners, you can’t help but feel that he’s really in his comfort zone on Drink, Cuss or Fish, ‘God Made Daughters’ (a tribute to he and wife Cecilia’s two young girls) and Burger & Fries. At the end of the day he’s still a country boy to the core.
“Those are all story songs and that was what country music was made for,” he says. “Those three tracks will probably never make it to radio but they were still important tracks to include on the project for those who care enough about my album, my art and my heart and where I’m at right now at 27 years of age. I have a lot of peers in the business that have great country-rock songs or great country-pop songs, but I wanted to remind people that I’m really proud of my roots in traditional country.”
Brett is also extremely proud of the fact that his current tour will be a Canadian record setter in terms of the number of dates played. Paul Brandt holds the record with 50 plus dates, but Brett’s tour presently numbers 57 shows and he will probably add about 30 or 40 dates before the year is over. He also still hasn’t come down from his award-winning CCMA high. (‘If you look at who’s won Male Artist of the Year in the past, people like Ian Tyson, George Fox, Paul Brandt and Johnny Reid; it’s amazing to join that list.’) His duet with Charlie Pride was another pinch me moment and Brett notes that he is ‘the last of a breed’, although he hasn’t yet worked with another member of the breed, Willie Nelson .
“Yeah, he duets with everybody so I should do one with him,” Brett laughs. “I mean weed’s going to be legal in Canada any day now so maybe he’ll come up here and we can do a song together.”
Great to see that Shenandoah, a staple of 90’s country radio, is back with a great new single called
‘Noise’ that recaptures their trademark sound. Open Spaces recently caught them during their 30th Anniversary Tour at Florida’s Manatee County Fair. The band was in fine form, mixing old and new tunes and performing a terrific tribute to Merle Haggard in the form of a six-song medley. After the show I met up with founding member and lead singer Marty Raybon, who is clearly thrilled to be back in the saddle. “It’s been 20 years since our last recordings. The new music is fresh, up to date and allows us to continue where we left off. We feel like we still have so much to say when it comes to music and it gives us the joy of sharing it with country music fans all over the world.” Look for a new Shenandoah album this Spring.
Lisa Nicole has just released the single “Mad About It” and is kicking off a Canadian tour that starts in B.C. and ends in Toronto at the Cadillac Lounge on February 27. The song is the third radio single from Lisa’s EP Come Find Me and it’s her first release since she was invited up on stage by Keith Urban in Nashville to sing a duet with him at a pop-up concert last year.
Canadian country duo Leaving Thomas have just released their debut self-titled EP via MDM Recordings Inc./Universal Music Canada, and it features the infectious lead track “Waiting Kind Of Girl” as well as their current single “Blame It On The Neon”. The duo, comprised of Annika Odegard and Bryton Udy, spent the better part of last year on tour, including a handful of critically acclaimed and highly praised mainstage festival performances including those at the Big Valley Jamboree and Boots and Hearts Music Festival.
Chart-topping, multi-platinum, award winning singer-songwriter Johnny Reid has announced that Canadian singer-songwriter Jessica Mitchell will join him on his “Revival” 2018 National Tour, which kicks off on February 26. Often referred to as Country’s Adele, Mitchell who is set to release her debut album ‘Heart Of Glass’ this Spring, brings her richly unique sound and powerful storytelling capabilities to Reid’s extensive outing of 46+ dates.