The name of Brett Kissel’s new album is “What Is Life”. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that at the ripe old age of 30 Brett has gone on a philosophical bender to discover the purpose of existence. Rather, when he started thinking about putting together the new album, he wanted to take things to another plane and as a result, he took a deep dive into love, celebration, gratitude, and hard truths. The theme of the album comes out in the spoken word title track that kicks things off as the singer reflects upon a myriad of subjects including his wife, children and his homeland, and which values are most important in the big scheme of things.
“I feel very much that the universe turned up the volume for me this year,” says Brett, who is calling from his home in Sherwood Park Alberta, which is driving distance from the farm he owns with his grandparents in Flat Lake. “As the world stopped, my brain started to write. It’s a very interesting juxtaposition for my head and my heart and my body to go through that roller coaster of emotions. I know I had it in me to dig a little deeper but I didn’t know I was going to peel back some layers in terms of the songs I was going to write and the way I was going to present my body of work. A lot of people might think that it’s a little early to be taking this stance but I’m proud that I’m doing it.”
The first single from the album “Make A Life, Not A Living” pretty well underscores the “stop and smell the roses” sentiment that flows throughout the record. The rural charm of lines like “Who needs a swimming pool when you’ve got a creek” indicates that the singer is in a good place when it comes to having a satisfied mind.
“I think that’s because I choose to live my life with gratitude and to look for the silver lining in everything,” he says. “It’s a very dark time in our world right now and if I can focus on spreading joy and positivity, maybe that’s what I’m here to do with my music. The realization came through a lot of soul searching and asking the question ‘What else am I here to do?’”
Brett has 15 Top 10 radio singles, three #1 songs and 18 Canadian Country Music Awards, but he’s really pumped about receiving a 2021 Juno nomination for his single “Drink About Me”. He last won a Juno in 2019 for “We Were That Song” in the Best Country Album category but competing for best single is an entirely different kettle of fish.
“That’s something that came out of nowhere in terms of the reach that country music has nationally,” he admits. “We understand that pop and rock are huge genres so it makes total sense that Justin Bieber and JP Saxe are in the category but for me and my song to be there is something that we’re over the moon about. Because my name starts with a B, I was the first person announced and I nearly fell out of my chair.”
“Drink About Me” is the first country song nominated for Juno Single of the Year in over a decade, but it may be tough to beat out The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights”. In fact, the last country-flavoured song to win the award was Anne Murray’s “Could I Have This Dance” way back in 1981. Brett waxes nostalgic about that number and the early ties that he had to it.
“I’ve played that song many, many times,” he recalls. “When I started off my career I was a wedding singer and everyone knew us as one of the best wedding bands in the world because we knew every cover song. I probably played that song for over 100 first dances. I don’t know what’s going to happen but that would be pretty crazy for Anne and me to be in the same company. Of course, going against the Weeknd and one of the biggest songs in music in the last 50 years, I’d say I have my work cut out for me.”
Brett increased his songwriting quotient over his last album by co-authoring half of the tracks on “What Is Life”. He felt this was a necessity because the new record is more heart-driven than hit-driven. “I knew that I needed to pen more songs and have a lot more of what I needed to say personally on this record, as opposed to being the storyteller for another writer.” Of the tracks brought in by outside writers, “Slidin’ Your Way” is the most stone-cold country and even incorporates an old Diamond Rio riff in the bridge of the song. It’s certainly a reassuring number at a time when performers like Pink and John Legend are receiving country music award nominations.
“‘Slidin’ Your Way’ is so close to Diamond Rio that the only way to make that song a hit was to simply include the chorus of their song “Meet in the Middle” in the bridge, which we did” Brett explains. “As far as people like Pink and John Legend go, I wouldn’t say that the country envelope has been pushed too far. I’m a traditionalist at heart and in every decade there have been performers, Ray Charles, Kenny Rogers and Lionel Ritchie for example, who would seep in and do stuff. I feel that the envelope will only be pushed as far as country radio and the powers-that-be allow it to be. Right now things are coming back to more traditional roots with Luke Combs and Thomas Rhett. I think we’re going to see some retractions from the Pinks and John Legends of the world, and more duets with people like Tracy Byrd and Tracy Lawrence.”
The album ends with a trilogy of uplifting numbers, two powerful love songs entitled “Without” and “From This Day Forward”, and then ends with perhaps the jewel of the set in the form of the ballad “Kindness”. To say that the song is sparse would be an understatement as it sounds like a demo.
“That number was inspired by a line I wrote on Instagram that said, ‘Could you imagine if kindness was contagious.’ It went viral. People like Carrie Underwood, Mike Fisher and even the mayor of Tennessee reposted it. I couldn’t believe how my rhetorical question ended up going viral. I felt it would be a great song title so I retuned my guitar, started riffing and did a little voice note. Within the span of 90 minutes my co-writer Matt Rogers and I had exchanged several voice notes and the song was done. I realized that it had to go on the album but the whole record was done, signed, sealed and delivered. I asked Warner if they would allow me to put it on the album exactly as it is and they agreed so what you hear is just my iPhone.”
As mentioned, Brett turned 30 this year and his 10-year marriage to Cecilia has produced three children, five-year-old Mila, four-year-old Aria and Leo, their rambunctious two-year-old who “has his sisters and mom and dad wrapped around his finger.” Brett includes three sound bytes on the record from his kids, “From Leo”, “From Mila”, and the precious bedtime prayer “From Aria”. All three receive individual songwriting credits and Open Spaces wondered if they already have their SOCAN (Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada) cards.
“Actually they do,” he laughs, “We’ve worked together on a few children’s books and children’s songs. I mean, who better than to write material for children than children. I don’t know if anything will ever materialize from it, but they might be the youngest SOCAN members in the history of the organization. Those snippets from them on the album are just kind of family memories that my wife and I had on our phones that we decided we wanted to share with everybody.”
In addition to launching his new album and spending time with his family, Brett recently launched his own spirit line, Deuce Vodka, which is currently available only in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Open Spaces suggested it would like to be on hand when the brand launches in Ontario.
“Absolutely,” Brett chuckles. “I’ll buy the first of several rounds.”
If you want to see Brett Kissel live, you need not look any further than Monday, April 3rd at 6:00 p.m. you can subscribe to his YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC20-GkSHvVlgj4-VqI2iSbA and check out a full concert. “We brought my band, my crew and an incredible camera crew to my farm and we filmed in the barn. We played the new record from top to bottom. It’s packaged as a really special television show as opposed to a basement concert or an Instagram live thing.”
Other Country stuff
North Bay native Cory Marks, who just received gold certification of his single “Outlaws & Outsiders” has dropped a new single “Blame It On The Double” featuring Tyler Connelly of Theory of a Deadman & Jason Hook. The song crashes out of the gate with Cory name-dropping Waylon Jennings and channelling the vocals of ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons. It’s no surprise when Cory says that he “Grew up on Merle Haggard, Waylon, Pantera and Ozzy”.
Earning her crown as Country Music Alberta’s Horizon Female Artist of the Year, Calgary artist Mariya Stokes has released a new single, “Break My Heart”, a cheeky pop-country anthem featuring the singer’s empowering proposition to a stranger in a bar. “I had a crush on a bartender who looked like a 50’s greaser with a leather jacket, pin-up tattoo, slicked-back hair – the whole deal. While I tried to work up the nerve to talk to him, I wrote notes on my phone about his vibe and what I would say to him if I had the guts. That’s how the idea behind “Break My Heart” was born.”
B.C. native Lisa Nicole is back with a new single called “Count On You”. The song has a retro-pop country feel and heartfelt lyrics about how the singer’s significant other help pull her through her Monday blues. Lisa says “The song is about how the support of one person – whether it’s a partner, a family member or a trusted friend – can light up the room and pull you through when everything else seems to be going wrong.”
Alberta based country quartet Renegade Station recently released their latest single “Free Free Free”. The song was co-written by Tony Lane (Tim McGraw, George Strait), Tom Douglas (Lady A, Miranda Lambert) and Busbee (Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts). According to the band, the song is about “Little moments that are actually big moments, and that some of the best things in life still are free.”
British Columbia Country singer/songwriter Danielle Ryan has just released her new single “Weather Man”, a catchy tune about being in a relationship with someone who changes like the weather. Danielle says “As a farm girl the weather plays such a big part when we’re growing crops in the summer and the weather report was rarely right which would mess everything up. I was inspired by that concept and related it to a relationship I had at the time.”
We Got The Beat
Three-piece Toronto combo The Beat Club is back with a terrific new EP called “The Beat Goes On” available on all streaming platforms and glorious vinyl at https://www.facebook.com/thebeatclubtoronto The record is spear-headed by the title track, a-rockin’ cover of the Sonny & Cher classic with an added Canadiana bent. Former Blue Rodeo drummer Cleave Anderson, guitarist Lucas Stagg and bassist Paddy Burn pay homage to their musical influences on the four tracks which, according to the boys, include “The 7 B’s: Buzzcocks, Bacharach, Brian Wilson, Beethoven, Buddy Holly, Beyonce and Bob of the Blue Man Group.” This is the perfect record to take along this summer when you pack up your phonograph and head to Rockaway Beach.