Alberta country singer Brett Kissel takes his shot at Nashville
Young Alberta country singer moving south
It’s time for Brett Kissel to say goodbye to Edmonton.
The house in Sherwood Park has been sold, a new condo been rented in Nashville, and now the 23-year-old country singer just has to tie up a few loose ends before he heads down south.
“There’s a party with my wife and friends tonight, the release for my new single in a week, and then we’re off,” he says, nursing a glass of Irish whisky at the Empress Ale House, just minutes back from a road trip that had him visiting a number of prairie radio stations in support of his upcoming single, Started With a Song. “Considering that I spend more time in Tennessee than in Alberta, it just made sense.”
It’s probably just as well that he gets used to being away from home. Things are moving quickly for Kissel, who has gone from being a regionally successful independent artist to the proud possessor of a new recording contract with Warner Music. He’s putting a great deal of effort into his new record, also called Started With a Song, which he co-produced with Ted Hewitt (Rodney Atkins) and Canadian Country Music Award winner Bart McKay (Gord Bamford). He’s fairly bursting with pride about it.
“Nobody can say that these songs aren’t what I’m about. They’re representative of me and my life. I mean, I’m 23, so I don’t have a lot of life experience to offer, but I write about what I know. I talk about girls, ranching, good times, tough times.” He laughs. “Those are the four topics on the record, and I have an opinion on all four.”
Kissel is as Albertan as it gets. A fifth-generation rancher whose family has been on the same land for more than a century, he’s also devoted to country music, and is a performer with a decade’s worth of experience. He’s appealingly pragmatic about the business of music, with a down-to-earth view of his position within it. A traditionalist with a love for Haggard, Jones and Faron Young, he’s well aware of how the genre has changed, and how much he needs to adapt to succeed. The title track from Started With a Song is testament to this: driving rock rhythms, banjo, irresistible hooks, a voice steeped in country drawl.
“I wanted to originally call the album Bridging the Gap because of that,” says Kissel, who grew up in Flat Lake, southwest of Cold Lake. “That was always my goal, to bridge the gap between the traditional music I heard growing up and was immersed in, and the new country that we hear on the radio now. It probably goes back to my being competitive and feeling that if I’m going to put a single on the radio and it follows a Lady Antebellum or Taylor Swift song, then it’s got to sound equal to them.”
Some might think that a tall order, but Kissel has proven himself over and over again as a canny and ingenious independent artist.
His two self-released albums, Tried and True and My Roots Run Deep, have sold more than 70,000 copies at gigs alone. That’s an incredible number for someone who has never had a distribution deal or a giant label behind him.
Back in December of last year, he garnered a great deal of affection from Canadian sports fans by writing and recording Hockey, Please Come Back as a spur to talks between NHL players and owners. It became something of a YouTube sensation.
Kissel has picked up two Canadian Country Music Association award nominations and at 16, was the youngest CCMA nominee in the history of the awards show. Little wonder that he’s held in high regard by Warner Music Canada president Steven Kane. There are a lot of people out there besides Warner Music management who think Kissel has a good shot at breaking through, though.
See KISSEL page C2
He’s recently been picked up by Major Bob Music in Nashville for both a publishing deal and personal management.
“It’s one of the last big indie publishing companies,” Kissel says. “Most of the others have been bought up by the big labels. Major Bob has some great songwriters, like Neal Thrasher, who has had huge hits for Rascal Flatts and Kenny Chesney. They’ve also had Garth Brooks right from the start of his career. Bob Doyle, who owns it, only manages a few artists. There’s the Band Perry, and there’s Garth Brooks. Now there’s me, and I have to say that I feel blessed to be in that company.”
But even if he’s jubilant at the path he’s currently on, he knows that it could just as suddenly turn.
“I feel as though I’ve got one shot to make it,” he says with disarming frankness.
“It’s just my own opinion, but it’s not like the old days where the head of Sony or Warners happens to be at a honky-tonk checking out Terri Clark, giving her a development deal for a couple of albums. Those days are gone. I’ve been reading Glen Campbell’s biography, and he released four albums without a single hit. I think it was on his fifth that he had Gentle On My Mind and Galveston. Record companies don’t give you that long to succeed anymore.”
The title track of Kissel’s new album will be delivered to radio on Monday and the rest of Started With a Song is planned for release in the fall, some time around the Canadian Country Music Awards in Edmonton the week after Labour Day. Kissel may be putting undue pressure on himself to succeed over and above where most people would be happy, but there is a fallback plan if things don’t turn out to his satisfaction.
You can probably guess what it is.
“There’s a ranch in northeastAlberta waiting for me,” he says with a smile. “I’ve got cattle to look forward to if things don’t pan out. That’s not such a bad thing.
“What’s important is that I’ll know in my heart that I gave it my best shot, that this album was the best exertion of my energy at the time.”