Interview: Brett Kissel

“Over the past few years, this country crooner has received an armful of Canadian Country Music Association Awards, (including two straight wins for Male Artist of the Year and the coveted Fans’ Choice). Brett was the recipient of the Allan Slaight Honor from Canada’s Walk of Fame (previously presented to Drake, Shawn Mendes and The Weeknd), the Breakthrough Artist of the Year winner at the JUNO Awards, and was recognized as the International Artist of the Year at the Worldwide Radio Summit in Hollywood, California (an honor bestowed upon Ed Sheeran and Adele in the last two years respectively). Often far from the grounding cattle-ranch-lands of his childhood home in Flat Lake, Alberta, he and his crew of award winning and mad-skilled band mates continue to tour coast-to-coast-to-coast.” I spoke with Brett about performing as a kid, growing up on the farm and we he’s so damn likeable…

Mb: Brett, how’s things?
Brett: I’m really good thanks. I’m pretty excited about this conversation and I heard this has a chance to be the cover story!
Mb: This IS the cover story.
Brett: Damn right! That’s really great.
Mb: I see you’re out in Calgary playing a private function tonight. Always good to be home?
Brett: Very much so, ya. We’re in the heart of the Calgary Stampede right now, so it’s really great to be around the spirit of country and western music. It’s funny, in previous years I used to say ‘No, no it’s not really Western anymore… there’s this Country music, yet as I’ve gotten older an I’ve really embraced my rural roots. Growing up on the farm and having cattle and that type of lifestyle, being in a setting like the Calgary Stampede, like I’m at right now… the whole Country and Western thing is really really big for me now and I’m embracing it a lot more than I used to.
Mb: You bought your first Johnny Cash record when you were a little kid. Sounds like Country and Western music has been a part of your life since the beginning.
Brett: Absolutely. A lot of little kids would be watching Barney or Mr Dress-Up or, and don’t get me wrong I enjoyed Saturday morning cartoons but, I was watching music videos on CMT and and I would sit on the kitchen counter right next to our radio that played AM Country music and I would learn all the great songs from Johnny Cash, George Strait, Garth Brooks… all I ever wanted… I think a lot of kids in hockey watching Sidney Crosby and wrecking their Mom and Dad’s washer and dryer firing slap shots in the basement. Me? Well, they say “Play ‘til your fingers bleed.” That would happen all the time. I love this life and I love this genre of music so it’s all I’ve ever wanted.
Mb: You had your first record when you were 12 years old!
Brett: Ya, that really came together by accident. I was 11 years old. I was going out playing locally, at the rodeo, hospital fund-raisers, whatever. Where ever I could play for a crowd, I would get hyped to go up and play. Sometimes forty-five dollars, sometimes Dairy Queen coupons. Sometimes I’d be really lucky as 10 year old, and make fifty bucks! You have to lose a whole mouthful of teeth for the toothfaerie to make fifty bucks. So I was living this great life as a preteen, and then enough people would come to me after these little concerts I’d do, of only cover songs obviously, and they’d say “Oh my gosh Brett. Do you have a record, do you have a cassette we can buy?” A lot of Gandmas and Grandpas would do that. So we thought it was an opportunity to get my name out there so we recorded a cassette tape of all cover songs. My Mom and my Dad helped me find songs, find a local producer who could record me and we made a cassette tape. Then they’re like “Limited pressing. You have to get the minimum 250.” Well, we sold 250 at the first gig! (laughs) So we had to get another 500 and we’d sell those and get another 500 and before you know it we’d sold 5000 cassettes at ten dollars a piece and now we’ve got a little bit of money in the bank, so we make another recording… and then another and another and another and before you know it I was going from performing locally to provincially and from provincially to nationally and do that over the span of five years and then sign a record deal. So, it kinda all happened by accident.
Mb: Good investment! And now 2019 has been such a bumper year for you. A Juno for Country Album of the Year… surreal?
Brett: Ya. If they told me that any of the things were going to happen, I would have always been hopeful and said “Well, I hope so. But, you can never plan for this.” And now, we’re living in this land, the era, this life, where we’re blessed with awards and nominations and sold out shows and a headline performance at one of my favourite festivals in Canada! This has been a year of “Pinch me” moments. I’m very thankful to enjoy these moments and soak them in.
Mb: So you grew up on the farm, with an ATV I bet… I watched the video for “Drink, Cuss or Fish”…
Brett: Ya, that’s real red neck fun, isn’t it? (laughs)
Mb: And then another tune “Love them a Little” is so tender. Is this the secret to your success? You’re an all round nice guy with a bunch of talent?
Brett: You know what? It’s hard to determine what the secret of success is, because in a lot of ways I feel I’m only at the beginning, at the cusp, of where I really want to be. But if I look back at the last 5 years of my career… Five years ago I played Havelock, earlier in the day, like 4pm. Five years later, I kept my nose to the grindstone, wrote some good songs and worked hard and we come back and now we headline. How does that happen? There’s a relatable thing, to me in my music and artistry, that I’m a very normal guy. And that’s what’s really cool about Country music, is that, it’s normal stories told in extraordinary ways. That’s a Dolly Parton quote, I may of butchered it but, that’s the power of country music and the power of what I do is that if I wasn’t on the stage at Havelock on Friday night, you could bet I’d be in the crowd drinking beers and having a great time.
Mb: Well, it must be great for your family to see what’s become of their investment. So do you still have that first guitar?
Brett: My Mema bought me my first guitar from the Sears catalogue when I was six and it’s hung up in my childhood bedroom at the farm. Ya, look at what that became.

Brett Kissel performs at the 30th Havelock Jamboree, Friday August 16.