Get To Know: Brett Kissel [Exclusive Interview]

"There was never a time in my life where country music wasn't what I was gonna do."

Written by Jeremy Chua
Get To Know: Brett Kissel [Exclusive Interview]
Brett Kissel; Photo credit: Ben Dartnell

Ask Brett Kissel when he decided to pursue country music and he’ll tell you with utmost honesty, “There was never a point in my life where it was ‘When did you know country music was what you wanted to do?’ Actually, the statement is: “there was never a time in my life where country music wasn’t what I was gonna do.”

Hailing from Saint Paul, Alberta, Kissel is a prominent household name in the Canadian country music scene. To date, he has won multiple CCMA and JUNO awards, achieved several Gold-certified albums, Platinum and Gold singles, and 15 Top-10 country radio hits. In fact, his current (and fastest rising) single, “Make a Life, Not a Living,” presently sits at Number Three on the Billboard Canada Country National Airplay chart and is quickly approaching the top spot. Over the last few years, Kissel has also broken into the American country music scene, having joined superstars like Garth Brooks and Brad Paisley out on their respective tours.

In April this year, Kissel’s fifth major-label album What is Life? was gifted to the world. Through his thought-provoking masterpiece, the 31-year-old takes fans on a journey to redefine their concept of life over ruminative lyrics (“Die to Go Home”), infectious melodies (“Night in the Life”), upbeat anthems (“Slidin’ Your Way”) and sometimes, heart-rending, pensive ballads (“From This Day Forward”). 

Sounds Like Nashville got to chat with the country star recently to find out more about his story, influences, life lessons learned, and even favorite spots to hang at in Nashville. 

Introducing the next artist you have to Get To Know: Brett Kissel.

What was life like as a kid in Saint Paul in Alberta, Canada? How did you find country music?

Country music really found me before I found country music. I grew up on a cattle ranch that had been in our family for over 100 years. We eat, sleep and breathe the lifestyle of country music. I was never going to get into pop music or rock music because being a farmer and being a kid who’s raising cows with my parents and grandparents, we listened to country radio all the time. Everything that we ever talked about or everything that country music ever sang about were the exact same topics: hard work, family values, Friday night, letting loose and having a great time. That was who we were and who we still are to this day. So, as a little kid, I loved listening to country music and I just wanted to be on the radio.

Talk about your biggest musical influences growing up.

You know, as a kid, I would ride the tractor with my grandpa and then we’d come in for supper and he would put on his wonderful record collection. So, we would listen to real classic country [singers] like Charley Pride, Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins [and] Buck Owens. When we would listen to that stuff, I thought that that was new. I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know that these were songs from the 70s, 60s and the 50s. Because Grandpa was playing them, I thought they were songs of today. So, they were my biggest influences. That’s why I think, locally, I got noticed because I was playing the old stuff. Every grandma and grandpa in my hometown loved me because I was playing all their favorite songs.

Country music has evolved so much since the traditional acts like you mentioned. So, how do you define “country music?”

Well, for me personally, country music is an all encompassing genre about an extraordinary lifestyle. Dolly Parton described country music as ordinary tales, sung in extraordinary ways. So you look at her song, “I Will Always Love You.” That’s it. Just a piece of paper and a pen. “I Will Always Love You.” And it’s one of the greatest songs of all time. I think to myself, it’s an extraordinary way to really pass on a very simple message.

Your fast-rising hit single, “Make A Life, Not A Living,” highlights such an important life lesson. As a creative, how do you strike a balance between pragmatism and passion?

That’s a great question. There was never really a balance because the passion I had would fuel me to go and chase my little budding dream. This little seed was planted and started to grow. It was never a career choice, it was just a lifestyle. From the time I was ten, almost every weekend I was going out and playing shows and different rodeos events. If [there was] a local Ford dealership customer appreciation dinner, I’d be hired for 50 bucks to go and sing at it. And then if there was a Christmas concert for this oil company, I would go sing at their Christmas concert. I had so much passion for this, so it was never a job. There was never a point [in my life] where it was “When did you know country music was what you wanted to do?” Actually, the statement is: there was never a time in my life where country music wasn’t what I was gonna do.

Did the pandemic bolster your level of rumination on the new album?

I think, because of the pandemic, the universe really turned up the volume [to] shine a spotlight on this question and this topic. Now, I was probably going to get a little bit more existential and dive a little deeper into these topics as I age and mature. But it was just glowingly obvious that if there was ever a time to ask this big question, the time was now. I’m so grateful that I actually had the gift of time where I didn’t have to get on a plane and go to the next show. These are all things that of course I would have loved to be doing, but that wasn’t in the cards. So yes, because of the pandemic, very much so, I got real. I peeled back a lot of layers and decided that this was the time to be vulnerable personally, but also open up this massive question to anybody who follows me, who loves my music, who’s just discovering it for the first time—to come on this journey with me to try and figure out what the answer is to the question: “What Is Life?”

Brett, how do you stay rooted in who you are in a business that quantifies your self-worth based on things likes sales numbers, streams and followers?

That’s a great question. Well, this year, I’m working very, very hard to focus a lot more on being internally driven, instead of externally driven. Having all of the external validation that comes with follows, likes, spins and streams, that’s maybe for my team to worry about. I’m going to be as authentic as I possibly can. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Certain things I can do to focus time and energy on it. However, as far as I’m concerned, I think it’s very, very important to have this internal flame inside of you to do things that make you proud of yourself and to be the best that you can possibly be. Every life coach and all these wonderful memes on great Instagram accounts will tell you that. But being internally driven is really the secret. So for me, I focus so much more on that and making sure that my inner circle is proud of me as opposed to looking at an algorithm and understanding that, “Oh what I just posted didn’t get me a lot of likes. I shouldn’t do that anymore.” I’m caring a whole lot more about caring less.

Love that! Now, we know you were living in Nashville before the whole pandemic hit last year and you moved home to Canada. Are there plans to return?

Absolutely. As soon as the border is open, we’re going to be heading back down to Nashville. We haven’t been in our home there in 16 months. I probably should have cleaned out the fridge… Well, we’ll see. I hope there’s no animals living! (laughs) Nah, I think we’re gonna be fine. I can’t wait to get back because we had such a great routine of traveling back and forth. Yes, it was thousands and thousands of miles but we’d come up to Canada this time, and we’d be in America for this time. And that is something that I miss, so I can’t wait to start doing that again.

On that note, we’d love to ask you two fun, Nashville-related questions. First, what’s your favorite venue to watch a show at?

It’s the Ryman Auditorium, without question at that! It’s the Mother Church of Country Music. When I got a chance to play the Opry there several times, it didn’t get any better than that. It is the best venue and the best feeling in the world standing on that stage.

And favorite restaurant to dine at?

Oh, my favorite restaurant is called Rolf & Daughters. It is this extraordinary restaurant, very small, very quaint, but of a wonderful rotating menu and some of the best food, cocktails and service. It is right around the corner from our house.

To wrap this up, what is one thing you want fans to know about Brett Kissel, both as a person and an artist?

Great, great question. As an artist, I love to entertain. Every choice that I make comes from a lens of true entertainment. I’m very proud of this current record, What Is Life? It is something that I think I’ve been working on for 10 years. 50 years from now, I will revert back to this project. So, if you’re just hearing my music for the very first time and want to get to know who I am, these are the songs. This is the package. Integrity means everything to me, entertainment means everything to me, and my family means everything to me.

Kissel also spoke with Sounds Like Nashville earlier last month about his critically acclaimed new album, What Is Life? If you missed it, click HERE.