Interview: The Artistic Growth of Brett Kissel

One of the hottest names in Canadian country music, Brett Kissel has been on something of a hot streak of late. Recently receiving the most Canadian Country Music Association Award nominations of any artist and racking up a streak of impactful radio hits, Kissel has emerged as one of the faces of country music in the North.

In speaking to the 29-year-old budding star, one theme ran throughout his reflections: one of growth. Acknowledging his humble beginnings and his ascendance to the top tier of Canadian performers, equal parts gratitude and pride are espoused. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in performing for long-time musical hero, Garth Brooks. Recently opening for Brooks, Kissel described the situation as a “worst case scenario to best case scenario”. After having been rained out of his opening set, Brooks — who Kissel has described as a musical hero — was the bearer of bad, as well as good news. While he wouldn’t be able to perform his set, Kissel was invited to sing the iconic “Friends In Low Places” alongside Brooks; he described the experience as akin to “[legendary hockey player] Wayne Gretzky teaching you a thing or two about hockey.” While Brooks represents a foundation, both in terms of influencing Kissel and the realm of modern country music as a whole, two more of his recent colleagues occupy different points along the historical spectrum. Performing this past Summer at Merrit’s Rockin’ River Music Festival, he took to the same stage as mainstream stars Jason Aldean and Old Dominion, two artists he spoke of as both well-liked in the Nashville scene and memorable as live performers.

This excitement — of advancement, of the founding of an artistic identity — can be found in Kissel’s views on the state of the genre as well as his recent works. Pointing to recent smash, genre-crossing collaborations between Maren Morris and Zedd (“The Middle”) and Florida Georgia Line and Bebe Rexha (“Meant to Be”), Kissel exudes an excitement for the present and optimism for the future. This sense can be attributed to advances in his own work. In regards to a new track, he offers the description of “if The Chainsmokers did it, it would be epic”. Despite these praises however, he also describes himself as “a traditionalist at heart”. While acknowledging “shifts in music decade-by-decade”, he lists the likes of Luke Combs, Chris Stapleton, Jon Pardi, and Midland as examples of the genre’s roots in its modern day heart. In speaking directly to the Canadian country music scene, Kissel references Tenille Townes (“Somebody’s Daughter”; “Jersey On the Wall (I’m Just Asking)”) as a talent to watch, describing her as the “most authentic, genuine, kindest person”; “if you haven’t heard her, you should”, Kissel added.

With this development has come an increasing recognition for Kissel from the community. On his recent Canadian Country Music Association Award nominations, he says it’s special to be recognized by your peers “regardless of whether or not you win”. Beyond that falls the honor of the Apple Fan’s Choice Award, described by Kissel as the musical equivalent of the “Stanley Cup”. This is an award, of course, Kissel took home at the September program. Within the context of award shows, the singer-songwriter had a tale to tell of his recent win at JUNO Awards, a Canadian music ceremony. Having been nominated for the Album of the Year award — the final one of the evening — and certain of an eventual loss, Kissel went to buy a round of drinks. When a server brought them to his seat and his win was announced, Kissel spilled the drinks and signed his VISA while winning the award. For Kissel, it’s another example of exceeded expectations.

This sense of growth is evident not just in recorded efforts, but in love performances as well. Having recently completed the most comprehensive tour in Canadian music history, Kissel reflected on the journey as “the ultimate Canadian experience”. Describing himself as having been “so busy I couldn’t reflect at the time”, the tour took him all the way from the “Arctic circle”, the furthest coasts both East and West of the nation. Acknowledging equally the growth of his touring repertoire and the unique experience of visiting quaint, small towns along the way, he recalls scenes of fans showing up the airport to awaiting his arrival and fans’ excitement over the rarity of a big-name tour visiting their area.

Building on the theme of growth, Kissel has even bigger things in store. Embarking on a three week tour alongside his idol, the aforementioned Brooks, for a European stadium tour is next in line. “I love the international experience”, Kissel added. “[My family and I] are really excited for the next chapter”. In elaborating on international work, Kissel plans to work towards promoting his music into the United States, but noted the transcendent power of music. “They love Garth Brooks and Luke Combs the same way we do in Canada”, he added. There were some differences in touring the two countries, however, most notably in their geography. Crossing state lines is a different experience than touring different Canadian provinces, Kissel outlined.

Kissel was at his most poignant when discussing his musical journey when the topic of parenthood was breached. “Business and art go hand in hand” he says, and adds that before having kids he would “write what I felt like”. Indeed, when Kissel speaks of songwriting and parenting, he emphasizes a forward-looking frame of mind, imagining not just what is, but “what [a song] can become”. Similarly, in order to understand what is to come for the career of Brett Kissel, what is most important is not an understanding of the current moment, but rather the anticipation of what is to come. At this rate, it could be something big.