Brett Kissel Knows Exactly What His Long Game Is

Brett Kissel; Photo by Jess Baumung
Brett Kissel; Photo by Jess Baumung
Brett Kissel; Photo by Jess Baumung

With a successful career in his home country of Canada under his belt, Brett Kissel is turning his attention south. The singer, now a resident of Nashville, is readying his new single “Drink About Me” for a U.S. audience and looking toward introducing himself and his music to a brand-new legion of fans.

“To do the climb again is a welcome opportunity, and I feel very grateful that I get to do it again because I feel like I can harness that energy and take all the great lessons I learned north of the border,” Kissel tells Country Now. “A lot of artists that I’m friends with in the states first conquered their homeland — could be Alabama, or Georgia, or Texas — before coming to take a swing at Nashville. My homeland — obviously, which is Canada — is vastly different from those places, yet completely similar, too, [in terms of] climbing the mountain in your home territory and then bringing it to Nashville.”

Like any artist cutting his teeth in a regional market before breaking into the mainstream, Kissel used the early stages of his career to figure out what makes him unique as an artist. Unlike many of the artists who came up playing clubs and hitting small-town fairs and circuits, though, Kissel became a Canadian superstar: He has sold out stadiums, won Juno and CCMA Awards, notched 9 Top 10 singles on Billboard Canadian country charts and opened for Garth Brooks and Brad Paisley. Honing his chops on such a large stage — both literally and figuratively — has given Kissel a keen self-awareness as an artist.

Arresting and ebullient in conversation, Kissel has the charisma of a motivational speaker and the clarity of a performer who knows exactly what his long game is. “I would [hope for] leaving a legacy that I was a dad, a husband and an entertainer,” he reflects. “Having that wonderful marriage [of being an entertainer and bringing my family into my business] is very important to me. I hope I can continue to do that, so that if people decide to…support me, they can get a chance to know that they’re really a part of something special and that the way I operate my life with my family is something that I’m very thankful for.”

Kissel’s emphasis on telling his personal story may bring to mind another country music family man — Thomas Rhett. Kissel says he doesn’t mind the comparison; in fact, he’s honored by it. “That’s an incredible compliment,” he says. “Thomas and [his wife] Lauren have done an incredible job celebrating the good times and the bad times, and embracing the funny and awkward moments that come along with parenting, but also celebrating the great victories, like when mom and dad have a night out.”

After all, the small victories are universally relatable. “Everybody in the United States celebrates that,” Kissel laughs. “Phil Vassar had a song called ‘Just Another Day in Paradise,’ and I think about that literally all the time. Because we’ve got two daughters, and one is potty trained, and one is potty training, and one boy’s in diapers. So, they’ll be running around, [my wife] Cecilia’s late, I’m late to an interview, blah blah blah. It’s a beautiful chaos.”

As artists like Rhett and Kissel know well, it can be difficult to juggle a private life with a public life, especially when the two so often intermingle. Still, Kissel says it isn’t difficult to decide what to share — and what not to share — with fans, because he and his wife approach their public personas with an overarching message of positivity.

“Every child has a meltdown. Every marriage has its ups and downs, its challenges, and stuff like that. And there’s no need to maybe post that stuff, or bring in that negativity. But we’re all about celebration, as a family,” he explains. “And I’m [all about celebration], as an artist.”

Kissel believes it’s important to imbue a little bit of his personal spirit into every song he releases, even if he didn’t write the song himself. He didn’t have a hand in writing “Drink About Me,” for example — Ben Stennis and Matt Rogers co-wrote that track — but that doesn’t mean he didn’t inject a little bit of his personal story into the recording. Same goes for the breakup ballad’s subject matter: Just because Kissel is happily married doesn’t mean he can’t tap into the lyrics’ emotions.

“I remember losing love before, or even in the times when my wife Cecilia and I needed a break from each other, prior to getting married,” he points out. “You know, we were young, we were trying to figure things out. There are so many deeply personal moments and memories that I can bring as an artist to this song. And to every song that I’ve got. So I think it’s very important to have those personal touches. That way you’re bringing a little bit more of a legitimate story, as opposed to just being a storyteller.”

After releasing “Drink About Me,” Kissel will gear up for his next project: A seven or eight-song body of work, somewhere between an EP and a full-length album. It’s not that he doesn’t have more music to release, the singer adds, but at this stage in his career, he’s prioritizing making sure people know who he is as an artist.

“So I wanna make sure we’ve got a targeted group of songs that talk about who I am, where I’m from, where I’m going. My small-town values. Celebration, and my family,” he relates. Perhaps the biggest lesson Kissel has learned from his career so far is that letting fans into his life, letting them get to know his story, is the best way to be relatable. It may seem counter-intuitive, but specific, authentic details often make for stories with universal appeal.

Plus, Kissel hopes that his fans will disagree over his forthcoming project — in a good way. “If you really love thought-provoking, mid-tempo, get-you-in-the-heart kind of music, that’s what ‘Drink About Me’ is,” he continues. “If you want a great pop-country banger, I’ve got a song called ‘She Drives Me Crazy,’ that I’m just so excited about. If you want a song that you’re gonna blast on your boat while you’re wakesurfing at the lake, I’ve got one called ‘A Few Good Stories to Tell.’ If you want something to cuddle up to with your kids or your wife, I’ve got a song called ‘Coffee With Her.’

“So it’s hard to pick a favorite in any sense, but I genuinely people that all eight songs we put out, people on social media are gonna reach out and say, ‘Track No. 6 is my favorite,’ ‘No, Track No. 2 is my favorite,’ as opposed to this unanimous, ‘I only like this one and that’s all I’m gonna gravitate towards,” adds Kissel. “I think we’ve made a great body of work that is really compelling, and people are gonna enjoy the whole gamut of what we put out.”

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