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VIDEO INTERVIEW - Alberta’s Country Star Brett Kissel

Being Away From Social Media and His New Album “What is Life?”

Celebrity Interview by Jason Clevett (From June 2021 Online)
VIDEO INTERVIEW - Alberta’s Country Star Brett Kissel: Being Away From Social Media and His New Album “What is Life?”
VIDEO INTERVIEW - Alberta’s Country Star Brett Kissel: Being Away From Social Media and His New Album “What is Life?”
VIDEO INTERVIEW - Alberta’s Country Star Brett Kissel: Being Away From Social Media and His New Album “What is Life?”
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It has been quite a year for Alberta’s Country Star Brett Kissel. The Flat Lake, AB born singer has been back home in the province after living in Nashville for the last few years. A tornado damaged their house in Tennessee, so they came home while repairs were happening. Then Covid-19 happened, and the Kissel family has been home. Stemming from that is Kissel’s new album What is Life? Available now on all platforms. Kissel connected with GayCalgary.com via zoom recently to talk about the new album and a variety of other subjects.

"When you can't go out on the road, you can't do all of these things. I still want it to be creative. It was difficult for me to even pick up a guitar and want to be creative because I was so down, I was blue. I was frustrated and didn’t know what was going to happen in the world and my industry. Through that emotional process, I started writing some songs that really came from my heart and connecting and collaborating. In doing so I have this body of work that was really special and very timely. With Warner music in my management, and especially with my band and my producers, we said, this is a record that needs to come out. Now, these are songs that need to come out now, and I'm really grateful that they did."

It’s been just a year since his previous album Now or Never came out in February of 2020. His band would have been on the road had the pandemic not hit. Instead he gathered his band, most of which live in Calgary, and his Saskatoon based producer to OCL studios in Chestermere. Dan Owen’s studio is in a stunning house on the outskirts of the town that has been a home away from home for many artists recording in recent years.

"It's such a beautiful house and a gorgeous studio that we were there for a week or more. It was great to be creative and collaborate with my band and have these stories where I would be like, Hey, remember when we played the Stampede opening for Brad Paisley, no one knew we were there. It was a big surprise, and the crowd went nuts and we started with this song and everybody loved it. Well, let's bring that energy. Unlike any of my other records, I could never do that because we needed to do it within two days, record the bed tracks, get on a plane, and go fly somewhere else. We were given the gift of time. A lot of my decisions and even vocals that I did on the record I was able to do that because I wasn't pressed for time. Before if my voice actually was a little bit too raspy, cause I did too many interviews or I talked a little bit too much, or I had a few too many cocktails the night before I would have had to go in and sing in the studio because I was against the clock. Well, not this time. So when we finally pieced this record together, we had all of these great songs with truly the best vocal take and the best performance, which now moving forward. I truly believe I'm going to make my records that way."

The first single Make a life, not a living has been a huge hit. It’s message of living one’s best life is one that resonates with many. For me, losing my Father spurred a similar desire to focus on achieving dreams before it’s too late.

"I love the song. I love the lyrics. Everybody I've spoken to in settings like this on a zoom call in conversations, or on the radio they talk about it, give it a pre-sell or a back sell at the end of the song. That type of reaction is so positive and so meaningful that it really, it warms me up and I don't want to get too mushy, but when you release the song as an artist, you want it to have impact, but you never know what kind of impact it's going to have. That’s up to the universe, that's up to God, that's up to whatever to either make that happen or not. People are truly identifying with this song and I'm very, very proud of that. Without question, it's, it's my most important record. And one of my most important songs up there with, I didn't fall in love with your hair, which is a wonderful song that really shines a beautiful light on cancer. And tough times don't last tough people do, which is one of my most requested songs."

Prior to the songs release, Kissel took a break from Social Media. Commenting on the toxicity, division and separation that media platforms causes being something he can’t stand, he took a break for his mental health and focused on, as the song says, making a life.

"I went fishing. I spent more time with my family. I went to go see my grandparents. I decided to call up a couple long lost buddies. I wanted to do all of these things so that I could come back stronger for it. It actually isn't as hard as I thought it was going to be. Now sadly I'm right back in the trenches of scrolling through my Instagram and reading people hating on each other."

After our interview, Kissel took another break from social media. It’s challenging because it’s also how artists promote and connect to fans. Kissel was 11 when he released his first cassette, called Keeping it Country. It’s a far different world from modern day streaming. Although there are downsides, things like virtual concerts and meet and greets are allowing artists to connect with fans in new ways.

"Especially in an era right now where people are locked down and people are stuck here here, it's still good to connect. Prior to COVID I loved getting an opportunity to be out on the road or on tour or wherever I may be and still connect with my family face to face. I thought a lot about what it must have been like with Johnny Cash and June Carter in the sixties and seventies, where you have to write a letter, because if you place a call and they're not there, you miss them, then you've got to get on a flight and fly another place for getting the bus and travel another place. A big thing is that the opportunity to connect through social media is so wonderful. The instant feedback, good or bad, constructive criticism is also a really good thing. We're choosing our next single based in part how well this song or that song is streaming on Spotify or streaming on Apple music or Amazon music. Sometimes I've got this song that I've been loving for two years before anybody hears it. I write this song, say 2019, we recorded at the end of 2020. Now it's 2021. I'm ready for this song hit the big time. Then I look on Spotify and I'm like, Oh, it's got a third, the amount of streams as every other song. Well, it can't be a single cause this is not resonating with people the way I thought, but that type of feedback is actually really positive. So, we pivot and I love every song on my record so it doesn't really matter to me. And I just want a career full of songs and stories and memories and moments that my fan base will love and look back on for years to come. So, it's a very interesting time to use technology for that."

Most singers have been off the road for over a year, but Kissel did do a Canadian drive in tour across Canada last summer. What started as one show in Edmonton turned into 24 shows with over 30,000 attendees total and over $250,000 raised for charity.

"Bringing people together while still keeping them apart and following all the rules that were put on us, there was so much red tape and so many conference calls because every province was different, yet we made it through. The level of pride and admiration I have for my team for helping me put this together is at an all-time high. And then my level of appreciation for the fans that came out, thinking that this was probably going to be an awkward show yet. We all realized how unique it was to be in this setting together. These are memories I will never forget as long as I live."

Internationally the arts, from theatre to live music, has been largely overlooked by governments for support. What is normally a multi-billion dollar industry has been dark for over a year. It affects so many people, not just the main performer on stage. While artists who postponed their tours like Celine Dion, Justin Bieber, The Foo Fighters and others will be ok, the behind the scenes gig workers like sound techs, background musicians and more have seen their way of life decimated.

"One of the biggest challenges is that the ecosystem in the music industry is full of incredible independent contractors. A lot of people that have high education as far as experience in the education that they get on the road, but you may not have this piece of paper and four years of university. So getting another job is very difficult, and these people are highly specialized, extremely well-trained, and are the best of the best in terms of tour management, pyrotechnics, sound, lights, et cetera, and they're entrepreneurs in their own, right, yet their business and my business revolves around crowds. It's very, very difficult to know that all of us are the last in line, as far as the business and an industry to get a handout or the last in line to get back to some sense of normal life."

Organizations like Unison Benevolent Fund - a non-profit, registered music industry charity that provides counselling and emergency relief services to the Canadian music community – are helpful but doesn’t go far for the millions of people around the world that make a living on the industry. Kissel isn’t sure what the next steps are.

"Unless you're in the United States, unless you're touring and Florida and Texas and the Southern United States, it's tough to get back to work. It's a much bigger problem in terms of the system, because a lot of people may say that they may not feel safe in a crowded setting anymore. How can you overturn some of the big, big stories that are being told in the narratives? I try to maintain a positive outlook, help out my band and my crew as much as I possibly can. I'm very lucky though, because all of them are incredible entrepreneurs that have pivoted or have been able to enhance their existing businesses and know that I'm not their meal ticket. I've never been, they play with me because it's a lot of fun and we have a great time, we're trying our very best to help everybody else and extend our hand, but it's an uphill battle. And I don't have the answer to the question other than show empathy, show sympathy, help out when you can."

Country Music has changed in a lot of ways in recent years, including being more inclusive and embracing of their LGBTQ fans. That said, there’s still challenges. There are only a handful of openly gay country singers like Ty Herndon, Chely Wright and Canadian Orville Peck. TJ Osborne of the multi-award-winning duo The Brothers Osborne came out just this year.

"I love how with every single year things get more open. I know that there's still a way to go because I read the Time article on The Brothers Osborne, that was a very interesting conversation that he had when he came out. He was afraid that some places in the Deep South or certain program directors who are against it would maybe not play their music anymore.  Why would our genre still be behind in that regard? Whereas, in pop music and rock music, you've got some of the biggest names of all time that are LGBTQ like Freddie Mercury or Elton John and the list goes on. I am very happy that country music is getting more open every single day yet there's still a long way to go. One of my favorite events I ever played was called The Concert for Love and Acceptance in Nashville. Ty Herndon and Chely Wright were there, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill were there."

Kissel was there to do a special performance and walked the red carpet with his sister-in-law Stella, who is gay and "the coolest person." It was special to share that moment with her.

"For us to walk the red carpet together, we were interviewed by CMT and WWE and People Magazine.  It was an amazing list of celebrities that were a part of this event. Here's this Canadian cowboy who grew up in a very traditional setting with a number of people in my family in the olden days were against it. And now look how far we've all come. It was a great moment of celebration."

Singers like Keith Urban, Luke Bryan, 2017’s "Sexiest Man Alive" Blake Shelton and others draw attention from female and gay fans from their "look" as well as their music. There’s no argument that Brett Kissel is a handsome guy, but he seemed surprised when asked how that aspect of country music has influenced his career.

"As an artist, I'm able to set my own boundaries to my team, my management, my record label about what I will and what I won't do, but understanding that people do and always have listened with their eyes. Appearance came into effect with the rhinestone outfits that country artists used to wear. There were a lot of handsome guys that were part of the music business, Buck Owens and Ray Price and Faron Young. Sex symbols like The Everly Brothers and Elvis Presley. Johnny Cash in his own way was a sex symbol too. A lot of guys don't necessarily go into it in country music thinking that is going to be a part of the brand, but we're a lot more aware of it."

It’s not the only thing that matters, Kissel says, pointing to artists like Chris Stapleton as people selling music.

"He would probably laugh if anybody said you're a sex symbol. He is who he is. He does what he does. And I don't think he gives a shit about what anybody thinks about his music or his appearance. Those are the guys that I respect and I'm even more, and I'm kind of taking a page out of the book of the artists who are caring a lot more about caring less."

Don’t expect an oiled-up Brett Kissel shirtless on a magazine cover.

"You couldn't pay me enough to do that!  If my shirts off it’s because it's hot outside and I'm drinking a cold beer and building a deck with my friends. You're, you're not going to see me running down the beach looking for paparazzi over my shoulder."

Brett Kissel is coming across as a humble, down to earth guy. He says his parents, grandparents, and small-town farm upbringing contributes to the man he is today. His first albums came out when he was a teen, and he’s performing on weekends then head to school on Monday like a normal kid. He shared a story about his Grandfather reminding him he was still a farm kid the morning after a performance at the Big Valley Jamboree Music Festival.

"I had a real dose of reality from my grandpa bear when I played the beer garden stage and I just turned 18. I came back home late that night hung over because I partied all night. Every country kid will tell you this. Usually, the work will start at seven or eight in the morning yet after a night of drinking you are up at 5:30 Why do you gotta to start at 6:15? That's just the way it happened on the farm. My Grandpa woke me up to go chase cows. I said, grandpa, don't you realize that I just played the Big Valley Jamboree last night? Let me sleep in! He said, wake your ass up. You ain't no country star on the farm. He turned on the light and took the covers right off of me. I threw on my rubber boots and went to chase cows. That's how I grew up. There was never even one sliver of an ounce of space for me to be like this entitled kid. I'm really grateful for that too."

Canadian Country Music has long produced many great artists, and in many ways the scene is almost like a family, especially when everyone is together for festivals or at awards shows.

"It's a true family. Unlike some artists in the United States that keep to themselves, when you get together at a festival and it's me, Jess Moskaluke, Emerson Drive, George Canyon, Aaron Pritchett. We may have separate trailers, but I'll walk into my trailer and everyone’s having a beer with some of my band members. My kids are over in this Mackenzie Porter's trailer because auntie Mackenzie is there. I'm very proud that our business and our industry is arguably the best that it's ever been. Canadians are truly getting a shot worldwide. And it's because our music is great. Like you put a Mackenzie Porter song up against the Kelsea Ballerini song. They both have an opportunity to go number one. I'm really proud of all of us in Canada for how well we're doing."

Not just Canada either. Kissel joins a long line of Alberta artists that have made a name for themselves in all genres of music. kd Lang, Jann Arden, Tegan and Sara, Paul Brandt, Nickelback, Terri Clark, and George Canyon are just a few names that are known internationally.

"Being in Albertans is a very, very special thing. I love my province. My family moved here escaping talk of the first war in 1910. They got a hundred acres for $10. I'm a fifth generation Albertan, my kids are the sixth and we intend to stay here for the long haul. I love living here. I love the land. I love our farm and I love the music that's come out of Alberta. I am so proud of the great music that has come out of this place. I can't believe, and I don't feel comfortable yet being a part of those conversations with names you said. Nickelback is one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Go down their list of sold-out tours and number one albums, you can't argue with stats in that regard.  I'm really proud that to in an interview setting, you'll put my name in that conversation. I am not putting my name in that conversation. I still feel like I'm very much a guy who's just raising his family in Alberta and sings some songs and tries his best. Maybe there'll be a conversation to be had in 25 years and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame comes calling and says, Hey, we, we ran out of names. I guess we'll let you in. Then maybe you and I will have a cocktail together and be like, I remember that interview where you said I was amongst that company, but I don't feel it yet."


VIDEO INTERVIEW - Brett Kissel

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