Brett Kissel has started 2023 off by launching into the biggest year of his country music career by announcing not just 1, but 4 new albums. At the start of January, Brett released the catchy Never Have I Ever to support the launch of the Compass Project, and now just a few weeks later the first album – South – has been released. The aim of the project is to show a different part of Kissel’s personality and sound. The now-released South Album is “Classic Brett,” as he calls it, which features contemporary tracks that fans will enjoy singing along to – including the 2022 fan favourite Ain’t The Same featuring 98 Degrees. Looking ahead from this release, East Album will follow with more of a spotlight on Kissel’s acoustic, laidback side and is set to release in the early spring. In mid-summer comes the West Album. West will bring in the southern twang and classic country that Kissel loves to perform. Rounding out the project towards the end of 2023 will be the North Album, containing many of Kissel’s greatest hits performed live, as it shows his passion for performing.
With release week in full swing for Brett we caught up with the Alberta native while he was in Nashville over zoom to find out more about South and the Compass Project I am, I’m down here in music city and I’m loving meeting the media face to face to promote the compass project, so everything is really looking up. The last two albums I did a little bit of promo but a lot of it was based in Toronto.
Not much of a big year ahead then! I love the smirk on the call! It’s crazy to think that after ten years in the business I’m embarking on my biggest year yet. I’m very excited about these 4 albums that will come out of the compass project, and we will be announcing a tour later in the year to hit every province and territory again. You recently released the very catch song Never Say Never That’s exactly what we set out to do! I’m grateful it’s the earworm that hoped it would be.
Knowing that Brett was releasing three new albums along with a greatest hits one, I couldn’t help but wonder how tricky it must have been deciding which track would work on which album to keep each one in the direction that Brett was aiming. It’s always very difficult. Song selection is very fun and rewarding but it is difficult as I’m still leaving a lot of songs on the table as I think they will have a better life on a future project. Once we identify a song like Never Have I Ever to be a big feature track we knew we had 11 songs that were all suited for the entire concept of what the South album represents. It’s a tip of my cowboy hat to music city USA and how great Nashville is which I believe is the best music community on the planet. I love writing songs; I love collaborating; I love producing records in this way; which is what makes it the quintessential BK album that the fans would have expected and I’m very lucky that on top of this one I get to release 3 other albums that are very unique to the compass project as well later.
As a keen hockey fan, I get used to seeing Brett regularly post about being at Oilers games and singing the national anthem. To close out 2022, Brett sang the national anthem but also wowed the crowd outside after for a New Year’s Eve concert. That was a party! We had 60 minutes in minus 15 and I had to work backwards from midnight. I just had to play the stuff that everybody knew, and everybody loved which I did and it was a hell of a good time. I made a decision not to debut too many songs because I believe it’s important for people to listen to songs in their own way, in the own time and I’ve tried to debut new music in the past during shows and when touring but you realise if you don’t have the familiarity then it’s very tricky to sell a song. If I’ve got one or two songs, I can paint the picture as to why it’s important to me and maybe to the fans and listeners as I feel I have a lot in common with the fans in the seats. If I’m able to bridge that gap and bring everyone together then I can bring everyone together.
Where several layers needed for that one? For me, I needed a lot. Although I still jump around on stage, so I was sweating and ended up getting a cold after as I was getting hot in the cold whereas my band stayed put, played and then went back into the dressing room. Whereas I was now cold having stopped jumping around and decided to sign autographs for two hours till 2:30 in the morning with every last fan who wanted a photo. If I get invited back next year, I’ll need to think about a better system for it – maybe I’ll ask some of the army guys! Last year, Brett offered up one of the surprise collaborations of the year when he teamed up with American boy band 98 Degrees with Ain’t the Same. We spoke about the track when we last sat down and are now delighted that the track has found a home for itself on South I’m really proud of how that song did. Not only for me to open a door to their fan base but also open the door for my fanbase to have a great connection with them. I am very proud that that song now has a home on the South album and one of the great things about Music City is how collaborative it is and has been.
Looking through the track listing for South, Brett’s name appears as a writer or co-writer on 6 of the 10 original tracks. Brett has always been keen to use co-writers and use tracks he has had no influence in writing in the past and South is no different There’s no secret here, I’m not a very good song writer! I love to write songs and have several songs that I’m very proud of, but every person on Music Row who has a publishing deal today, everyone who wrote a song today wrote arguably a song that could be a massive hit. Nobody wrote a bad song in Nashville today and because of that I think I would be very foolish as an artist to not take advantage of the friendships and relationships I’ve built over the last decade to access some of these amazing songs. Tim McGraw can only cut ten songs; George Straight can only cut ten songs; there would have been 200 songs written today in Nashville and the person writing it believes it could be a hit. I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to access some amazing songs for this record. There is though one track on the album I’m sure he wrote, but unfortunately that acclaim falls to Bruce Springsteen. It’s interesting how you say Bruce Springsteen, I would say Nitty Gritty Dirt Band! Their version of Cadillac Ranch was the first version I heard of it, and I swear I’ve played it a million times. When I was starting out and playing at weddings and small-town halls and rodeo dances I would play it sometimes twice a night. Now knowing the Springsteen version and watching him sing that live at a show in Nashville made me think it was really cool again. The South album needed a song like this, and I was actually playing it as a soundcheck as we started to record the album. I thought this sounds so good, why don’t we just use this song. We cranked it up, played it two or three times through and it was too good not to be on the record. It really was a happy accident! I think gone are the days where I have to follow a set of rules where I have to play a certain way, sing this way, write that song. This was really fun, and I love having the creative freedom of getting to put together 4 albums like this – a western, acoustic, all live and hit country.
It isn’t often that an artist would even consider the thought of releasing 2 albums in a single year, let alone four and surely convincing management teams can’t have been the easiest thing for Brett to do! Some of them were very excited and some of them rolled their eyes! I loved it. I love bringing outside the box ideas to my team and I’m known for that. They all said, why don’t you do this later? And my response was that that’s when everyone would probably do it but I want to do it in my prime; while I still have equity in the marketplace; while I still have a spotlight on me; I want to show my fans and the industry that I have this versatility and ability to record all these songs. If you want to know who I am as an artist, I’m not just giving you ten songs – I’m giving you 44 songs. I’m giving you albums that are dedicated to distinct directions that I’ve travelled down. I’m giving you an album that truly tells you how much I love the western way of life; that is dedicated to the singer-songwriter side of me that rarely gets to come out; so I’m so proud that they loved the idea and have supported me since I first pitched the idea on Zoom that started with “You’re going to think I’m crazy, but…” and here we are now with it about to come out. It’s going to cost a lot of money too as you have a budget but normally that’s for one album and we are going for four. I see the return on investment being this opportunity to cast a wide net and get some looks on different playlists as lots of people may think that I am only this, well I’m here to tell you that I’m a while lot more. Now I’m able to open up who I am musically in the biggest possible way.
One of the first albums I remember going out and buying with my own money was Aerosmith’s 1998 live album A Little South of Sanity so it’s no surprise that I’m looking forward to the North album, which is going to be a selection Brett’s greatest hits live. I love that you’ve said that. When you look back over a decade of releases has it been a tricky process to decide which songs make the cut? I decided the songs and it was such a fun process to go through all the audio that we have captured over the last decade, in particular the last six years from the shows that we’ve played at the Calgary Stampede, the Grand Old Opry, to Halifax and Newfoundland, to my home city of Edmonton. There’re so many great cities that we’ve played in and so many magical nights that we remember eternally as a band. There are times we would be sitting around and saying “man, remember the reaction we got when we played Anthem at the Big Valley Jamboree.” Well my producers and production manager went back in the archives and we could hear it, which is when of the guys said it was too bad no-one can hear that again. That’s when I knew that if I were to do a greatest hits, then this is how I would do it. This is the way to play my favourite versions of these songs – the live versions – and honour the cities that had the best version of these songs that we’ve ever played and that’s what the live album is all about. It’s already complete. It’s done.
Has it brought back memories and allowed you to reminisce of songs that have been off the set-list for some time? Absolutely, and it was very emotional looking back at it as there are some emotional songs like I Didn’t Fall in Love With Your Hair and Tough Times Don’t Last Tough People Do. Listening back to those songs in particular, despite them being regulars on the set list, it brought back so many memories of why I sing those songs and who in the audience needs to hear that message at that particular time.
With four albums planned this year, I’m sure many fans will be wanting to know if there will be time for a headline Canadian tour and if it will be bigger than his 2018 tour I think it’ll be the most special tour as it’s going to be very tough to beat the tour I did in 2018 as that set a Canadian record as the most extensive tour ever in 161 shows in 365 days. This one really levels up though as we are playing bigger venues and we’ve increased our production as our budget is now bigger because we’ve grown. I know this will be a bigger and better tour as that’s what it’s supposed to be every time I step out on stage. I’m promising my fans that when they buy a ticket as we go across Canada they will love every minute of it. The UK is become a favourite stop for Canadian artists, with both Sykamore and Tenille Arts due to play in London within the week of us sitting down with Brett. Having last played over here in 2019 at Buckle and Boots Festival we had to get Brett’s views on the influx I believe that there is genuine interest and excitement coming from Canadians to go to the UK and perform. I can speak for all of by saying if we can develop an international career then of course we want to. I think the influx is helped a lot by Apple Music and Spotify whereas in the past going back ten years ago you would only get music coming out of Nashville, whereas now anybody could google my name after seeing it on a playlist, become a fan and then share my music with their friends and before you know I have this pocket of fans somewhere in the world. Our music is now so accessible we can see metrics and know that we can draw a crowd in a particular market, and I can use the tools to know my monthly listeners and base shows off of it. It’s really cool to be able to service a market like the UK and I really hope I get to do in 23.
SouthAlbum is now available to stream across all platforms here and features 11 songs and includes Kissel’s new single, “Never Have I Ever,” (here and watch the lyric video here), the fan-favourite track “Ain’t The Same,” featuring pop group 98°, and recent releases of Kissel’s, such as “Watch It” and “Our Home.” For more information on Brett Kissel, visit http://www.brettkissel.com/ and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
True country music is honesty, sincerity, and real life to the hilt. Garth Brooks