When you set your sights on a singing career in the vein of country icons like George Strait, Garth Brooks, and Johnny Cash, you’re aiming pretty high, no doubt. But Brett Kissel clearly isn’t afraid of heights. Not to mention hard work, or success for that matter.
The young artist has already received an impressive number of accolades and awards since debuting on the music scene, racking up numerous chart-toppers on Canadian radio and even becoming the first country act in nearly 20 years to land a coveted Juno Breakthrough Artist of the Year trophy, and after the release of his first stateside single, “Airwaves,” Kissel made it clear he’s only been warming up.
If growing up riding a tractor on a 100-year-old cattle ranch while singing songs by Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, and George Strait sounds like an ideal back story for a budding country artist, it’s because it was. Brett learned plenty of lessons working the land with his grandfather and got a proper education on country music’s roots through his grandfather’s legend-studded record collection. It instilled in him both a deep love of traditional country and an abiding respect and empathy for those hardworking families who still proudly live off the land -- qualities that no doubt enable him to connect with country music fans the world over.
“I’m very proud of my roots and growing up on our farm,” says Brett. “It has been in our family for over a century. We work that land and have a lot of passion for it. Country fans know what it’s like to work hard for a dollar, and we’re very proud of that way of life.”
Kissel, at only 25 years old, knows a thing or two about tradition and hard work, and it always comes through in his music. With an uncanny knack for bridging the gap between traditional country music and the stories that songs of yesteryear tell, with today’s edgy and energetic anthems, Kissel is poised to be different, and to bring some fresh country air into a crowded music market place. A young man proud of today’s generation, he’s still never one to shy away from a traditional cover, since he is one of a select few who can rattle off an abundance of classic country statistics at the drop of a cowboy hat.
“I feel that in order to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been,” says the young country crooner. In fact, one of Brett’s grandfather’s old 45’s led to a great surprise from one of his heroes, Johnny Cash.
At the age of 12, Brett wrote a condolence letter to Cash when his wife June died, and much to his surprise received acknowledgement back from Cash on the very day he passed away, something Brett will never forget. “I never expected it would ever really get to him, but I looked on a Sun Records 45 and saw ‘Johnny Cash Fan Club Hendersonville TN’ and so I thought it was worth a shot,” recalls Brett. “And I got a signed 8x10 back on the very day he died. I don’t know if he wrote it days before he passed or months prior and it just happened to get mailed that day, but the picture says ‘To Brett, Jesus First, Johnny Cash,’ and it’s my most prized possession.”
Maybe that’s why Kissel takes such pride in educating his young peers in the business about the roots of country music, even if their influences are from rock or pop genres. Now that Kissel spends over 300 days on the road, the best kept secret in country music is looking to put his stamp on a storied genre.
Like his father and grandfather do back on the ranch, Kissel also looks to the future and what potential opportunities there may be to grow. Even though he’s growing his talent as a songwriter and entertainer - and not crops - Brett has big plans to harness the momentum he’s built in his native land up north, and bring that to Music City.
“Building momentum is never easy in a business like this”, states Kissel, “But I’ve been blessed to have had a lot of help along the way. Moving to Nashville a few years back definitely helped me get connected too.” And thanks to an explosive live show with a serious ability to entertain, Kissel received some great recognition from American country superstar Brad Paisley.
Paisley took note of the talented new artist and invited him to open his 2014 Canadian tour, enabling Brett to play for thousands of new fans each night and increase his fan base even further.
For Brett, the opportunity was invaluable in every way. “I learned so much from Brad,” admits Brett. “Not only how to entertain a crowd, but also how to treat people…his entire band and crew were so gracious to us, and that stems from him being a great boss. He treated everyone extremely well, and I was watching him like a hawk, and I was so proud to rub shoulders with him. I watched him as a person first and foremost, and would like to emulate that - because he’s an outstanding individual.”
With a major tour under his belt, and a host of accolades from back home in Canada, Kissel is excited for the next step as he prepares his next record. The new music will no doubt be anchored by his first U.S. single “Airwaves,” a fun-feeling, breezy tune that played on SiriusXM and CMT out of the gate.
Though proudly carving his own niche in today’s New Millennium country scene, Brett continuously brings things back to the basics, and looks to two of the genre’s most solid traditionalists who have always done it right when he needs added inspiration. Those two: George Strait and Garth Brooks.
And the fact that Kissel is now being managed by the man who helped shape Brooks’ unparalleled career isn’t lost on the young singer, who still shakes his head in awe sometimes when he muses on the fortune his hard work has already brought him during his short time in Music City. Rest assured, the possibilities that lay ahead are there for the taking.
“My two all-time favorites; George with everything he’s done while still being the class act that he is - is inspiring - and Garth, well, I don’t think there’s an entertainer out there quite like Garth. After getting to watch both their shows, and meet them both, it’s inspiring to simply just be around them!” says Kissel.
With his unbridled enthusiasm, a love for performing and a burning drive to carve his place among country’s new superstars, Brett Kissel is poised to create a legacy of his own much like Strait and Brooks did decades earlier, and he hopes his upcoming project will propel him one step closer to that ultimate goal.
"Johnny Cash performed on the Opry. And I get the honor of standing in that same spot."