Interview: Brett Kissel Satisfies His Innovative Streak With U.S. Debut Album, ‘Now or Never’
The winter holidays are typically a quiet in country music, with few artists releasing new work. This year, however, Brett Kissel kicked off the new year by dropping a new album, Now or Never, on Jan. 1. While the choice to release a record on New Year's Day might be little unconventional for a country artist, Kissel explains that sound logic -- and a sizable creative streak -- led him to that decision.
"Everybody puts out albums in the fall or in the spring. Well, I'm not a big country star," the singer points out. "I can't compete with Luke Bryan. I need to find a day when I can be noticed more."
Now or Never marks a jumping-off point of sorts for Kissel: Already a household name in his home country of Canada, the new project sees him breaking into the U.S. market, where he's been generating buzz as an opening act for stars including Garth Brooks and Brad Paisley. The album is Kissel's first full-length opportunity to introduce himself to fans in the States, and he wanted to make the biggest impression possible.
"And then, it's like, New Year's Day -- strategically and comedically -- if you're anything like me, you're gonna be hungover, big time," Kissel says with a chuckle. "And you're gonna sleep all day, and you're gonna watch some movies. If you're in America, you're probably gonna be drinking a couple of Bloody Marys; if you're Canadian, you're gonna drink some Caesars and nurse your hangover."
Enter a brand-new country album. "I wanted to make sure that while everybody's home, traditionally probably not doing a lot, we've got a brand-new record," Kissel adds. "New Year's Day, everybody's gonna be hungover, so we've got some new country music for ya."
Kissel brought a creative mindset to his music's rollout; stylistically, he was just as innovative. He wanted to blend a modern, pop-inflected sensibility with his love of traditional country music, and while assembling the album, he went to great lengths to ensure that both aspects of his artistry were readily apparent.
In an effort to get into a dancier headspace before writing the pop banger "She Drives Me Crazy," for example, Kissel abandoned his usual ballcap and jeans, dressing up for the co-writing session as if he were headed for a night out in a Las Vegas nightclub. Elsewhere on the album, though, he proves his traditional country chops: "I'm Not Him, I'm Not Her" is a classic male-female, call-and-response duet, complete with a '70s-style modulation between verses, that Kissel had to fight to include on the album precisely because it was such a throwback country song.
"I really wanted to [make sure we had] both the traditional side of things as well as the genre-bending, pop-forward songs that go side by side on this record," the singer explains. "In talking to [co-producers] Bart [McKay] and Jacob [Durrett], we needed to make sure that we had adequate elements to our music, but we still had all that steel guitar and fiddle, which is all over this record. I'm thankful that they saw that vision and were able to help me carry that out in a really big way."
Just an integral to the release of Kissel's new album is his wife, Cecilia, who is a powerful part of his songwriting inspiration and identity as a performer. She also helped come up with the name of Now or Never.
"She titled the album," Kissel reveals. "The song "Young Enough," it says, 'All I know is that it's now or never.' And she goes, 'That needs to be your title.' And then we brainstormed about why that needed to be, and we settled on it."
In fact the "now or never" concept described the headspace that Kissel said dominated his creative process as he worked on the album. "A lot of it was about the self-confidence to select this material, write these songs, be really vulnerable during vocal takes in the studio," he explains.
"But on the personal side of things, I really feel like myself, my wife, my family, my fans ... are all so concerned with being present and living in the moment," he goes on to say. The album's versatility and innovation were all a part of taking risks and dreaming big, something that resonates with Kissel and his fanbase on every level.
"Crossing things off a bucket list. Traveling more. Doing more things," the singer rattles off. "I'm really happy that that's part of the culture right now. I wanted to name the album that as a little bit of ear candy for something that really speaks to our generation."
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