Click on the image to play the video of Brett Kissel’s “Our Home”

For many musicians, the pandemic pause in touring was a welcome break to focus on the creative side of their career; for Brett Kissel, the opposite was true. Catching up with the multi-platinum selling songwriter on Valentine’s Day 2023, he reveals what that period was really like.

“I had such a dark cloud over my life,” he says. “Honestly, it was raining all the time… My self-worth came from the stage, and I figured if I couldn’t perform, what was there? I was filled with so much doubt, and constantly asked myself questions like, ‘What good am I?’ and ‘What can I provide the world if I can’t perform?’”

The last thing Kissel wanted to do was write songs. Creativity? There was none. As time passed – and Kissel put in the work – the desire to create slowly returned. After a few years of looking in the mirror, the father of four – who enjoys a beautiful life off the road, shared with his wife on their northern Alberta ranch – realized for the first time that even without touring, and the adulation of his fans, he was enough.

This feeling is captured in the aptly-titled “Our Home.” First released as a single in May 2022 and included on the South ­album – the first instalment of Kissel’s four-album cycle to come in 2023 called The Compass Project (more on that later) – the song was written as an ode to Alberta. But on a deeper level, it speaks to his love for – and the importance of – his homestead, with lines like, “There is something strong about it / There’s something magical about it / There’s something glorious about it / It’s our home.”

“That took two full years of self-discovery,” explains Kissel of his return to songwriting. “From that point on, I was able to freely create, with no expectations. I didn’t judge. I’ve never revealed this before in such a direct way to anyone… I’m surprised I just shared such a private moment, but the reality is, I finally had creativity flowing inside me – and because of that, I could be a lot more courageous with these records.”

It All Started with a Song

Kissel says that the first song he ever wrote was called “Wasting Time.” He was seven years old, and according to him, it was terrible. To prove it, he recites the chorus: “If you ask me how I’m doing, I’ll say I’m fine/ Ask me what I’m doing and I’ll tell you I’m just wasting time.”

While the radio hits and awards over the first 10 years of Kissel’s career show he was definitely not wasting time, the truth, according to the songwriter, is that the creative side of his career was never a passion.

“I never fell in love with songwriting until the last year-and-a-half,” he explains. “It was an important part of my career, and I enjoyed it, but it didn’t fulfil me the way being onstage did. The songs I wrote when I was carefree, in my late teens and in my twenties, were all about getting a hit. My first few years I was driven by statistics.

“Now, I care more about the feeling,” Kissel continues. “I write things I genuinely enjoy rather than chasing what the radio wants. That is so freeing. For the first time in my, life, I’m excited about writing my own songs. I actually really love this.”

As our conversation ends, we ask Kissel what makes a good song. “Goosebumps,” he says. “It’s got to give you goosebumps.”

This courage and newfound desire to write from the heart started with “Make a Life, Not a Living” the single released in March 2021, from his fifth major-label studio record What is Life?, Kissel sings about this balance of living in the moment rather than chasing what’s in front of you, or regretting what you left behind.

A decade into an already successful career that includes three JUNO Awards, 18  CCMA Awards, two Gold-certified albums, and 16 Top-10 radio hits, Kissel, 32, has few regrets, but he decided it was time to go big or go home. And, more importantly, write for himself, not just chase a radio hit.

The Compass Project is the culmination of his new artistic approach. In 2023, Kissel announced that he’s releasing not just one, but four albums. Each is a nod to the four directions on the compass. Each represents a different side of his songwriting.  Why now? “I felt it was time to peel back a few more layers,” he says. “I wanted to take a deeper dive. Not just one layer, but four albums that speak to all of the important sides of my artistry.”

The South album, released Jan. 27, 2023, is the first instalment. This record is most similar to what fans of the Canadian country star have come to know and love. As he says, “it tips its hat to Nashville, and how much I love Music City.”

Kissel still owns a home in the Tennessee capitol, and, as he adds, “I’ve got a cowboy boot on either side of the border! I’m like a snowbird. I live half the year in Alberta, and when it gets cold I head south.”

Next up is the East album, which is the one sure to surprise Kissel fans. He describes it as a singer-songwriter record about love and connections that shows a different side. The third instalment—the West album— is old-time Country & Western. The songs speak to rural themes like oil and cattle. One of these, Kissel reveals, is “Strait Country,” an ode to George Strait, one of his country heroes. “That’s a song that is too country for country radio!” he laughs.

Finally, the North album is Kissel’s greatest hits from his first decade; it’s not your typical curated collection. “These are all my favourite songs, and my fans’ favourites, recorded live in various cities across Canada over the last few years,” he says.


Super PlageThe album has been ready for almost a year, but Super Plage carefully chose the moment of its release: launched on March 31, Magie à minuit is the summer of 2023’s first album. It’s written in black letters over a pink background in his Bandcamp page bio: “Fuck winter.” He offers us 10 delicious pop-dance gems that make us want to play them on repeat, until we can finally hang out on our balconies – but whose lyrics are “slightly more personal, this time around,” as the singer-songwriter, a.k.a. Jules Henry, explained to us. “It’s an album that’s slightly more intimate and serene, but still lighthearted and corny.”

At first glance, Magie à minuit differs from its predecessors by the number of collaborations. Henry has a knack for picking the right people to work with: on his first three projects – Super Plage (2020), Super Plage II (2020) and Électro-vacances (2021) – the majority of his songs were duets. On this new project, only four out of 10 songs have featured guests. “Maybe it’s because this was created during lockdown?” he says, offering a guess. “There wasn’t a lot of partying going on during the 2021 holidays… I had fewer opportunities to see my friends while I was creating this album. On the other hand, it’s my album with the most guest musicians – Mélanie Venditti [who sang on Super Plage II] plays the viola and the theremin on this one.”

The trio Le Couleur, who featured on the song Touristes (on Électro-vacances), is back for an appearance on “Rue Dandurand,” a song that stands out for its four-on-the-floor tempo. “That song is the result of a succession of random events,” says Henry. “I wanted something that was really ‘dancefloor,’ and I’d come across this really dirty kick-drum sound. But in the end, the chords I chose to play over the rhythm took me in a completely different direction.” Which is to say more pop and festive, the title being the name of the street where the musician’s studio (which he shares with Le Couleur) is located. “It’s a great co-working space – we work hard during the day and party hard at night!

Super Plage, NYE

Click on the image to play the Super Plage video “NYE

“You know,” he continues, “I listened to a lot of Georges Brassens, Georges Moustaki, and Nana Mouskouri all my life, and I feel like ‘Rue Dandurand’ is as much a club song as a ‘chanson française’ that evolves over several verses.” And therein lies the specificity of the project: Henry creates danceable pop music that, in an ideal world, would be in heavy rotation on commercial radio, while also claiming its lineage to the great tradition of Francophone “chanson.”

“I only discovered recording about 10 years ago,” Henry admits. “Before all that – the studio, the computers – there were the songs that I wrote on the guitar, and that’s the method I still use. I see my creations as songs, but instead of using guitars and drums, I use synths and electronic percussion. Some of my creations are really minimalist, lyrically, but I find that it leaves a lot of room for your imagination.” Such is the case with “+1” (featuring Meggie Lennon and Virginie B), “NYE,” “Safespace,” and “Attraction,” the last of which boils down to two or three sentences.

Throughout his recordings, Super Plage carved a comfortable niche for himself: each project never has more than 10 songs, totalling about 30 minutes of grooves. Yet, he always writes more than he needs. “I cut songs from every album I work on,” he says. “Not just because there are too many, but because I make a lot of bad ones! On the other hand, streaming could afford me the opportunity to explore different formats. I could give myself the goal of releasing three EPs, with three songs each, this year; and the next, a 25-track double album. The thing is, I think EPs get overlooked, while with double albums, people rarely make it to the 25th song. It’s too easy to skip the ones that don’t hook us, so that’s why I figure that 10 songs over a period of 30 minutes will mean people listen to the whole thing.”

So how does he distinguish a good song from a bad one? “Well, first, I’m my own first listener,” says Henry. “When I play it back, I ask myself, ‘Does this please you, or not?’ Then I play my demos to collaborators and close friends. I know how to recognize their enthusiasm about a song, so I rely on their opinion as much as my own. Some of them are very harsh, and even a smile from them will have great value; while others are more forgiving, and will like it too much, which is why I take their opinion with a grain of salt. My mom always loves everything I do, so I’m certainly not going to ask her which song shouldn’t make the album!”

If you start your career by doing shots of liquor on someone else’s tab, there’ll be several steps to complete before you achieve wisdom. And yet, what could easily be construed as serenity lies at the core of Mélanie and Stéphanie Boulay’s musical project. Liberated, satuisfied, they “let life do its thing,” and now look back on the last decade that determined who they’ve become. Ten years, in which they wouldn’t change a thing.

May 2012
Les soeurs Boulay Les sœurs Boulay win the final round of Les Francouvertes, where they were competing with Francis Faubert and Gazoline. “There are very few of our opponents in that final with whom my sister hasn’t gone out,” says Mélanie, bursting with laughter, while her sister laughs just as hard. “I remember we stayed in the first position from the preliminary round to the final,” says Stéphanie. “Each and every step, we just couldn’t believe it. We could definitely feel it – not that we were going to win, but that something was brewing.”

Even back then, they followed their instinct and ignored all the “advice” people were giving them, moist notably what kind of performance to give for the finals. “We’d decided to do something very stripped down, with just one condenser microphone and everyone thought it would be a catastrophe,” Mélanie remembers. But that night, you could hear a pin drop in Club Soda. They won.

March 2013
On March 26, 2013, the duo released their debut album, Le poids des confettis. “It was a super-playful album, because we didn’t even know how to write songs. We were constantly wondering if we could actually use the chords we were using in that sequence,” remembers Mélanie. At Studio Wild, in Saint-Zénon, Québec, the sisters “created while completely drunk out of our minds.” “We’d drink Grand Marnier in the morning,” Stéphanie admits with a giggle.

It was Stéphanie who wrote the lyrics and music of “Mappemonde,” still Les sœurs Boulay’s most popular song, to this day. “I remember how much Mélanie hated it,” she says, laughing. “She wouldn’t shut up about how corny it was, while I was still writing it.”

June 2014
Infidelity is the subject of the single “Ça,” which was never released on an album. “We’d recorded it for the album, but it was rejected, and I really felt mournful about it,” Stéphanie confesses. The song still had its moment.

October 2015
Les soeurs BoulayThen their make-it-or-break-it sophomore album came out. 4488 de l’Amour saw the light of day in the fall of 2015. Throughout the album, Mélanie and Stéphanie explore individual, real-life experiences. The fact that each song seems like a solo was perhaps so that they could better be re-united. “We felt an urge to claim our own space,” Mélanie says. “We lived together and hung out with the same people. Anytime I’d get somewhere, the first question people asked me was, ‘Where’s your sister?’ That’s why we had to travel alone for a while.”

 Less candid and already much more down to earth about the world in which they lived, they wrote more involved songs, and more songs about life’s many disappointments, big and small. “It reeks of coming out of a post-first-tour burnout,” Stéphanie giggles. “But it’s still our change-of-paradigm album. We’d appeared on La Voix and we’d also had a scary experience where people were a little too intent on talking to us after an outdoor show, where there was no backstage area. That’s when we decided to keep our respective private lives far away from the cameras.”

August 2016
Les sœurs Boulay release a very “the way we want it” cover of Céline Dion’s “Pour que tu m’aimes encore.” “It’s the first cover we did where we truly understood our aesthetic,” Mélanie reminisces. “That’s what we did with Marjo’s ‘Les chats sauvages.’ We understood we could take a very personal song and apply our sound to it. It was really satisfying to realize that.”

As a matter of fact, her love of music was triggered by “My Heart Will Go On,” from the movie Titanic. “It stirred something deep inside of me, even though I was super-young,” she continues. In September of that year, they released their E.P. Lendemains, where said aesthetic was even more apparent, even though it contains only four short songs. These were 11 minutes of unfiltered gentleness.

April 2017
The duo covers Richard Desjardins’ “L’engeôlière” on a tribute album to the artist. “I couldn’t talk to him,” Stéphanie says, remembering the live show that followed the album release. “I couldn’t say a word, because I was scared that this monumental figure of music, that I admire so much, would think I’m stupid,” she says, laughing. “We took a deep breath and sang next to him. It was a major moment for us.”

September 2017
Les soeurs BoulayAs part of the Journées de la culture, the sisters composed “De la terre jusqu’au courant,” one of their first “remote” creations. “I started by writing unstructured lyrics, and Mélanie worked on the music separately,” says Stéphanie. “That’s when we started working through voice memos,” adds Mélanie. “We’re very attached to the Petite-Vallée choir from Gaspésie. Those kids sang their part and recorded it with very basic equipment in their school gymnasium.” Then, in the expert hands of Alex McMahon, all these tidbits combined to become something magical.

March 2018
That’s when the duo enjoyed their first screen music commission. “I was super-hopeful it would be the first of a long and fruitful series of commissions,” says Stéphanie, visibly delighted about her collaboration with the team for the TV series Trop. The song “Le temps des récoltes” plays over a key moment in one of the episodes, where we start to understand the relationship between two sisters. “We had a few pointers on the scene where the song would be used. We watched the show and really liked it. It’s about the love between two sisters as much as it is about mental health,” says Stéphanie. “We hadn’t seen the finished scene, and the first time we actually listened to the song after it was recorded was in Alex McMahon’s studio. He cued up the images to the song. We all cried. It was like magic to see our ideas meld perfectly with the story that was being told.”

September 2019
Les sœurs Boulay release their third album, La mort des étoiles. It would be their last release for Dare To Care – now known as Bravo Musique – before they left the label during controversy-laden times. Mélanie talks about this album as one of disillusionment: “The social climate, the environment, the #metoo movement… I was trying to make sense of it all for my children, but it felt like everything was dragging us into an immense sorrow. But then again, we always were big on melancholy,” she says. “For the longest time, my e-mail address was (thesaddays3).” For Stéphanie, La mort des étoiles was a pandemic album before the pandemic started. “It’s like we intuited a major upheaval,” she adds. “Sometimes, when you write, you feel like it’s going to take its full meaning later on. That’s exactly what happened with this one.”

October 2022
Échapper à la nuit, Les sœurs Boulay’s fourth album, was released by Simone Records. In a bona fide renaissance after letting bygones be bygones, Les sœurs Boulay came back with a renewed interest in music, as well as a new team. “I remember that when we started making music, we constantly felt like everything was a question of life or death,” says Mélanie. “But Antoine Gratton, one of our mentors back then, always said ‘It’s just music, it’s not rocket surgery,’ and that’s the biggest lesson he taught us.” Stephanie is convinced that she still has things to learn from the person she was 10 years ago, and she’s also convinced, as a realist, that they’ll never experience the huge wave of success that carried them forward early in their career.

In a strong yet tempered stance, both women take an empathetic look at their journey and would change absolutely nothing. If Le poids des confettis still moves them today, in 2023, it’s because it’s filled to the brim with a “youthful” truth, and a desire to break everything in the hope of making the world a better place. “I believe that what we need to do the most, 10 years later, is to remember the urge to create that we felt when we started,” says Stéphanie. “We don’t want to forget to keep getting mad at things,” her sister adds. “And to live a fearless life.”