It all Started With a Song.

When last year’s major label debut album of that name soared up the charts (the title track single became the most added song in one week at Canadian country radio, ever), it kicked off a 12-month period that has loudly introduced Brett Kissel as a fast-rising young star whose time has come.

The album’s success helped the Alberta-raised, Nashville-based singer-songwriter take home the 2014 JUNO Award for Breakthrough Artist of the Year, and in July he scored more nominations (eight) for the 2014 Canadian Country Music Association Awards (CCMAs) than any other artist.

“This year is one I’m never going to forget. It is just incredible.”

As Kissel says, “This year is one I’m never going to forget. Any time I stop to take a few minutes to reflect, I almost go crazy. It is just incredible.” Helping keep Kissel sane is the realization that he’s earned this success through a potent combination of talent, sustained hard work, and a winning personality. The kid’s no novice, as he alludes to in noting “they say it takes ten years to be an overnight success, and I’m right about that stage now.”

Indeed. His first album, 2003’s Keepin’ It Country, was released when Kissel was just 12. In 2006, he was nominated for the CCMAs Chevy Trucks Rising Star award – the youngest nominee ever.

As his debut’s title indicates, the young Brett Kissel’s style was firmly in the traditional, stone-cold-country vein. That was also showcased on three following independent albums, the last two of which, Tried and True – A Canadian Tribute (2006) and My Roots Run Deep (2008), sold an impressive 70,000 total copies. Most of those sales came at his shows, as the teenaged Kissel gigged relentlessly. “It’s sometimes frustrating to hear people say ‘you didn’t pay your dues in the bars,’” he says. “Well, I was too young for the bars, but I played every small town in Alberta, repeatedly.”

In 2003, Kissel’s commitment to country music as a career was cemented via a remarkable interaction with Johnny Cash, one of the biggest influences on the young singer. “When I heard June Carter Cash passed in May 2003, I sent a letter of condolence to Johnny Cash,” Kissel recalls. “At that time I had recorded Keepin’ It Country, with songs on there from Johnny, Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins and Wilf Carter.

“On Sept. 12, 2003, I was staying home from school as it was my big CD release concert that night. My mum wakes me up in the morning and says ‘I’ve got great news and sad news.’ The great news was that my concert in my community of Glendon, Alberta, had sold out, 600 tickets in a village of 300. The sad news was that Johnny Cash had died that morning. Then my dad came home with the mail, including a big double-envelope for me. Inside was an 8 x 10 [photo] autographed by Johnny Cash that said ‘To Brett. Jesus First. – Johnny Cash.’ To get that on the day he died, and the day I was releasing my first record, is something I’ll never forget. I see this as a true tale that shows everybody this is what I’m meant to be doing!”

This conviction has instantly impressed the industry types that Kissel has encountered. An early mentor, noted Canadian songwriter/producer Steve Fox, recalls their first meeting. “Brett walked up to our table at the CCMAs about ten years ago, acoustic in hand, sang us some old-time country, and proceeded to tell us who the writers were, who the artists were, who produced the albums and who shook a tambourine on the recording. That may be a tad hyperbolic but it’s not far off. Point is, he charmed us all and blew our minds. Even people unaware of his talent were struck by his moxie and salesmanship, but also his genuine respect and knowledge of those who came before him.” Fox went on to collaborate with Kissel on songwriting, as well as producing and dueting on Tried And True.