Another firm believer in Kissel’s potential is Steve Kane, President of Warner Music Canada. The label signed Kissel in May 2013 after, in Kane’s words, “a good old-fashioned office visit. A couple hours later, as I left the boardroom with our V.P. of A&R, Ron Lopata, and our V.P. of Radio Promotion, Steve Coady, I turned to them and said ‘we need to sign this kid.’ When you hear this sort of talent combined with a solid business sense and entrepreneurial spirit, you make the investment. Brett’s the real deal as both a performer and a writer. He has all the potential and drive to break internationally.”

Kissel’s winning personality also helped land him a deal with his Canadian manager, Louis O’Reilly, of the publisher O’Reilly International Inc., and an American publishing and co-management deal with Nashville legend Bob Doyle, the man behind Garth Brooks’ early success, and now head of Major Bob Music (whose SOCAN affiliate is Bouncy Bear Music). After approaching Doyle at the 2011 CCMA Awards in Hamilton, and informing him he was about to visit Nashville, Kissel was offered a meeting. “A few songs on my guitar at noon turned into drinks and supper and a management and publishing deal the next morning!,” he recalls.

“At 6:45 a.m., my grandfather knocks on my bedroom door, saying ‘Wake up. You’re no country star on the farm!’”

Doyle’s clout has helped Kissel pair up with some of Music City’s best country songwriters. Those co-writing with him on Started With a Song include Craig Wiseman (Kenny Chesney, Three Days Grace), Ted Hewitt (Kenny Rogers), Tim Nichols (Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw), Wade Kirby (George Strait) and Jason Matthews (Luke Bryan), as well as top Canadian songwriters Duane Steele and Tim Taylor.

Kissel is relishing songwriting in Nashville. “I’ve never walked out of a songwriting appointment and felt it was a waste of time,” he says. “With Nashville’s elite, they’re always incredible experiences. I’m just lucky at getting to rub shoulders with and pick the brains of some of the best writers in town.”

On Started With a Song, Kissel’s sound has moved in a more contemporary country direction. “In the five years between my last two albums, I decided I wanted to write and record songs that could get played on the radio, not just hurtin’ songs or country yodels,” he explains.

Whether the sound is classic or modern, the best country music continues to tell stories deeply rooted in real life, and Kissel has stuck to that mandate. Such tunes on Started With a Song as “Country In My Blood” and “Canadian Kid” clearly have a direct resonance, and Kissel singles out the closing track “Together (Grandma & Grandpa’s Song),” a solo composition, as “the most personal song on there.” He writes on the album liner notes that “It came straight from the heart… I wrote this song the very next morning after my Grandma Betty passed away.”

Already looking ahead to his next record, Kissel stresses that “the aim is to have a great mix of songs that’ll sound good on the radio, but to never forget who I am and where I came from, and to share some of those personal stories.”

Another key component of the Kissel success story is his rigorous work ethic. That can be attributed to growing up in a prominent cattle ranching family in the Flat Lake region of Alberta. And that family still won’t cut him any slack. One summer, he headlined Canada’s biggest country festival, Big Valley Jamboree, nearby, returning to the ranch at 3 a.m.. “I thought I’d be given a break, but at 6:45 a.m., my grandfather knocks on my bedroom door, saying ‘Wake up. You’re no country star on the farm!’ Whenever I head out there now, I still have to put on my boots and dirty jeans and start chasing cows!”

Major Bob Music/Bouncy Bear Music, O’Reilly International Inc.
Keepin’ It Country (2003), By Request (2004), Tried and True – A Canadian Tribute (2006), My Roots Run Deep (2008), Started With A Song (2013)
SOCAN member since 2006