Interview: Brett Kissel talks creativity, collabs and Cadillac Ranch

Brett Kissel talks The Compass Project
Brett Kissel chats to Six Shooter Country about The Compass Project

Brett Kissel is, in his own words, ‘unconventional’…and that is far from a bad thing.

January saw the Canadian release South Album, the first of four (!) albums he’s set to release this year as part of the mammoth undertaking he’s calling The Compass Project. With each album named after a direction, he’s already gearing up to release East Album in the coming weeks.

Brett Kissel South album
After South Album will come East Album

Brett took some time to chat with Six Shooter Country’s Cait Watters about the project and what may be on the horizon for us UK fans!

So Brett…four albums! That’s a lot of music but we are certainly not complaining! What made you – pardon the pun – head in this direction and go for The Compass Project?

As you get to know me, [like] the way my fans have over the last decade, I really don’t do anything the conventional way – [I’m] definitely outside the box, unconventional. Why just put out another album, like everybody else, when there’s an opportunity to not just double down on the creativity but quadruple down and make four albums in the same year.

Each one reflects my favorite sub-genres of country music. I’m very, very excited for what these records have in store and for all of my fans and friends in this business to hear what I’ve been recording for the last year and a half!

Do you feel like you’ve reached the stage in your career where you are confident enough to take on such a project?

Very much so, yes. You have the opportunity to take more creative risks because you’ve established a bit more of a name and confidence. Your confidence grows with every year you last in this business. I specifically chose to say ‘last’ because it’s a very difficult business. It’s a wonderful business but very hard. So, because of that, when you last for a decade or you look at what Kristian Bush has done and accomplished, you have a lot more confidence to take these risks. So, in the event that something doesn’t work out, [it’s] okay – you still have a track record of success and the opportunity to dust yourself off and try again. Whereas when you’re a new artist and try something creative and risky, if it doesn’t work out then you’re done, it’s over for you.

I’ve always been the kind of guy who wants to do something that is unconventional, unique and that will get people talking -. I think four records is definitely that.

You’re releasing these albums over the year, as opposed to releasing everything together as one big album – which there’s been a few notable instances of, recently. Was it important for you to release each record individually, for each to stand on its own?

I did want each record to stand on its own. The reason why I wanted that was because each one is so vastly different, they’re separate genres under the umbrella of country music.

I have so many songs that are acoustic, stripped down and sentimental and intimate and vulnerable…it deserves its own life, its own record, its own set of playlists. Then I’ve got some songs that are so country, so raw and honky-tonk old school country that it wouldn’t make sense if I paired them with those acoustic songs. Then I’ve got an entire album that’s live; live versions of my previous hits [and] that wouldn’t make sense if it was all on a 44-song project. Instead it’s eleven, eleven, eleven, eleven – North, East, South and West. I’m big into organisation so I’m very happy with how the packaging is looking and sounding so far! 

Never Have I Ever
One of the ‘great’ singles on the album says Brett

Was having the four albums, the project, always your plan? Or did you just set out with South, that more traditional Brett album and then decide to expand it all?

It was the idea from the get go. From the very beginning, I knew it had to be separate and, that way, I could have the right producer produce that specific record, [and so] I could find the right instrumentation and the right vibe that would go into that project. That way, when you listen to the South album that is out right now, it’s a beautiful project that is well done and well produced with some great songs. When you listen to the East album, you will say ‘wow, this is vastly different from South’. And the same thing when the South album comes out, that [it] sounds nothing like the other two. That was specific.

If I was just going to release one then it would’ve been South. That record stands on its own as a straightahead radio [and] hit-driven record. I’m very proud of it, that record is more than enough to sustain the next year or two of my career with some great singles – especially ‘Never Have I Ever’. You look at ‘Ain’t The Same’, the duet with 98 Degrees – that was unique and very special. Or the song that I had out earlier this year, ‘Watch It’ which is about my family. Everything that’s great about country music is wrapped up in this South album. It definitely can stand on its own, there’s no denying that, but I’m excited that there’s more. There’s all of these different opportunities to showcase my abilities as a songwriter and as an entertainer in the records to follow.

I think that duet is indicative of how country is embracing more and more genres and I love that. How did it come to be?

That collaboration is really special. My agent and manager, Jim Cressman – also one of my best friends – is close with Jeff Timmons from 98 Degrees. I did an event with them where I performed at an awards show. I was actually filling in for Florida Georgia Line in Toronto and, at the last minute, I was asked to sing ‘If It’s Meant To Be’ with Bebe Rexha…and who introduced that segment? 98 Degrees! We formed a friendship at that time and always stayed in touch.

Jim sent the song ‘Ain’t The Same’ to Jeff and he and the boys loved it. It was the fastest collab that’s come to pass for me. I really respect how the guys had no red tape or BS – no lawyers, no producers, no nothing involved. They were like ‘we love the song, we’ll record it and we’ll figure it all out after’. I’m really grateful that they had that approach, I love those guys.

There’s also a Springsteen cover in ‘Cadillac Ranch’! Was it daunting to choose a Springsteen song to cover? because, you know, it’s Springsteen!

I’m gonna tell you something that’s either going to make you roll your eyes or…I don’t know how you’re gonna feel when I tell you this. I always knew that song as a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band song. Nitty Gritty are a great band and they did ‘Cadillac Ranch’ and when I first started to cover it, at rodeos and dance halls in Canada, I had no idea that Bruce Springsteen wrote that song! I had no idea until we’re submitting it and you have to pay the royalties to the songwriter…and I thought it was Nitty Gritty Dirt Band! And I’m like ‘WHAT? This is a Bruce Springsteen song?’ I googled it immediately. How was I 32-years-old and had never known that? I’m embarrassed. I love ‘Cadillac Ranch’ and it’s one of my favorite songs on the record.

Brett Kissel Compass project
North Album to be released later in the year will be a live album

Speaking of your shows, the North Album is going to be a live album! With such a vast discography and extensive touring career to your name, how do you begin to choose the songs for that album?

It was very difficult and so hard. For us, every song has life and has reason in that setlist. I talked to my band as, collectively, we made the choices. We just said ‘if we had to choose, what are the ten or twelve best?’ Unfortunately we had to eliminate some but we selected the twelve biggest and most impactful songs on the setlist. That way, instead of making it a two hour record, because our shows are usually two hours, let’s strip it down to about an hour and keep the energy as high as we can and deliver what a live record should be – which is high energy and a lot of excitement in recorded fashion.

You’ve already come so far with your touring career, too. I saw on your Instagram that you got to headline the same arena that you once supported Brad Paisley at…those full circle moments must be so special, right?

There’s no better feeling [than] when something comes full circle. I’m a big dreamer, I love to write down my goals. I love, love, love the opportunity to build upon the dreams I had as a kid and fulfill them and cross them off the bucket list.

The best part is that, now, I’m 32 which is very young but there’s a lot of experience and maturity that comes with being in your thirties. I love writing down new goals and I hope that ten years from now, I’ll have another full circle moment. I feel very, very grateful that my life in many ways has come full circle and I get to experience these great things.

You made your UK debut a few years ago at Buckle & Boots festival…can we expect another visit to these shores? Is your compass pointed in our direction?

Absolutely. I talk to my agent all the time and, for us, we have to figure out the right opportunity and the right time. I want to make sure that everything I do, I do it with excellence. I could’ve come to the UK many times and just figured it out which, maybe could’ve been a good strategy but I want to make sure I have a really great plan in place. I believe my strategy in 2024 and into 2025, – I know – my strategy for those two years has a lot of opportunities in the UK so I’m going to do something and, when I do, it’s going to be great.

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