10 Things Country Music Star Brett Kissel Can’t Live Without
Since the 2013 release of his debut hit “Started With a Song,” Brett Kissel has been topping the Canadian country music charts with his gritty pop twang, clinching multiple Canadian Country Music Association Awards and three Junos along the way. On top of that, the 33-year-old Alberta native is also an avid businessman who began making strategic investments early on in his career, just like his heroes Dolly Parton—who opened the Dollywood theme park in 1986—and Garth Brooks—who started building a real estate portfolio in the early ‘90s. In 2020, Kissel became co-owner of Deuce Vodka and Back Country Spirits, and founded the lifestyle brand Keeping It Kissel with his wife, Cecilia.
In January 2023, Kissel released his most ambitious project yet: a genre-spanning four-album series called The Compass Project, in which he reflects on his decade in the spotlight and explores his multifaceted identities as a husband, father, businessman and entertainer. South is filled with radio-friendly Nashville-style hits, East focuses on his strengths as a moody singer-songwriter, West indulges his love of down-home, honky-tonk country and western and North is a live album meant to celebrate his home country of Canada. “The Compass Project shows that Brett Kissel is not just one thing,” he says. “I’m someone who can’t be pigeonholed.”
We asked the father of four about the 10 things he can’t live without, from his cowboy hat to his (surprising) favourite album.
Kissel is a family man through and through. He says that without his wife and four children Mila (seven), Aria (six), Leo (four) and Atlas (one-and-a-half), nothing else would matter. “They’re the most incredible source of inspiration. They’re my everything. If I don’t have my wife and kids, then what is it all for?”
His cowboy hat
One of Kissel’s most prized possessions is his black felt cowboy hat made by Tuff Hedeman, which he’s had since he was 12 years old. He’s become superstitious about how much it means to his career and tucks sentimental keepsakes inside the hatband, like a ticket stub from the night he met Garth Brooks and a photo strip from his first date with wife. “It’s been a part of the best days of my life. When I played the Grand Ole Opry, that hat was on my head. I wouldn’t give it away for a million dollars.”
Cribbage is one of Kissel’s favourite ways to pass the time, whether he’s on his tour bus or waiting backstage before a show. He’s so partial to the card game that he brings a deck of cards and a crib board with him wherever he goes. “I have one in my truck, one in my SUV, one in my carry-on bag and a teeny-tiny one in my guitar case,” he says. “It’s amazing how many friendships I’ve been able to build by just having a deck of cards handy.”
Whether he’s around a campfire or staying in a hotel, Kissel likes to have a guitar—on stage he plays a Gibson J-45 acoustic—so he can entertain whenever the mood strikes. “If there’s a guitar in the room, you can bring people together and create a memory,” he says. “It’s a secret weapon.”
Kissel prefers the old-school method of handwriting his creative ideas on paper as opposed to typing them into his phone. But he’s not picky about whether he’s writing in a beautiful leather-bound journal or a simple notebook from the dollar store. “Whatever I’ve got, I’ll use until all the pages are done,” he says. “Often when I’m listening to mixes of my new record, I will write down all my notes on paper, take a picture of it and text it to my producer.”
The musical maestro is prone to migraines while flying and leans on his go-to remedy to keep them under control. “If a migraine hits when I’m on an airplane and I don’t have Advil and Tylenol, it will wreck me for two days afterwards,” he says. “The remedy is I’ve got to take one of each, then have a 20-minute nap with a cold washcloth over my forehead.”
Kissel’s farm in Flat Lake, Alta. has been in his family for over 100 years. His great-great grandfather, a Ukrainian immigrant, built the barn on the property in the early 1900s. “It’s a place where I can really unplug and unwind. There are 200 acres of land and I feel like I know every blade of grass. To me it’s better than Banff, Jasper or any other place in the world.”
As an Alberta boy, Kissell loves his local beef. He raises his own beef cattle on the family farm (talk about the 100-mile diet) and prefers a steak cooked medium rare. “As a wannabe chef who loves to grill outside, I like ribeye steaks because they’re very forgiving,” he says. “They’re so juicy, you kind of can’t screw them up.”
The Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits
A self-described vinyl junkie, Kissel’s favourite record to spin is The Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits. He says it’s his desert-island record and could listen to it every day on repeat without getting sick of the tunes. “It changed rock ‘n’ roll forever,” he says. “The harmonies, the songwriting; these are songs that changed music.”
Dimes hold great spiritual meaning for Kissel, who carries at least one in his pocket at all times. “Dimes are signs from the other side,” he says. “I know my grandparents who passed away send me dimes to show me they’re always with me. I find dimes every day in the most amazing and unique places.”