January 26th, 2015 | Comments off
Usually when people say they ‘found themselves’ through music, they don’t mean it in quite the way Bobby Wills does. If his latest album, If It Was That Easy, is any indication, we’re all better off because he started looking.
Bobby Wills Live
Adopted as a baby and raised in Calgary, Alberta, as a teenager Wills was more interested in street hockey than songwriting. It was finding his biological family just after turning 20 that convinced Wills the musical path he’d started down on a visit to Australia was set long before he first picked up a guitar.
“We were at an open mic night and my buddy bet me $20 that I wouldn’t get up and sing with the band, so I did,” Wills says of the Australian trip. “I sang “The Dance” by Garth Brooks and there was a reaction from the crowd that I didn’t anticipate. It was amazing. I’d always poked around music but I’d never put any real effort into it, so I started to learn to play guitar while I was over there.”
Just after returning from Australia, Wills received a call from the adoption registry he’d joined after turning 18; his mother had also registered and they wanted to know if he was still interested in making the connection. Wills didn’t hesitate.
Finding his mother led to a series of earth-shaking discoveries, including the existence of five siblings and a musical streak a mile wide that ran throughout his biological family. “My dad was a huge country music fan,” he says of the man who raised him, “so that’s where I get my love of it from, but no one ever played music in my family when I was growing up. When I met my first two biological siblings and discovered we shared a talent for music I thought, ‘that’s kinda cool – it must be a genetic connection’ but I didn’t think much else about it at the time.”
While he got to know his new family Wills also started pursuing music more seriously, performing at open mic nights and touring Canada playing country music in a bar band. While preparing to record demos in Toronto with Juno-nominated country artist Thomas Wade, his mother called to tell him ‘I’ve found your dad’.
Wills made arrangements to stay with his father on the trip to Toronto to work with Wade. “The first night I was there we sat up all night listening to records. We both shared an affinity for a great lyric, and it was then that I realized ‘This is real, this is in my blood. This isn’t just a crazy dream I had; this is part of who I am.’ It really crystallized for me then.”
In keeping with Bobby’s commitment to playing and writing Country Music he started splitting time between Calgary and Nashville, where doors opened quickly, that allowed Wills to begin writing songs regularly with some of Nashville’s top names.
Recording an album with J.R. Vautour led to an introduction to songwriter Wade Kirby (George Strait, Faith Hill, Emerson Drive), who brought in his friend Mike Pyle (Blake Shelton), who in turn introduced Wills to the Muscle Shoals music scene and to his friend, and Wills’ hero, legendary songwriter Walt Aldridge (Tim McGraw, Reba McEntire, Ronnie Milsap, Travis Tritt). “It changed everything. It changed my life,” says Wills, of his time in Muscle Shoals. “The music scene was so real, so raw, so incredible. And getting to meet and work with Mike Pyle and Walt Aldridge… wow.”
Wills has invested eight years in learning his craft and believes it was the best thing he could have done, especially with mentors like Pyle and Aldridge. The trio have an easy, natural connection that is reflected in their work; together they’ve written three of the 10 tracks on If It Was That Easy and nine of the tracks include two of the three as co-writers (Wade Kirby and Thomas Wade also contribute to two of the album’s tracks).
His debut album Man With No Past yielded the Billboard Country Top 40 single “A Little More Time” (a major feat for a completely independent artist), but Wills feels If It Was That Easy is a truer reflection of Bobby Wills, the artist. His elegant country vocals are overlaid on modern country stylings that nestle in neatly alongside Joe Nichols and Carrie Underwood. Of the recording process for If It Was That Easy, Wills says, “we really just wanted to let the sound happen and see where it took us. We wanted to let it happen organically and it feels that way to me. ”
“Show Some Respect” , the album’s lead single and video (which features an appearance by Wills’ three-year-old daughter), perfectly reflects the song writing synergy Pyle and Aldridge have with Wills. “I love that song”, says Wills. “I’m really proud of it. I think of all the songs I’ve ever been a part of, it’s one of the strongest ones.”
Equally strong tracks, like the melody-driven “When It Comes To You”, the raunchy country-rocker “Far Side of Gone” and the tongue-in-cheek Texas swing of “Did My Back Hurt Your Knife?” show off Wills’ breadth of range as both a songwriter and a performer, while the hauntingly beautiful “Ceilings And Floors” is the album’s emotional centrepiece.
“I’ve wanted to write a song for my children, and I’ve wanted a song that spoke to the adoption thing for me, but I didn’t want it to be literal,” he says of “Ceilings And Floors”. “I’ve always wanted to write about my experience but it’s so deeply personal that I haven’t yet been successful at it. Somehow Mike and Walt struck the absolute right note with this song, and I knew I had to record it.” He hopes to address the adoption issue in the video as well. “I’m an Ambassador for the Adoption Council of Canada. It’s obviously very important to me. It is such a great organization that does such fantastic work for adopted kids. ”
Wills has come a long way in his journey to find himself, both as a man and as an artist, and If It Was That Easy is as pure a reflection of his innate talent as Wills could have hoped to achieve. “Today, my favourite place to be is behind a microphone, singing one of my songs. To be very candid, more than anything else I love it when it’s just me and my guitar I love that medium; it’s the purest. The songs get heard, they’re understood, and it’s easy to articulate. When you get those nights when a crowd is just in your hands and they’re really into it, there’s nothing like that.”
Wills is convinced there’s a revolution coming, a point where people will demand something ‘more’ from country music. “It seems like we might be in a position to get lucky with our timing because I’m hearing more and more from 20-somethings and 30-somethings who love country music but are looking for something else,” Wills says. “Whether or not that’s my stuff, I don’t know, I’ll let the world decide, but at the end of the day that’s where I think we’re going and I intend to be there when it happens.”
With If It Was That Easy Bobby Wills is most certainly leading the charge.
January 21st, 2015 | Comments off
When you come from a place called Flat Lake, Alberta, it’s pretty tough to get noticed. For Brett Kissel, it’s pretty tough to be ignored.The 23-year-old singer/songwriter has released two independent albums, sold out countless shows, and earned two Canadian Country Music Association Award nominations, becoming its youngest nominee ever. Brett Kissel is now ready to release his major label debut album through Warner Music Canada, Started With A Song.Co-produced by Kissel with Ted Hewitt (Rodney Atkins) and CCMA Award-winner Bart McKay, Started With A Song is an exhilarating collection of music that can be best described as the New Wave of Old Country: each song a slice of real-life sentiment; emotional touchstones that run the gamut of highs and lows and explore such subjects as deep love, trying moments and poignant reflection, measured out by hell-raising good times and a sense that something special is happening here.
Listening to the rousingly playful title track, the invigoratingly catchy “321” and the modern country gem “Something You Just Don’t Forget,” it is no wonder why Bob Doyle, the manager behind Garth Brooks and The Band Perry, proceeded to sign Brett to a co-management and publishing deal upon meeting him in Nashville.
Kissel makes it clear how personal these songs really are with tracks like “Country In My Blood” – written about the Alberta cattle ranch that has been in his family for over a century – the poignant true-life tale of his grandparents in the moving ballad “Together (Grandma and Grandpa’s Song)” and “Girl In A Cowboy Hat,” an upbeat song about potential romance.
Last summer, Kissel headlined Canada’s largest country music festival – Big Valley Jamboree in Camrose, Alberta. After a late set and a long autograph line, he returned home to the ranch at 3 a.m. At 6:45 a.m. there was a knock on his bedroom door. It was his grandfather (“who we affectionately call Grandpa Bear”).
“I said, ‘Grandpa, I’d really like to sleep in. I just played Big Valley Jamboree last night and I’ve only had two hours of sleep.’ And he said, ‘Wake up, because you’re no country star on the farm!’
Kissel realized at that moment, “My Grandpa was right. No matter what I do, even if it’s playing in front of 25,000 people, once I get home, work needs to get done. It doesn’t matter who I am onstage.”
It’s a much different kind of work when he hits the road, which he does often. An energetic and electrifying performer, Kissel plays upwards of 150 shows a year.
His parents remind him that he’s been an attention-seeker his whole life. “I craved the spotlight. Any opportunity to stand up on the couch and belt out a tune when I was 3 or 4 years old, I always took.”
When his grandmother bought him a Sears-catalogue guitar just before his 7th birthday, Kissel’s fate was sealed.
“It was this deep-rooted passion inside of me. When I was 10 years old, I was playing three-chord Johnny Cash songs at talent shows, but singing them two octaves higher than his deep baritone voice.
“When I was 12 and I got a $50 honourarium to play for a local 4H club – I realized I could do this for a living,” he chuckles. “Usually it took me two birthdays and a really generous tooth fairy to make $50. And I made that in 20 minutes just playing and singing songs? I was over the moon.”
Kissel continued to perform at various agrarian events and celebrations, even being paid for one concert with a pure bred bull.
Influenced by the likes of Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Buck Owens and George Strait, Brett Kissel is still very much his own man: a dynamic, charismatic performer, singer and songwriter and ready to make an imposing impression on the global country music scene with Started With A Song.
“I write music that’s true to myself, about experiences that I’ve had in my young age,” Kissel declares, “and it’s my hope that the fans and all the people listening are either touched by it or can escape wherever they need to escape from for three-and-a-half minutes.
“I’ve been working on these songs for three years, and cannot wait to begin making new fans by playing around the world.”
When he finally reaches that goal – and you know that Brett Kissel has the confidence, determination and talent to pull it off – remember, of course, that it all Started With A Song.
January 14th, 2015 | Comments off
Crop Circles, Dean Brody says, is an album he hopes will take listeners away from the cares of daily life for a while. “When we listen to music, we don’t necessarily want to think about what’s going on in the here and now, we want to go on a journey, and I hope that’s what happens for my fans with this record.”
Job done – On songs like ‘The Old Sandbar’ and ‘Mountain Man,’ the Jaffray, BC born, Nova Scotia-based singer/songwriter celebrates his love of the East Coast and his childhood home at the foot of the Rockies and, with his Civil War era love story, ‘Kansas Cried,’ transports listeners through time and space without missing a beat.
Crop Circles covers a lot of miles and nowhere more so than on Brody’s lead single, ‘Bounty,’ a fiery, turn of the century, murder ballad that finds Brody’s characters running from the law on a late night train to Mexico and features a standout performance by fellow Canadian country singer, Lindi Ortega. In it’s first week of release, ‘Bounty’ held the #1 Most Added song overall and #1 Most Added spot at Country radio for two consecutive weeks and displays Brody’s growth as a writer, lyricist and storyteller in equal measure with a story that has both substantial emotional weight and a certain amount of levity. ‘Bounty’ recently reached #1 on the Canadian Country singles chart!
Regardless of the topic or whether a song is purely observational or drawn from his personal experience, Brody’s music has a cinematic quality that makes it easy for listeners to put themselves into his songs and to feel as if they’re traveling along with his characters. “I see the world in pictures and I love stories and creating worlds, either using my own background, or by putting myself in other people’s shoes, because I’m fascinated by other people’s perspectives on life.”
Although Crop Circles finds Brody adopting a darker, rock-fuelled tone, it also showcases his ample sense of humour and his unique ability to weave a fine yarn, regardless of where or when a song takes place. Nowhere is that more evident than on the album’s title track, which offers up a plausible and hilarious solution to the longstanding mystery of how crop circles are actually created and the fact that they might have more to do with country boys taking their dates on a joy ride through a farmer’s fields than with aliens visiting Earth. “I am trying to have more fun on this record,” Brody says, “and ‘Crop Circles’ is a perfect example. It’s a crazy song that just got crazier when we went into the studio, and when we do it live it goes up a notch again.”
“I love shaking things up musically and lyrically,” he continues. “I wasn’t just influenced by George Jones and Merle Haggard, but by bands like AC/DC, Aerosmith, The Kentucky Headhunters and all kinds of artists, so those influences play a role in what I do and I’m lucky to have fans who’ll let me explore them.”
Truth to tell, Brody shakes it up right from the album’s opener, ‘Four Wheel Drive,’ a song that sets the record straight for anyone who might be tempted to turn their nose up at someone because of what they look like or where they call home. “What’s most important is being good to other people and ‘Four Wheel Drive’ is about the idea that you don’t have to rub elbows with high society to be popular with the ladies. You just have to romantic and be a good guy.”
That belief is heavily informed by Brody’s life experience and specifically his childhood growing up in Jaffray, BC, where he worked in the local sawmill prior to and during his pursuit of a career as a singer/songwriter. But it’s also a product of the fact that, in Brody’s experience, in order to find your true place in the world, often, you may need to cover a fair number of miles yourself.
That was certainly the case when Brody was chasing his own musical dreams. Shortly after moving to Nashville in 2004, Brody found himself unable to work in the US legally and seriously considered giving up on music entirely. Owing to the intervention of producer, Matt Rovey, (with whom Brody has worked with on all of his albums to date), Brody got the chance to record his self-titled debut. The album’s lead single ‘Brothers’ was a hit in the US and Canada and garnered Brody multiple CCMA Award nominations as well as the 2009 CCMA Award for Single of the Year.
Later that year Brody relocated to Nova Scotia’s south shore and signed a deal with Canada’s Open Road Recordings, on which he released his sophomore record, Trail In Life (2010), and his hugely successful 2012 follow up, Dirt, both of which won the CCMA Award for Album of the Year in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Additionally, Dirt’s lead single, ‘Canadian Girls,’ became the first track by a Canadian artist to hit #1 on the Canadian Country Chart since 2008. Dirt also yielded two #1 videos on CMT, two certified Gold singles (for ‘Canadian Girls’ and ‘It’s Friday’ – featuring Great Big Sea), and earned Brody the title of most played Canadian Artist on country radio in 2011 and 2012. Both records were also nominated for JUNO Awards in the category of Country Album of the Year. In all, Brody has been nominated for twenty-six CCMA Awards and recently took home the 2013 CCMA Award for Male Artist of the Year for the second consecutive year.
While Brody, like any songwriter, spends a great deal of time getting his songs just so, on record they sound so honest and immediate, it seems like he’s singing them for the first time. It’s a unique talent and one that’s been a hallmark of his songwriting from day one. But regardless of how far Brody takes listeners on Crop Circles, he takes care to bring them back home again on tracks like ‘Back To The Front Porch’ and ‘Little Things About Us,’ songs that find Brody giving thanks for the joys of home and family and reminding listeners where his own heart lives. “It’s the little things that are special when you’re in love. The things that make you feel nostalgic are usually small and, as time goes on in a relationship, they’re what you appreciate and remember.” Also, he adds: “It’s the little things you often draw on for support when you have to work out larger issues in love and life.”
On Crop Circles, whether a song is specifically about Dean Brody’s own life or not, he displays a singular talent for crafting stories so well lived in they sound like he’s experienced every second of every line, which makes it that that much easier for his audience to see themselves and their own lives and loves reflected in his music.