What Is Life?
“What's the meaning of this whole thing?” Brett Kissel asks Apple Music. “I felt that every single one of my songs really would lend itself to that question.” Such is the concept for his fifth LP What Is Life?, an ambitious collection of songs that finds the Canadian country singer-songwriter taking stock of his own priorities and pondering nothing less than existential ideology. Sonically, Kissel explores his brand of country from myriad angles, like through ’90s-indebted twang on the Diamond Rio tribute “Slidin’ Your Way” and glossy pop-country on the love song “Without.” Spoken interludes from Kissel’s three young children round out the project, which may not have all the answers but leaves listeners with plenty to think about. Below, Kissel walks Apple Music through several of What Is Life?’s key tracks.
“What Is Life? - A Perspective” “By putting a monologue right off the top, I felt that it was an opportunity for me to set the intention for the record, similar to setting the intention for a difficult conversation. I didn't really know if anything like that had ever been done before in recorded music, or especially in country music, over the last number of years. Saddle up, here we go.”
“Make a Life, Not a Living” “That is the one song I truly based this entire record around. If this is all people are going to listen to, if this is the one and only song that someone's going to hear of mine ever in their life, I'm so proud that I get to put it out into the universe, because I believe every single thing this song says, and wholeheartedly took that approach into the studio to be my most true and authentic self. It's the writers—Steven Lee Olsen, Cary Barlowe, and Brandon Day—who took the words out of my mouth, took the ink out of my pen, took the thought out of my brain and the feeling out of my heart. They literally took it from me without knowing it and put it into words and music.”
“Night in the Life” “It tells the story of everyday life. Isn't that the best part about country music? I mean, Dolly Parton said it—it's hanging up in the Country Music Hall of Fame—her quote that country music is ordinary tales told in an extraordinary way.”
“Slidin’ Your Way” “When I had a chance to do a 2021 version of essentially a '90s country song, it was like, ‘Sign me up.’ I didn't want that recording session to end. We got an opportunity to do a fresh take on '90s country while also paying homage to one of the most successful country bands of all time in Diamond Rio. I saw them play ‘Meet in the Middle’ a number of times. It still lights up a crowd. We paid homage to them, doing ‘Meet in the Middle’ in the bridge of this song.”
“Without” “Every record I've ever done, my wife has what's called the ‘power veto.’ If there's a song that she absolutely loves from the demos that we listened to, if she chooses a song, it's just got to go on the record. This is her choice. I felt that it was perhaps a little bit too pop for this reflective, down-home record. What she made me see was, if you go line by line on these lyrics, they are so true to how I feel—the new me, the guy who's not necessarily as externally validated or chasing the people-pleasing mentality that I used to really have. I'm just so not about that anymore. She's like, ‘You've been preaching this on social media for the last year. How can you not put this song on the record?’”
“Kindness” “We know that bad news gets views. We know that bad news and struggle, and all that strife, is what sells papers. Could you imagine if the world wasn't that way, if good news traveled further than bad news, could you imagine? I was just thinking about that and I had a half a chorus and I texted it to Matt Rogers, who wrote ‘Drink About Me,’ a big, big song from my last record. I said, ‘I don't think this will ever be a single. I don't even know if this will get to see the light of day. I want to write a song about kindness.’ I know it's going to be preachy, I know people may roll their eyes, but I wanted to write something that was just so blatantly obvious.”