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Brett Kissel leads CCMA Award noms with eight
By Nick Patch, The Canadian Press
TORONTO - Now 24 years old, Brett Kissel has been going to the Canadian Country Music Association Awards for exactly half his life.
At age 16, the Flat Lake, Alta., singer became the youngest-ever CCMA nominee. He lost that rising star award (notably, to future fixture Johnny Reid) but he didn't really lose, since he wormed his way into a Saint John, N.B., after-party as an underage reveller and summoned the chutzpah to ask Carolyn Dawn Johnson — just crowned as that year's top female artist — to dance the two-step with him while Prairie Oyster worked up a sweat onstage.
But on Wednesday, hours after learning he would be this year's marquee CCMA nominee with a stunning array of eight nominations, he cast his mind even further back — to the very first CCMA show he attended in 2002, as a 12-year-old fledgling guitarist hoping that a career in twang twinkled in his future.
"I sat in the nosebleeds with my mom and I said — she reminds me of this — 'One day, I'm going to be on that stage,'" the boundlessly cheerful Kissel relayed in a telephone interview.
"It's pretty crazy to think how far I've come in a dozen years."
Indeed, Kissel fetched nominations in almost all the gala's key categories, including single of the year, album of the year, male artist of the year and songwriter of the year.
Nova Scotia-based Dean Brody was next with six nominations, while Alberta's Gord Bamford — the cowboy who wrangled a dominant five trophies at last year's bash — fetched five this time around.
Those artists have been granted the CCMA spotlight before, but for Kissel this is new. That explains his enthusiasm in Wednesday's wee hours, when he awoke at 4 a.m. local time to survey the nominations just as they were being released — and promptly lost his composure when he scanned through the list and saw his name, again and again.
The only hitch? He was staying over at his cousin's house in Red Deer, Alta., in advance of a show Wednesday night with Tim Hicks (who managed to nab four CCMA nods himself). Excited as he was, Kissel — whose modest, deeply polite demeanour aligns with his farm-raised roots — was in that moment a less-than-ideal houseguest.
"I feel bad because I woke up the whole house," he said. "I was yelling. I had to wake up my wife and tell her. I had to wake up my cousin and tell him. It was 4 a.m. and they have a six-month-old little baby. So I was being a very bad uncle and I really feel bad about it, but at the same time, it was a pretty big career moment."
By contrast, Dallas Smith also earned some heady CCMA attention — claiming nominations in the three key categories of album, single and male artist of the year — but he wasn't about to set his alarm to find out the news.
The 36-year-old is the father of a little girl who's about to turn six months old, and rest is a precious commodity.
"Sleep was more important than CCMA nominations last night," laughed Smith, who also has a nine-year-old son.
Still, he was tickled by the recognition. The frontman for the post-grunge outfit Default, Smith transitioned into country with 2012's "Jumped Right In" and now says he feels wholly embraced by Canada's close-knit country community.
His nominated contender in album of the year is the "Tippin' Point EP," which is just a hair over 20 minutes. He's planning on expanding the release into a full-length by the end of the year — he figures November — and says he thinks one of the other nominees in the category might be a more deserving winner, given that they're fuller bodies of work.
It's the free-wheeling single "Tippin' Point" that represents his best shot at an award, he figures.
"The one that's really important to me is the single of the year," said Smith, a native of Langley, B.C. "(Best) male's a tough one — I mean, that could go to anyone. It's so subjective. But when you look at the single and you look at the numbers, that's one you'd hope is based on more of a numbers and fact basis.
"That song got played more than any other Canadian country single and it sold more. It went platinum. The only one to do that was Dean Brody's 'Canadian Girls.' So you know, that's the one I'm really planting a flag into and if I don't win I'll definitely question the process."
Kissel, meanwhile, points to the male artist of the year category as perhaps the most meaningful nomination he received.
The award adulation isn't totally new to him, since he won breakthrough artist of the year at the Juno Awards in Winnipeg in the spring. Considering his major-label debut "Started With a Song" was issued less than 10 months ago, Kissel feels as though he's in the midst of a pretty serendipitous streak.
"It's like a hockey player — you come in and win the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year and maybe, just maybe, you challenge for the Stanley Cup, and maybe you just win it. That's how I feel," he said.
"What am I going to do in year two? I mean, I just hope I don't have the sophomore jinx."
He's not really that worried, for what it's worth. And he's not waiting until the Sept. 7 gala in Edmonton to celebrate his CCMAs coronation.
"I just spent a bunch of money on champagne here in Red Deer earlier this morning. I'm going to take it backstage and celebrate with Tim Hicks and my band," said Kissel, noting that the individual members of his group claimed nominations in the CCMAs' instrumental categories.
"We're going to have a great celebration today and hopefully it lasts well into the night. I don't have a show tomorrow. I don't plan on going to sleep anytime soon."
The CCMAs will be broadcast on CBC and co-hosted by Rick Mercer and singer Jann Arden.
— Follow @CP_Patch on Twitter.