At the moment, Brittany Kennell might best be known as the very first Canadian to appear on the hit NBC reality singing program The Voice back in 2016, but that’s about to become a faded memory as the Montreal singer takes on the music world with her debut album.
Called, “I Ain’t a Saint”, the album is jam packed with catchy country magic, including the track ‘Most Wanted’, co-written with 519 area pals The Reklaws and Nate Haller.
We Zoomed with Brittany to find out about her debut album and watch this amazing rising star as she sets sail to take over the musical oceans.
Tell me about the debut album that just came out.
Yeah, it just came out, we’ve been working on it for the last two years. I’m super grateful for all the reception that we’ve had with the album and just getting to do it in the first place. Initially it started off as singles and it was an EP, and then I think the pandemic kind of prolonged everything enough to the point where I was like, well, I think we have an album. So, it’s for sure a very special album for me just being that it’s my first one and then also just getting to create it from Montreal from home. It’s pretty special for that reason.
Why did you choose “I Ain’t a Saint” for the title track?
It’s a good question. I felt that every song and on the album dealt with the theme of honesty and mostly for other people. But I felt like it was more important to be honest with yourself first before you can be honest with other people. “I Ain’t a Saint” was really a nice reflection, and a nice umbrella, to all those songs, to be able to look at myself in the mirror and say, I’m not perfect either. And I’ve made mistakes, I’ve got regrets. I’m not easy to deal with either. When it comes to relationships, I know I can be difficult too and just too really hone into both those things, both sides of the coin, when it comes to being honest with ourselves and relationships.
Musically, it’s an interesting song to choose for the title track, because it stands out from the others. It’s a little more classic country sounding.
Yeah, definitely. I’m glad you picked up on that. First, I wrote it with a guy named Nathan Meckel and we did this over zoom. Then when I went to record it with John Anthony, initially the track was really slow. It was kind of more of this, b-side Miranda Lambert slower song. I felt it needed more of a push and more sassiness edge to the song. And at the time, I was also watching a lot of Yellowstone and the music in Yellowstone was just so raw and edgy, and just really that gritty kind of country. So I felt it could really lend itself to that. So I think that’s where a lot of influences came in production wise for that song.
When you were writing the album, did you write it with that whole vibe the same way or did each take on its own personality?
I feel like every song kind of took on its own personality just in the sense that, the end goal wasn’t like I went in the studio mill and said okay, we’re working on an album we’re doing a full thing. It was really step by step.
We started with “Eat Drink Remarry”, and then came “You Don’t Get Me Stoned” with each building block of its own. But all the while keeping in mind, at least some sort of cohesiveness. I think it was important for me to at least, if I was going to come up with my debut album, that it stayed in the same vicinity and same sound. Also for me to stay true to my influences, inspirations and to make sure that each song really carried that.
I think often and in my own career, I’ve experienced the need to do this because that’s working for so and so or I need to try this or I need to write like that. And for once I was able to say, this is what I like, this is why I like this sound, I want that sound on this emotion. And so I focused more on that creating rather than what does this need to be? It was more how does this make me feel? Or how do I want this to feel?
I love the album cover- it’s a bit spiritual and peaceful at the same time. It reminds me a bit of Up from Shania Twain, but yours is more airy and free flowing.
Thank you. My sister actually took the cover and does all my photos, she’s my favorite. She’s been taking my picture since the beginning. In the early days and initially we didn’t really know what we wanted for the album cover.
So on a whim, we went out to this lake Cap-Saint-Jacques near our dad’s house during the golden hour sunset and we figured, just keep it simple. Focusing on the colors of the sunset, you see those kind of across all the singles, the pinks, the oranges, the yellows and for me, those colors, represented the chakra that I was in. And I say that in the sense that going through a breakup, this whole album came at that moment, just after the breakup where you realize, I’m okay, and things are gonna be okay. To me those emotions when seen through colors are the pinks, the oranges that sunset, so that’s where that all tied in, but really, my sister and I, when we create, we just go out to have fun and see what comes of it and we just had a great time getting to shoot that album cover.
It’s funny, you mentioned breakups around the time you’re writing it because my next thing was going to be, there’s a couple songs about breakups on this album.
Yes, this is the breakup, I call it my happy breakup album because there’s a couple of obviously “Most Wanted” and “Drunk Lips”, those songs are more of the darker tone when it comes to looking for relationships and finding love.
But everything else, I went through a pretty big breakup and I took time off from music and from my career and I just decided to focus on happiness and family and achieved goals that were not career related. And I think because I only really started writing music, in that time I dabbled, but I really did take quite a step back from music so it was really only in that period where I finally felt happy with my decision and I got to see everything unravel and unfold to see where that decision took my life and I just didn’t want any more sad breakup songs, I didn’t want to write about how hard or sad it was. I wanted to write about it’s gonna be okay and I wanted to share that message with people because I think it’s important to know during a hard time or a rough road, there’s always that place where you get to that tells you it’s gonna be okay.
That pretty much describes “Eat Drink Remarry”, I mean that’s not a typical subject for a song actually. Was it hard writing something like that and did you have help?
I actually wrote that with Emily Reid, another Canadian country artist and we wrote it actually quite a while ago and the title idea was from a book and it was such a term that I’d never heard and I thought, there’s so many people out there that have that, even in my own life.
My parents are divorced and have met significant others and a lot of family members, tons of friends, family of people that have gone through divorce and then have remarried and even my grandparents. My grandparents are now remarried 35 years and I think it’s important to share that’s okay.
Sometimes it takes first or second or third marriages to meet that one person and that there shouldn’t really be any shame associated with that, it’s just part of life, it’s a chapter and so it was tough in the sense to write because you’re right, it’s not a topic that isn’t really spoken about in songs that often. At the same time, it was easy in the sense to make a joy out of it and then seeing how my grandparents are happily remarried for 35 years and I can’t see them not having found that love again. In a way it was just a nice way to include those love stories for people that it took a couple tries.
With “Bought the T-Shirt” it’s very much like you’re poking fun at everything and you’re using a very well known phrase so when you work with a phrase that everybody knows, it’s a little tougher to write a song like that.
Yes and no, I think for me it makes it a little bit easier to have some kind of starting point. The way I write, I like to work with a vocabulary, in a spider web kind of way, so if I have my idea and my title for me “Bought the T-Shirt” you hear words like souvenir, suitcase. To me it was okay, how do I kind of encompass all these travel vocabularies into play on words for, a relationship that I need to leave in the past. So for me having that starting point is easy. And I think I keep a blind eye to that and it would be more of a catchphrase. I think when people hear it, they’re like, Oh, I know, it gives some sort of familiarity to them. So I think in a way, it’s a thin line – it’s easier for me to have that solid idea.
Then how do I make it a little bit different? When people hear it, they’re like, Oh, that’s a neat way to put it. That’s a cool spin on it. So that’s probably more of a challenge when working with a phrase that people know.
It sounds like you have a vision board, even if it’s not a real vision board when you’re writing.
Yes, 100%. I pull from experiences. So it has to be something that is truthful, something that I’ve lived, or a story that I can somewhat relate to, or understand. Then I visually, not necessarily physically, write out any sort of vision board. But in my mind, when I start to write a song, on my notepad or in my notes, I start with just writing a ton of different vocabulary words that could work within this. And again, how do I turn those words to create something new?
How do I personify them? How do I, rhyme them?
And I find having that spider web of, Okay, well, here’s the idea. What other things can I pull from it? What are they? You know, what metaphors work with it? Which ones can I create from it? And I find diving into all my senses, what does the situation look like? Where and what time zone is it in? Who’s there? What do they look like? What does it smell like? All the visuals and then I can dive into the creative space of the lyrics.
“Most Wanted” was co-written with The Reklaws and Nate Haller. Both of those artists are from our area here in Southwestern Ontario. How did you connect with them?
I love them. Well, funny story, I actually met them when I lived in Nashville. Emily Reid, who’s a friend with them as well, was doing a music video, and we all ended up on the music video shoot together, Jenna, Stuart and myself. Then we kind of all kept in touch. We had such a great day filming for her music video.
Even a year later, I was taking a trip to Toronto, because I was curious about the scene and wanted to experience it. So I went by myself to Toronto, and I reached out to Jenna and I just said, Hey, I’m coming. I would love to see you guys. And she was like, yeah, let’s write. And so we all wrote and then they brought Nate in as well. They were just so much fun to be around. We ended up writing a song and then going out to do karaoke that night. It was just such a highlight. I mean, they were so welcoming. I guess it’s not that rare, but when you reach out to people to write or hang out, you just never know what people are going to say. They were just open arms welcoming. So yeah, very grateful.
Here’s the part of the interview where you probably roll your eyes back a little bit. Tell me about your experience on The Voice.
No, I love this and honestly, it’s fun because it’s a good reminder. I always forget that it happened. Especially now, it’s been five years. Every time I think about it, I’m like, Did that actually happen? Or is that real? It was such a cool experience, and I always say at this point, it’s almost more of a turning point for me. I feel like at that point beforehand, I was so focused on writing and a publishing deal and wanting to take that route.
The Voice was like, this is how you perform. This is how you work on performing the song and training went into that. And working with vocal coaches and stage coaches and learning that side of it.
For me, I was like, Okay, I really like this. And so I feel like that turned a lot of things for me. Even still after the show, as an artist, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. So I was exploring a little bit and I started doing some pop stuff and trying to explore that world. But it ultimately that whole story led me back here to Montreal and back into country music. So yeah, looking back on I feel like it definitely made me grow up a little bit as an artist. I learned a lot and made me really take this career even just a little bit more seriously than I had been already.
You mentioned Bruce Springsteen, my favorite Springsteen thing is his theater show. The songs are broken down and it’s just him and it didn’t matter what genre the song was, because it’s all about the song.
Yes. 100%. And I think that’s probably the biggest takeaway for me as a songwriter through my Berklee College, Nashville, and The Voice experience. It’s all about the song, bare bones. How does that sound, make people feel just one on one playing it on guitar? I’m with you on that. I tried to get tickets to The Walter Kerr Theatre in New York, they were insanely expensive, and I could not afford them. But I’ve watched it on Netflix a few times, and I’ve listened to it all the time too.
There’s just something so special about the storytelling of a song and you’re right, it doesn’t matter what genre it is, at the end of the day, it’s just how does it make people feel? Stripped down and bare bones? So yeah, I love that you said that, because that matters for me as a songwriter. And most the time when I’m writing songs and sending them to my manager, my family, it’s just my phone and me, playing it in my apartment and I can always tell if they like it, or if they’re like, yeah, or they don’t answer. But, I feel like that’s really important as a songwriter, if you can play that song with just you and your guitar, or you and your piano and how it resonates.
You had the thrill of hitting the Grand Ole Opry stage as the first female Quebecois country artist. Tell me about that, it had to be the most special thing.
It was very special. To be honest, it was a wild experience, because I was on my way back from a gig on a Tuesday night and driving and my friend Ryan Kinder, who I performed with, just texted me saying, Hey, I know, this is like a little crazy. But do you want to come sing on Saturday night at the Grand Ole Opry, how do you say no to that?
We pulled some serious, serious strings to be able to pull it off. And the next thing, we were there backstage and getting to work with the Opry band, and then just going out and getting to perform, not to mention, it was one of the first performances where there was an audience. That too, after two years of not having people in the crowd, and then just getting to go out and sing was really special and also just such a historical venue.
I think any artists, walking out on stages, would agree that there’s some magic there and I think it humbles you a lot in the in the way that just the amount of people that have stepped on that stage and been out there.
It’s a very humbling moment to be out there.
Go to BrittanyKennell.com to check out tour dates, music and more.