Country rock singer/musician Brett Kingswell, known for his raspy drawl, was the perfect choice for Paula Watters’ and Frank Kempf of Tillsonburg, to co-write and convert Watters’ poem into the song, The Questions Burn.
It’s a song that asks questions after a suicide. Hard questions. A song that came about after a death by suicide in Kempf’s family last year.
“Basically, Paula (Watters) reached out to me, I think it was middle to end of October,” said Kingswell, who posted the video on YouTube Nov. 26. The song has also been added to Spotify.
“She said she had an idea for project and they would be interested in working with me together on it,” said Kingswell. “She gave me the narrative of the story over the phone and she read the lyrics she had written. Immediately I was totally drawn to it. Obviously it’s a great cause and I was honoured to be asked to do it.”
Kingswell went to work on it with his guitar.
“I kind of had an idea right off the get-go of how I wanted the melody to go, how I heard the chord progression in my head. So I kind of put together the structure of the song, chord-wise, and dug the melody out as it stands now.
“It was fast – in fact I had it done the next day. Obviously the song changed and it grew a little bit, but in terms of the basic melody, the basic chord structure… as soon she read the lyrics to me in poem form – lyric form – it was almost instantaneous how I could hear it and really translate those lyrics. They were great lyrics, they were written really well, so it was kind of easy for me to slot them into that format.
“It’s Frank Kempf’s voice that I’m echoing through this song, and from a mental health perspective I can absolutely understand where they are coming from. When you think about the sort of way that people are taken from us too quickly, and you’re just left with all these questions and so many unanswered things. You wish you could have a conversation about it.”
Kingswell said The Questions Burn is almost like a conversation after the fact, or a letter written to a lost loved one.
“It absolutely resonated with me. That’s the reason I was immediately drawn to the project and the song actually, it’s just because it did make sense to me in a lot of ways.”
On his website, it is noted that Kingswell has had original music chart on international mainstream radio, and success with original music licensing to international television and film.
“Brett fell upon some dark and difficult times, losing his footing for those worlds in which he previously both thrived in and loved,” according to his website. “Crippled with addiction, depression, and anxiety, Brett stumbled aimlessly through life for many years, leaving dormant his passion and purpose for music, creation, and connection.”
In 2018, Kingswell began “fully facing his demons and devices”, committing to “self care, love and improvement, supported by family, friends, fans and followers.” And in 2019, Kingswell released a three-song EP, Better Everyday.
“Mental health and wellness is a lifelong journey,” said Kingswell, now living in London. “So it’s not as much in the past as it’s in the present. Yes, I went through some years of addiction and a lot of depression and anxiety. I just wasn’t doing very well. So I took some time to kind of reconnect with myself and music was a big part of that, really cathartic in helping me get back in touch with myself and with my life.
“So, yeah, its something that happened. It’s something that happens to a lot of people. And I kept it hidden for a long time. Then one day I just decided ‘I don’t want to hide this anymore. I want to kind of admit and accept my truth,’ and I told the world, or at least my circle through music, what I was going through.”
Kingswell said a lot of the reaction was ‘You? Really? We had no idea.’
He also got responses from people having the same issues, and people said, ‘It’s great to know you’re just as human as we are.’
“That’s a big reason why they (Paula Watters and Frank Kempf) asked me to be part of the song,” he noted. “Certainly, I have a passion for mental health and wellness given what I’ve been through. It was a good fit for them to call upon me to see if I could kind of be the one to echo their sentiments and what they were feeling. So I think it was kind of timely in that regard and I think a good fit too.”
The Questions Burn was recorded and produced in the Fergus area by Brian Hewson, with several Ontario musicians lending their talents.
“I think I went up on four different occasions,” said Kingswell. “It was a bit of a process, but it was a good one, a positive one. And it was fun too.”
The most impactful lines, for Kingswell, are in the chorus, starting with ‘Why you? Why now?’
“That just has great dynamics. I think that for me is the part that’s the strongest, the part that definitely resonates the most. As Paula was reading it to me, I thought ‘yep, that’s where we’re going to hit the chorus really hard.’ I think that moment has the most impact for me.”
Over the course of his career in music, which started at the age of 23 when he learned to play the guitar, Kingswell has played the festival circuit, and ‘gigged’ on tour.
“I’m a little bit older now, I’m 44, so obviously thing are little bit different for me, but I want to keep doing what I’m doing, which is writing, co-writing, creating, recording, supporting new music in the same sort of vein that I’m doing this positive stuff.”
His 2020 gigs were cancelled by COVID, but Kingswell said it’s just a matter of getting the wind back in the sails for 2021 – or whenever it’s safe to play live gigs.
“I’ve been doing a lot of solo stuff for the last several years and I’ll probably continue down that route. I definitely will be itching to get back out to play live when things turn around.”