When they set out to make their second album, married couple Keifer and
Shawna Thompson of the pop-country duo Thompson Square found themselves in a
significantly different place than when they'd recorded their self-titled debut album two years
earlier. In that time, they'd scored a double-platinum-selling, No. 1-charting
hit with "Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not," opened several major tours, earned two
Grammy nominations, and claimed both the Country Music Association and Academy
of Country Music trophies for Vocal Duo of the Year, among other awards.
For the couple, married for 14 years, the second album needed to represent
their newfound confidence and reflect their growth as artists honed, in part,
through long stints on the road playing arena shows as the opening act for Jason Aldean, Lady Antebellum and, currently, Luke Bryan. They also wanted it to be
more personal. So for that second album, "Just Feels Good," which hit retailers
March 26, the couple helped pen five of the 13 songs, with Keifer co-writing a
sixth. The result is a solid and entertaining work, more upbeat and feel-good
than their previous set, and punctuated by autobiographical songs like hit lead
single "If I Didn't Have You" as well as "That's So Me and You," plus one they
didn't write, "Home Is You," for which the couple tweaked a few lyrics to make
it more true to their lives.
In an interview with MSN Music, they talk about the pressure to top their
initial success, why their music blurs the lines between pop and country, their
chances of repeating their win at this year's ACM Awards, trying to maintain a
normal life on the road, and how to enjoy being "the idiot that you are."
MSN Music: With all the big successes you had on your first album, did you
feel extra pressure to top yourselves beyond just the usual sophomore
Keifer Thompson: I think so. As an artist you're supposed to grow and show
that growth and maturity. You learn a lot, hopefully, when you're out there on
the road. I think that's what this album [shows]. We said exactly what we wanted
to say. And it's an album we wanted to have a lot more fun on. We learned in the
live show it's not necessarily about ... ballads. I enjoy singing ballads, but
when you go to a concert, you want to have some fun. Shawna and I like to turn
the guitars up to 10 and rock out. We didn't have a whole lot of that on that
first record, and wanted more of that on this one for that live show.
What other goals did you set out to accomplish, musically, with this
Keifer: Most importantly it was to make a better album than the first one.
The first album introduced how Thompson Square sounds and [on] this album we
really wanted to introduce who Thompson Square was. Sonically, we wanted to grow
a little bit, stretch out a little bit without losing who we were. A lot more
focus went in on this record.
Shawna Thompson: A lot more focus on the writing, too. We had a lot of
songwriters come out on the road with us. We just wanted the lyrics to be
meaningful and be real, and we can absolutely say with complete honesty that
every song on this record is real to something that we've experienced or been
Did being the reigning ACM and CMA vocal duo of the year give you an extra
boost of confidence as you were writing and recording this album?
Shawna: Absolutely. We actually used our ACM trophy as motivation. We had it
in the studio with us. We had it up on the console for just about the whole time
we were recording just as a reminder that there's a certain standard needed to
win an award like that and to try to keep up with that standard. It was really
important to us to make a record that reflected that.
Keifer: We don't ever take it for granted and take it very seriously. When
you do win one of those awards, it means everything to an artist.
How do you like your chances for adding another one on the April 7 ACM
Keifer: I think our chances are really good, but you just never know what's
going to happen at an awards show. There's upsets all the time. We had a really
good one [ourselves last year].
Other than the ACM award on the console, what else was significantly
different for you between recording the first album and recording this
Shawna: We experimented a lot more on this record with different sounds and
Keifer: We had a lot more fun. There's no monkey off your back [the second
time], certainly, but it's that feeling of "OK, we made it through three
singles. We're doing good. We're here to stay. Let's relax a little bit and have
some fun with this."
Contemporary country music has so many different styles incorporated under
its umbrella now. Where do you draw or blur the lines between country, pop and
everything else you've been influenced by?
Keifer: I'd be surprised to find someone with just one genre of music on
their iPod nowadays. The Internet has opened up a whole gamut of [ways] for fans
to find good music. Our iPod's all over the place. We didn't go in [the studio]
and say, "We'll push it this far," or, "We don't want to go this far." We just
kind of left the gates open. The reason why it's country is because it's all
rooted in traditional country music and stories.
Shawna: And the lyrics. That's what country music is all about, true stories
and love and heartbreak.
Keifer: As much as I love crying steel, you don't have to have all that on
there to define who you are as an artist, especially as a country artist, and
especially nowadays. The songs are there. The stories are there. The voices are
there, and the honesty and our lifestyle. ... Country music is who you are, not
what something might sound like.
You have a novel coming out June 4 based on "Are You Gonna Kiss Me or
Not." What's that all about?
Shawna: We collaborated with Travis Thrasher, who's done a couple of books
with other country artists. It's just a simple little love story about a couple
who shared a love of music and they are best friends, and quite possibly might
become more than that. I don't want to give too much away
Keifer: It's not based on us, though.
Shawna: It's completely fictional. It's loosely based on the song.
In your current single, you wrote the line "This life would kill me if I
didn't have you." What is it about life on the road that's so difficult
Keifer: We just bought a house, and we've been in it maybe six or seven days
in three or four months. You're just gone all the time. ... The reason me and
Shawna are doing Thompson Square is because in the very beginning we decided
that our marriage was the most important thing in our lives, and [wondered] how
do we couple that with following our dream. The only answer was to form a
Shawna: The hardest thing for us is just being away from family. That's one
reason why we bought a place down in Alabama, so when we are home, we can be
with our families. [The couple also has a residence in the Nashville area.]
That's [also] one reason why we bought our dogs [was] to have a sort of normalcy
on the road.
What has it been like so far touring with Luke Bryan?
Keifer: It's a big party. It's so much fun. It's our first middle slot on a
major tour, and being able to carry all the production and have our own
18-wheeler for the first time, it's just really exciting stuff. I feel like a
kid again playing my first gig.
You've been out on some big tours now between Luke and Jason Aldean and
Lady Antebellum. What have you learned from each of them that you're now
applying to your own show?
Keifer: We like to do ballads, and Lady A had a lot of ballads in their show.
We saw with all [their] sold-out shows that that's OK to do that. It doesn't
have to be on 11 the whole time. With Jason, his crowd is just going crazy all
night long, so that definitely pushed us to bring the energy level up in our own
show. And then with Luke, what we've learned so far is it's OK to laugh at
yourself and be funny and just enjoy being the idiot that you are.
Shawna: Luke's definitely not afraid to show his personality, and that's
what's endearing about him. We learned to go out there and just show, literally,
who we are and not be afraid of it.
Keifer, I think you just called Luke Bryan an idiot somewhere in that
Keifer: [laughs] No, I called myself an idiot. I meant that in the most
endearing way. I think all of us are just a little bit goofy, and Luke's no
exception to that, [or] guys like Blake Shelton. They just are who they are no
matter how big they get. That's what makes them so special.
Veteran entertainment journalist Phyllis Stark has been reporting
extensively on the music industry for two decades. As a freelance writer, her
work appears regularly in numerous publications and sites. She previously was
Nashville bureau chief at Billboard magazine.
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