New Artist Spotlight: Thompson Square

With “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not” breaking big, Thompson Square is set to release their self-titled debut album on February 8.  In this exclusive interview with the married couple, we discuss their ‘over night success,’ their Opry debut and much, much more!

Their story is a typical story for music city, USA, that of the 10-plus-year grind-it-out overnight sensation. For Keifer Thompson he migrated in 1996 from Miami, Oklahoma to Nashville to be a singer/songwriter while Shawna Thompson migrated from the small town of Chatom, Alabama to be a singer/songwriter herself.   In this interview we discuss how it all started from moving to Nashville to the long ride to their current position where their second single “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not?” has made the duo the first real break-out artist of 2011. 

Matt Bjorke: Where did you meet?

Shawna Thompson: We met at a talent contest here in Nashville at the Nashville Nightlife.  It was a weekly contest they had and we’ve literally been together since that night.

Keifer Thompson: Yeah, we moved here the same week.

Shawna: Back in 1996…

Matt: wow…So a natural overnight success, then?

Keifer: Yeah a 13-14 year program…

Matt: So, who are some of your influences?

Keifer: I started writing songs because of Merle Haggard but as I got older Bruce Springsteen was really my go to guy for everything, along with Bob Dylan and some of those epic songwriters.  But I pull from everything, from 80’s rock and roll, 80’s country and 90’s country. 

Matt: Basically what you grew up on?

Keifer: Yeah, I love everything, so I don’t have one or two people I idolize, outside of Springsteen.  If I had to pick just one it’d be him and we listen to him every time we go to write.  He kinda puts me in the right mind to write.

Shawna: For me, I was around gospel music a lot and my dad took me to bluegrass music festivals a lot.  My brother exposed me to his Heavy metal music. So, I was exposed to that and I’m kind of like Keifer that way in that I like everything.  But my big idol was Reba and I grew up loving Pam Tillis as well.  Alabama was my first concert and I recently got to meet Mark Herndon, the drummer. So that was pretty cool.

Keifer: I went through a punk phase…

Matt: We all go through phases, growing up…

Keifer:  I still listen to Elvis, Violent Femmes and Ray Price. 

Shawna: There’s even some rap stuff we like…

Matt: I think everyone’s more or less that way these days…

Keifer: The 80s was such a wonderful time of music, period, whether it was Run DMC or some country stuff.

Matt: What was it like for you to be able to sign with Stoney Creek/Broken Bow, especially after all the years working around Nashville?

Keifer: It was one of the few labels in town we wanted to sign with.  Simply because we like the independent way, it’s more stream-lined and faster and there’s more of a family atmosphere here than, say, your bigger labels.  Sometimes artists get lost in the shuffle so for us to be on a label with one or two other artists, you just get more attention and you know everybody and get to forge great relationships with everyone at the label.  Benny (Brown), our label owner, he’s like my Grandpa, he’s an awesome guy.  So to be able to have that one on one relationship, its kind-of unheard-of when it comes to the bigger labels and when it came time to pick the songs for our record, it was me, Shawna and Benny.

Matt: there are very few label bosses that I know of that are that hands-on…

Keifer:  Stoney Creek wanted us to keep our own image, our own wardrobe and didn’t try to change anything.  When it came time to pitch songs for the record, they took 8 out of 10 got through.

Shawna: When Benny announced that he was offering us the deal, it was pretty surreal. It didn’t go down exactly as I had envisioned it to. I envisioned balloons and confetti falling out of the air…

Matt: That’ll be for the Gold and Platinum parties, right?

Keifer: Yeah, it was so surreal because we’d been working so hard and we wanted the deal, everyone wants the record deal but there’s part of your mind that always thinks it’s never gonna happen, even when it does…

Shawna: It’s still very surreal to me that we even have the deal and that we’re doing all of this…

Keifer: Yeah, but that little part of your ego that says you’re gonna fail is your safety-net.  It’s that part of you that is there so if you don’t hit your goals, you don’t feel quite as bad.  It is weird and strange to know that we’re actually out doing it and have a Top 20 record. It doesn’t seem real.

Matt: So most new artists go on radio tours and showcase themselves, how do you guys think that experience helped you forge the relationships that have helped to make “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not” the hit it has become?

Keifer: You can’t forge relationships without meeting them…

Shawna: It’d be impossible…

Keifer: It wouldn’t exist if we didn’t go on that radio tour. 

Shawna: We’ve made some great, great friends through that experience too, it’s been amazing.

Keifer: and in country music, the country format, unlike any other format for radio, if you don’t have a relationship with them you can’t get anything done.  You just can’t.  Some people will say well I’ve got Facebook and other ways of doing stuff and that’s all good and well and part of everything but without mainstream country radio, it’s very hard to get out there into the mainstream.

Matt: You played the Grand Ole Opry for the first time in November and just played it again recently.  What does it mean for you to be invited to play there? Particularly, when you got to debut at “The Mother Church of Country Music?”

Keifer: I was pretty much speechless, so was Shawna.  It was something we dreamed about since we were little kids.  I’ve told this story before – so Shawna’s tired of hearing it – but when I was a little kid, my dad’s insurance company – that he worked for – started WSM (“Nashville Life”) so I’ve got a picture of when I was a little bitty kid, in cut-off shorts, cowboy boots and hat, on the Ryman stage.  And he’s always been very, very proud of that all my life. So to have been able to go back and to have it at the Ryman, it’s just a rite of passage that was a very humbling experience.

Shawna:  Well, I’m from the boonies and we didn’t have cable or anything like that so when I went to my Dad’s friends – who had cable -  their place and saw the big red barn backdrop on TV, I was really intrigued.  I was actually more excited about being able to call my Dad and tell him than I was for myself, I think.

Keifer: My parents are even older than her parents and came from a town that gathered around the radio to listen to the Opry every weekend…

Matt: And it’s probably an easier milestone to tell them than for them to follow all of the chart stuff…

Shawna: Right, well Kiefer’s parents didn’t even understand it.  They thought we were just doing a regular show at the Ryman.  Kiefer had to actually call them back and say ‘no, we’re doing the Opry at the Ryman…”

Keifer: So needless to say, they dropped everything and drove out to see us perform there.

Matt: Yeah, I mean how many times does a parent get to see their kid perform their first Grand Ole Opry performance, at the Ryman?

Keifer: Only once, I think.

(all laugh)

 

Matt: Right, exactly!  So you got to tour with Jason Aldean.  What was it like to get out in front of those fans of his?

Keifer: It was a huge party! It was also very cool to get to bring a full band out on the road too.  Because it’s very hard to grab an audience of that size with just acoustics.  It really was a big party, with 10,000 people every night.

Matt: That’s what he also told me when I talked with him recently, that the crowd gives off a great party vibe…

Keifer: Our band’s great and did a great job, and the tour was great.  Luke Bryan was awesome as well.

Shawna: We actually played some after parties and Jason and Luke came out and hung out with us, which meant a lot to us…

Keifer: The cool thing about those guys too is that they can really sing and are great entertainers too…

Matt: So who did you work with on the album, who produced your album?

Keifer: NV (New Voice Entertainment), which is actually Jason’s band; Tully Kennedy, Kurt Allison, David Fanning and Rich Redmund.  So it’s been an interesting thing to have that many guys telling us what to do and when to do it but I think it makes a different sound cause they’re playing on the record and they’re friends of ours so they let us have our own input and we’ve collectively worked on the record.  They’re producing a product for us but they’re playing on it too.

Matt: Jason said that he wanted them on his album because they would be out playing live…

Keifer: Yeah, they’re that good but not everyone is that good.  I’ll throw myself under the bus, I can’t do that.  I can play steel a little bit and I can do some stuff live and people would say “he’s good” but I know if I played on a record, you wouldn’t buy that record…

(everyone laughs)

Keifer: what makes ‘em really special to me is that they decided that they’d work together and I know they had some hard times sticking together but they’ve now become producers and it’s paid off for ‘em.

Shawna: It definitely is a brotherhood there, with those guys.

Matt: I also think it says a lot about your record company that you are able to work with a team like that, or Jason working with Michael Knox, because I didn’t know who he was until then and now he’s working with so many other people…

Keifer: It only takes one…

Matt: Yeah, and it keeps the music fresh and not so same-song-y…

Keifer: Yeah and I didn’t like that kind of process, because it’s hard to stand out…

Matt: That’s one reason why I love seeing guys like Tom Bukovac on records because they hardly ever sound the same. 

Keifer: Yeah and Adam Shoenfeld is similar to that as well, he’s just stupid and insane.

Matt: How many songs did you get on the record?

Keifer: We recorded 14 songs for the album but we ended up with 12 and it was hard to decide which songs will get ‘cut.’ But we all decided that the same songs would be cut so it tells me that it was the right decision.

Matt: How has the internet, things like Facebook, Twitter and the like, how has that helped you reach new fans?

Keifer: well, without all of that stuff, you just cannot reach as many people.  So unless you’re Jason Aldean and you have 10,000 people a night coming to see you and you have to have that stuff.  I think Taylor Swift proved that to everyone, that you have to be active on your pages and that it helps to grow your audience.  The social networking, at this point, is absolutely crucial.  And as fan, before the internet, how did fans interact?

Matt: Fan Clubs…

Keifer: It’s huge because fans like to hear what you’re doing, like eating ice cream at Baskin Robbins or something like that.  People love the personal stuff that is posted…

Matt: What would you like to say to fans that may be learning about you (Thompson Square) for the first time?

Keifer: Thank you, thank you, thank you.  They’re the reason that we make music and do what we do.  We hope they like it and…

Shawna: They’re making our dreams come true!

Keifer:  Yeah, absolutely doing that so Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Note: To help celebrate the release of their Thompson Square album, we’ve partnered with Thompson Square and their label Stoney Creek Records to give you an exclusive  chance to win a special prize pack which consists of a musical Valentine’s Day card with “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not” playing and a copy of the CD.  The Card cannot be bought in stores or anywhere else!  Two runner-ups will receive a copy of the CD!  Click here to enter!

 

 

0 Comments