Chattanooga Times Free Press entertainment reporter Casey Phillips spoke with Keifer and Shawna Thompson of the country duo Thompson Square about their introduction to the song that made them superstars, how being married has improved their careers and their recent performance at the Country Music Association Awards.
CP: Does being husband and wife make performing together easier or harder? It obviously goes into a lot of Keifer's writing.
KT: I think it's definitely easier. We just continually have someone to play off of and interact with. I think the crowd doesn't get tired of hearing just one person's voice all night. For us, it's definitely easy. We've done both.
CP: David Lee Murphy and Jim Collins wrote “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not?” What about it spoke to you when you heard it?
KT: The first time it was demoed was a month before we recorded it, and when we heard it the first time, it almost seemed like something we would have written. It sounded like our story and fit in our vein of style. It seemed like a hit to us, and we had to record it. It touched us like it did everyone else.
CP: You guys have had a big week. Shawna, I read that you were nervous about singing in front of Reba McEntire at the CMA Awards show. How did that go?
ST: When we rehearsed, they had all the lights on in Bridgestone Arena, so I thought that was going to be how it was going to be when we performed, but thank goodness, it wasn't. When we went on the night before last, they had all the lights on the floor off, so you couldn't see anyone in front of you. Otherwise, I would have been a nervous wreck to see her looking back at me because when I was a kid, she was my favorite. I went to every concert when she was close, and I had every DVD and CD. That would have been wild.
CP: Did you get a chance to meet her after the show?
ST: Keifer and I met her at the ACM Honors very briefly. We didn't get to chat with her or anything, but we did grab a picture. Maybe someday I'll get to sit down and have a conversation with her. That would be nice.
CP: You two initially met at a singing event in Nashville shortly after you moved to the city. Which came first, musical compatibility or romantic compatibility?
ST: It was definitely relationship first. We did meet that night and have literally been together every night since that night. We've only been doing the Thompson Square thing for about six years together. Love came first. [Laughs.]
CP: You both came to Nashville expecting to be solo artists, which you tried for a couple of years. Why did you initially want to go it alone?
KT: Well, we didn't know each other. [Laughs.] We came in town to be artists, and we met really quickly, but we didn't realize until a few years into our marriage that the best way for us to coexist was for us to be together all the time.
Being apart and doing our own things … we just weren't happy. We were happy doing music, and the relationship wasn't suffering, but it wasn't as good without her.
ST: Keifer would be gone doing his own thing on the road, and I would be at home miserable and missing him. Now, we're getting to do what we both love to do together. It doesn't get any better than that.
CP: Have you found that your approach to songwriting has changed since you started touring together?
KT: Absolutely. It's very focused now. We're very picky on subject matter and really try to hone everything to be specifically for Thompson Square so it makes sense. If one of us doesn't like it, we tend to bail on it and go with something we both agree on. We both have to be happy with a song to record it.
CP: What's your batting average on writing songs you both agree on?
KT: Now, it's pretty close, and we're pretty good with it. Not everything makes it, obviously, but at least when we write it, we try to do the best we can to do that. You can write 1,000 songs and get one on a record, so it's not quite like a batting average. If it was a batting average, we'd be on the bench. [Laughs.] Our songs have gotten really close to what we think they need to be, in terms of what Thompson Square wants to sing about.
CP: What does Thompson Square want to sing about?
KT: It depends on the day. It's more of what we don't want to talk about, which makes it easier. We're not the get-drunk-and-get-high kind of band, so we don't talk about those things. We don't express those feelings. We're about relationships and partying and having a good time and rocking out … fun stuff.
It would sound really weird if we were singing songs about “Let's get drunk and beat somebody.” That would be a very difficult song for me and Shawna to pull off.
CP: What does it mean to you to know that “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not?” has been played more than any other country song this year? Does that affect your perception of yourselves as musicians?
KT: I guess in a way it does because we're having some validation for all our hard work and validation from our peers and the business that we're in that we're legit and are here to stay and can produce good music and write good music and will be around for a while. It's cool to be accepted in the country music community as one of their own.
ST: It's so weird because we've been on the road so much and not able to listen to the radio really, so we didn't realize our song was being played that much. When someone says that, it's like, “Wow, that's crazy.” Then, you go to the show and hear the crowd singing back to us, and it's like, “How do they know all the words?” [Laughs.]
KT: We did a show at the Hard Rock Café during the CMA's, and they presented us with a plaque for the most-played song of the year. That's something no one can take away from us. That year was ours, and nobody can say anything different.
That's a monumental feat for any artist, and we thank God for that everyday for delivering that song to us via David Lee and Jim Collins. We're extremely humbled by the whole experience. It's weird when you're out there getting ready to sing in front of all your fans and the other country music artists - some of the biggest ones of all time - that your song was played more than any of theirs. That's a very humbling thought.
CP: Does it feel like all these accolades and recognition are striking from out of the blue or does it feel like they're justified after paying your dues for so many years?
KT: I'm not answering that. You're crazy, buddy. [Laughs.] I don't know that we deserve any of it. I don't think anybody deserves anything. I think you work hard to chase a dream down, and if you get some accolades along the way, that's gravy. We've never felt like we deserved anything. It's just keeping your head down, not worrying about everyone else and seeing how great you can make your music and how long you can sustain your career.
ST: Honestly, Keifer and I love what we do and are happy to be able to do what we love to do every day. We played for many many years down on Broadway for little to no money at all just because we love playing music and love playing it together. All the other stuff, like he said, is extra.
CP: I'm assuming you play “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not?” at all your shows, but what else has been on your set lists lately?
KT: In a 60-minute show, we play every song on our album except for one. We do a handful of covers, obviously, because we don't have material and we want people to have some familiarity with what we're doing. We do a Joan Jett song, a Tom Petty Song, Bon Jovi sometimes. We're working on an Aerosmith song now. We do a George [Jones] and Tammy [Wynette] song. We like all kinds of music, so we try to incorporate a little bit of everything into our shows.
ST: It's cool now to see people singing back to us on “I Got You,” which is our second Top 10 and our first Top 10 as songwriters.
KT: It's really cool, man. The fact that the crowd is singing back on many of the songs on the album is a wonderful feeling to know that people listen to the music so much that they learn the lyrics to all your songs when they come out to the show. That's just a dream come true.
CP: With all the touring you've done in 2011 and all the accolades you've received, how do you plan to one up yourselves in 2012?
KT: Hopefully, we'll be able to use all the props and everything we've used in our shows. We've really tried to step it up as far as the opening acts are concerned. Next year, we'll crank it up even more. We'll be on the road with Lady Antebellum and Darius [Rucker] for most of the year next year.
We've got some cool surprises coming up. We're reinvesting in ourselves to give the fans a better experience. We're just trying to represent ourselves as legitimate artists. We're continuing to release singles that we feel are hits, and hopefully, our fans and the people out there will agree and will like a couple of them. We're writing right now for the next record.
CP: What can you tell me about the next album?
ST: Really, right now we're just writing for it. Hopefully, we'll have time in February to go in and start recording some stuff. It's going to be a little weird trying to schedule a recording time because Jason Aldean's band are our producers, so we'll need to schedule around Jason's schedule and the Lady A tour, so it's going to be tight.
KT: It just depends on how the singles do, too, how long they're on the chart and how long it takes them to go up the chart. It depends on that. We're definitely not in a hurry. I'd like to get three more singles out of this record because I believe in these songs. That's going to be difficult to get three, but I think we'll get two more.
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...