Thompson Square ‘Just Feels Good’ Blending Marriage and Music With Second Album
Thompson Square's Keifer and Shawna Thompson will probably never have to go to marriage counseling. If they find they're having trouble communicating, they'll just pull up a chair and write a song. But with 13 years of wedded bliss and a shared career that's hot as a firecracker, thanks to such hits as the No. 1 "Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not," the reigning CMA Vocal Duo of the Year is doing just fine. The couple's sophomore album, Just Feels Good, released March 26, is evidence that instead of closing ranks to deal with the chaos and constant attention surrounding their growing success, they opened up and revealed even more of themselves in song.
"The first album was kind of showing what we sound like," Shawna tells The Boot, "and this album is definitely more about who we are. We wanted it to tell our story and to write about things that are going on in our life right now -- how we met and everything that we've been through over the past three years ... there's a lot to write about."
While they definitely stretch out a bit on this latest album, romance still rules their musical world, and as a happily married couple they share a unique perspective through the songs they sing together night after night.
"Being married gives the songs that we sing a certain power," says Keifer. "It's not everybody who can sing to one another with that kind of intensity as two people who are in love and have such a long history like Shawna and I do. I think that comes across to the audience as being genuine, and the songs that are on the album that we had a hand in writing, especially, just feel so personal and close to our hearts. It's really therapeutic for us to be able to go out on stage and sing them each night. It's kind of like reliving the emotions and remembering where we came from and realizing how great of a life we have now together. There's a certain powerfulness of that that we're thankful for having."
With the success of their hits "Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not" (now a double-platinum single) and "I Got You" from their debut CD, there were fleeting thoughts about the dreaded sophomore curse, but the pair had faith in the evolution of their songwriting and knew they still had plenty to say. The biggest struggle, they found, was just finding the time to get it down on paper. With a hectic touring schedule, the husband-and wife team had to carve out time on the road to write, and made sure some of their favorite writers came out with them to keep them motivated creatively. A trip to Breckenridge, Colo., with tunesmiths David Lee Murphy and Brett James led to nearly a third of the new album, and the four found inspiration amidst the steam -- proof positive they'll write almost anywhere!
"We wrote seven songs that weekend and three or four made the record. Most of them we wrote in the hot tub," says Keifer. "But when you have the kind of backdrop you have there ... if you're not inspired there, you're not inspired anywhere! It was absolutely breathtaking. And those guys are great guys, too, not just great writers."
The pair also had friends Kyle Jacobs and Vicky McGehee join them to write on the road, finding a certain comfort level writing with people who know them well as a couple. "One thing we've had to do is find other writers to write with us that know me and Kiefer and know how he talks to me and how I talk to him. They're almost like part of the family now," Shawna explains.
Currently on Luke Bryan's tour, the two are constantly together while out on the road, but they've been able to cut back a little on their tour schedule this year, giving them more time to devote to family and have a somewhat normal life. Their two dogs, Etta and Barkley, join them on the road, and they've also found ways to cope with the stress of traveling.
"We enjoy the road, and we have a good time," Keifer notes. " And how you don't go crazy with a schedule like ours is you find something you can eat, breathe and sleep, and that you dream about doing, and you do it for a living. That's how you don't go crazy. But when you're so close to each other all the time on a little bus, when you do occasionally fight, you have to figure out how to get over it quick and let it go. Because, if you harbor those feelings, you're gonna be freaking miserable out here on the road trying to do this, and you're gonna make everybody around you miserable. Luckily, this year is half as busy as the last two or three ... we did 250 dates the last few years, but on Luke's tour this year we're doing 110 dates and are actually able to go home and enjoy ourselves and kind of be normal again. We just bought a house down in Alabama close to family, so we get to see them a lot more by design. After Shawna's daddy passed away, we thought it was important to get back to family."
That loss, as devastating as it was, was actually part of the inspiration behind Thompson Square's latest hit, "If I Didn't Have You," which has become their fastest-rising single to date. Fans are connecting with the song's sentiment of an all-encompassing love. Shawna recalls that the tune came to them quickly. "We wrote that with Jason Sellers and Paul Jenkins, who we wrote 'I Got You' with. We were out on the road writing and I had just lost my dad like a month before, and Paul had lost his grandfather, too. So we were talking that out and having a little bit of a therapy session, and the title kind of just fell out. Jason and Keifer started playing this cool melody and it didn't take long to write because we had everything we wanted to say in our heads because it was so emotional and so real. We're excited that it's doing so well and the fans are relating to it."
There's plenty on the new CD for fans to relate to, from the playful energy of "Everything I Shouldn't Be Thinking About," to the give-and-take tussles of "Here We Go Again," and the let 'er rip party anthem "Here's to Being Here." They also go outside the box a bit on several songs, such as the Luke Laird/Shane McAnally/Hillary Lindsey-penned "Testing the Water," a song Shawna instantly fell in love with that gives her some room to run, vocally.
"It's kind of a white girl rap," Shawna says of the tune. "It's probably one of my favorites on the album. It came in very last minute, and as soon as I heard it, I played it over and over in my car. Typically, that doesn't happen with me. I know it sounds crazy since I sing for a living, but I don't listen to a lot of music. So when I heard it and it hit me like that, I thought, 'We have to cut this.' I took it to Kiefer and I kinda had to talk him into it, because I don't think he thought I could really pull it off. "
"I just wanted to make sure she'd be comfortable doing it forever," adds Keifer, "and she did a great job on it. She can pretty much do everything."
The two clearly have a mutual admiration society that helps fuel their creativity, and reveal that they've witnessed each other grow quite a bit over the past three years, amidst all the awards, Grammy nominations, platinum singles, major tours and the like. That growth is part of what has them excited for what the future holds.
"I think Shawna has grown as a songwriter and that's been really cool to watch her grow in confidence as a writer. To be honest, I don't like to write without her anymore," admits Keifer. "There was a time when she didn't really consider herself as a writer and it turns out she's the reason why a lot of the songs are what they are now. She's a really great writer, so I think she's come into her own in that regard. I've grown a lot as a singer and she's helped me with that a lot, too. It's just been a cool process to hear what you sounded like five to 10 years ago and what you sound like now. We've been writing for a long time, and on this round the songs just seemed to come a lot easier for us. Even the songs we didn't write on this album, they just made perfect sense for the continuity of it. The whole thing just kind of tells the story of where we came from, and who we are, and we definitely made the album we wanted to make. It's being well-received at our shows, so we just couldn't be more excited about it!"