Thompson Square, High on Success of ‘Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not,’ Find Balance Between Career and Marriage
Last year around this time, Keifer Thompson and his wife Shawna were bartenders at a local Nashville joint, The Wheel, on Lower Broadway. The couple dreamed of what it would be like to have a song on the charts and be touring coast-to-coast on a major tour, having fans singing their songs back to them.
This week, Keifer and Shawna -- now known around the world as country music's hottest new duo, Thompson Square -- are beside themselves as their single, 'Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not,' takes over the No. 1 position. The feat is something they worked hard to accomplish. Thompson Square are gearing up to release their next single, 'I Got You,' from their self-titled debut album on Stoney Creek Records. In July, they will be hitting the road with Jason Aldean on his My Kinda Party Tour, along with special guest Chris Young.
Taste of Country caught up with Thompson Square recently to talk about the road that led them to here, what they think the secret is to a happy marriage and the successful moment almost inspired them to get tattooed.
Tell us the story of how you two met.
Keifer: We both moved here in '96, and we met the same week. I came into Nashville Nightlife, saw Shawna, went up and started hitting on her. I challenged her to pool. She beat me at pool because her dad had a pool hall she didn't tell me about.
Shawna: It was funny. He was trying to show me how to hold the cue stick.
Keifer: Next week we went on our first date, which was a softball game. I wore a cowboy hat all the time. She thought I was a cowboy. So she went and got her cowboy hat and wore it at the softball game for me. We've been together ever since. We did our own individual careers, we dated three years doing contests and touring and all these things. We've been married 12 years in May, so I guess about five or six years into it we were kind of miserable because we weren't together all the time. For some reason, every job we've done since the time we met, we've been together.
You both tried pursuing solo careers when you moved to Nashville, so when was that moment when you realized a duo was the way to go?
Keifer: We've done everything together since we met. I was out touring with this other artist, and Shawna was off doing her thing. We just didn't like being apart, so we tried to figure out how to get everything put together. She would sit in with me down on Broadway when I was playing in my band and people kept saying, 'Man, this is really cool! You guys sound better together than you guys do individually. There's something special there.' We just kind of ignored it. Finally, after getting beat over the head with it for several months, we thought maybe there was something there. We were trying to figure out a way to be together, and we didn't want one of our dreams to come true and the other one not, so that's when we decided to put it together. We started going through songs and catalogs and stuff and found our sound and what we wanted to do. After we had that figured out, we had something to hang our hat on. It was going to be success or failure, but it didn't matter -- that's what we were going to do. We knew our identity and how we were going to sing.
Shawna: It was weird -- when we decided to come together, it was like we found who we were as artists. Individually, we were both like dabbling in this and dabbling in that. It came together, and we were like, 'Oh, this is what we're going to do! This is it! This is our thing!'
Did you face many struggles or heartbreaks in the business during that time?
Keifer: In 2008 or 2009, it was like we were picking each other up off the floor after being disappointed so many times. It was like the straw that broke Shawna's back, and I just had mine before that. She just said, 'I’m not doing this anymore. I can't handle it.' So I said, 'Just give it one more year ... I promise, just one more year.' Because I'd been saying that for years to myself. I thought I'd be here five years and then leave, but then I decided to give it seven and then ten. Fifteen years was my final number because I knew it took David Lee Murphy fifteen years, so I thought if he can handle it, I can handle it. So she agreed to one more year and said after that she would be gone with or without me. Not long after that conversation was when we were signed to Stoney Creek Records. We had gone to dinner with the label’s staff one night, and that's where they announced that we were the newest signees to the label. It was an amazing, amazing, amazing night.
What’s been one of the hardest adjustment to make in your lives now now that you are one of the hottest duos in country music?
Shawna: I didn't realize what a hard job it is. It's not all glitz and glamor. It's up early in the morning and in bed late at night.
Keifer: It's the hardest thing we've ever done. It's awesome, but you never clock out -- that's the big difference. All the other jobs we've ever had, you can clock out, go home and chill. This one you don't. You're always on. Your phone is always ringing, you're always on Facebook, you're always on Twitter ... I mean, you're always doing something to further this thing. It's a blessing to be able to do that, but it's exhausting too. I mean, we try and sneak two or three hour naps here and there just to try and get any sleep at all! We have to schedule sleep on a calendar [laughs]. It's really 90 percent business and 10 percent performing and writing and stuff. It's a lot of business and a lot of work, but it's very rewarding.
What’s the secret to being married and working together nonstop?
Keifer: I don’t know what the secret is. I guess the secret is if it's supposed to be that way then it is. I mean, I'm not going to say it doesn't suck sometimes. I mean anytime you're with anyone for that much time you're going to have times when you think, "Oh my God, I can't handle it."
Shawna: It's really the way it works for us. We've tried it apart and we were miserable.
What’s the best and worst part about traveling and working with your spouse?
Keifer: Being together all the time is the best and worst thing. That's really the only way to explain it. It is the way it's supposed to be for us. This works best, and it's how we want it. It's not for everybody. I can't tell you the amount of people who have said to me they couldn't do it. It is hard sometimes, but for the most part it's good.
It definitely takes a certain type of person to be able to handle a relationship in the music business.
Shawna: We understand how much we love music. I can't imagine these girls who have husbands out on the road all the time, and their husbands have this passion for music that they don't really understand what that passion is because they’re not involved in music somehow.
What went through your heads each week as you continued to watch ‘Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not’ climb all the way to the top of the charts?
Keifer: It jumped from 19 to three in leaps. We don’t know any different, but everyone kept saying that doesn’t happen. So we're just thankful. We're so happy that the fans are gravitating towards the song and us as a live act. We can see it at our shows that people seem to be into what we're doing. I'll be honest with you: We're freaking out [laughs]!
Shawna: When we heard we were going to be in the Top 40 we were like, "Oh my God! This is incredible!" We almost went and got tattoos! We entered at No. 37 in the Top 40, and we thought about going to get ‘37’ tattoos.
Keifer: What it boiled down for us was if this was supposed to happen then it would happen. It's totally out of our hands, and we just had faith.
Besides having a No. 1 hit, what has been another huge milestone you’ve experienced so far?
Shawna: Getting to perform on the Opry!
Keifer: We’ve been on the Opry three times, and we're going to be on the Opry again in April, then a full blown Jason Aldean tour all summer long. Our calendar is so full that we really can't even book any more shows! It's just amazing. God has blessed us so much, and we got pushed to the very limits of what we can handle. We're just very blessed. We hoped and prayed and some of it is finally coming true. We're just going to hang on for the ride.
Shawna: I wouldn't change anything about our journey even if I could because we learned so much through those years about the business and touring. I think it was just God's way of preparing us, you know?
Keifer: Shawna and I are just elated right now. Can't believe it's actually happening. We wished it would, but you know, you kind of don’t think it ever will cause that keeps you safe. You distance yourself from your own emotions so you don't get hurt as much if it fails but it's working!
Watch the Thompson Square 'Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not' Video