Thompson Square Downplays
Duets on Just Feels Good
By Sarah Skates
© 2013 CMA Close Up® News Service
/ Country Music Association®, Inc.
Keifer and Shawna Thompson explore
new avenues and share stories of their personal and professional voyage on Just
Feels Good, the second album they’ve released as Thompson Square.
wanted to really open up our lives to everybody on this album,” Keifer explained.
“It’s literally a soundtrack to our lives over the last 13 or 15 years.”
“I’m so proud of this album because they did what is so tough to do: They
stayed true to their brand but really pushed themselves creatively,” added Jon
Loba, Executive VP, The BBR Music Group, which includes the group’s label, Stoney
Creek Records. “It’s a journey of where they’ve been content-wise, but production-wise
it is a roller coaster. They had to come with a next-level project and they did.
One listen to this album and Thompson Square elevates.”
The married twosome
experienced the rush of success with their breakout No. 1, “Are You Gonna Kiss
Me or Not.” Written by Jim Collins and David Lee Murphy, the single achieved
double Platinum for digital downloads and became the most played song at Country
radio in 2011, according to Mediabase. In 2012, Thompson Square earned numerous
distinctions, including CMA’s Vocal Duo of the Year Award, and a Grammy nomination
for Best Country Song and Best Country Duo/Group Performance of the Year.
The duo averages 250 dates a year on the road. As guests on tours with Jason
Aldean and Lady Antebellum, they played to more than a million fans. This demanding
itinerary taught them some important lessons. For example, Keifer notes that performing
onstage night after night helped them understand the importance of building a
varied set list, from ballads to feel-good uptempos, in preparation for their
future as headliners. Also, opportunities arose for them to explore new outlets,
including co-writing a novel, Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not, based on
the hit song and released on June 4.
The commercial success, enriched by
years of working together before their breakthrough single, informed Thompson
Square’s confidence as songwriters and artists. Armed with plenty of creative
ammunition, they were ready to start on the follow-up to their self-titled debut,
but they could barely find time to begin work on the project.
such hard-working artists that the challenge was to find available days for everyone
to sit down and go over songs,” said Loba. “The success of the first album
created endless promotion and media opportunities, and they didn’t want to pass
on any of them. Consequently, it took nearly a year to record the album, but the
end result was a much stronger project. They had a wider array of songs to choose
from and were able to dial in even more precisely what they wanted their music to represent.”
In fact, songs that seemed like obvious choices for singles in the early process
didn’t even make the final cut, as the quality of the material steadily increased.
Keifer and Shawna invited co-writers to join them on the road and took songwriting
retreats, including a productive junket to Breckenridge, Colo., with hit tunesmiths
Brett James and David Lee Murphy. The Thompsons composed six tracks on Just
Feels Good, including the lead single, “If I Didn’t Have You,” with Paul Jenkins and Jason Sellers.
“The project runs the whole gamut that we’ve gone through over the years,”
Keifer said, “beginning from the time we met with ‘That’s So Me and You’
(Keifer Thompson, Vicky McGehee and Kyle Jacobs) to the song on the Walmart exclusive
album, called ‘What Am I Gonna Do’ (Keifer Thompson, Shawna Thompson, Jacobs
and McGehee), about Shawna’s dad passing last year.”
co-produced Just Feels Good with New Voice, the production team made
up of Kurt Allison, David Fanning, Tully Kennedy and Rich Redmond. “The major
advantage of working with those guys is that they are musicians and they play
on the project,” Keifer explained. “They all come to the studio at the same
time, and they aren’t just acting as producers. They are physically producing
something as well as mentally producing something. They are friends of ours and
we get along really well, so working on an album together is really enjoyable.”
Maintaining Thompson Square’s track record at Country radio was key to their
process in making Just Feels Good. “You’re crazy if you don’t think
about radio,” Keifer stated. “Radio is the lifeblood of what we do. It’s
changed our lives forever. I can’t tell you how much gratitude we have toward
our friends at radio. You have to keep them in mind because they’ve got to play
it and get it to the fans. They know what works and what doesn’t work. It’s
not the only thing that goes into the equation, but it’s a big component. What
we normally do is pretty radio-friendly. You want to push the envelope a little
bit, but not so far down the road that no one can see where you’re going. You’ve
always got to think about what radio might like, but not to the point where you
sacrifice your creativity. You still have to be an artist.”
For the most
part, Thompson Square avoids maudlin love songs. “In the past, we’ve been
pitched very lovey-dovey stuff, and that’s not what we want,” Keifer said.
“That’s not what we write. We tell everybody we don’t want to record duets.
Instead, we prefer songs that could be sung by an individual, and then we make
them our own. We don’t want to get pigeonholed into duets, because they can be so predictable.”
That same focus drives their approach onstage, including their current run on
Luke Bryan’s “Dirt Road Diaries Tour.” “I think people come to our shows
expecting a love story the whole show, and then they’re pleasantly surprised
by the rockin’ out aspect of what we do,” Keifer said. “We’re not really
a stereotypical, boring old married couple. We were both raised out in the country,
hunting, fishing and riding 4x4s. We take our motorcycle on the road. We’re
a married couple that likes to rock out, and hopefully that’s what we exude onstage.”