In the world of entertainment, music arguably demands the most personal investment from its artists, and it doesn’t get any more intimate than Thompson Square. While most celebrities go to tremendous lengths and expense to carve out personal space in a Twitter-manic, paparazzi-fueled culture, husband and wife Keifer and Shawna Thompson veil no aspects of their relationship. In fact, they put their 13-year marriage on display in each song and, night after night, on tour. Hence, their sophomore album Just Feels Good is a compelling view of a relationship that offers no distinction between the personal and the professional.
“Much more than the first record, Just Feels Good explains exactly who we are,” Shawna says. “This is a very personal record.” Adds her husband, “It’s a stronger, more accurate representation of who we are and where we’re at right now in our life and our music career … ” and, she finishes, “who we are as artists, who we are as individuals and who we are as a married couple, as well.”
Far from the crassness of all-is-bared reality television, a romanticized version of their relationship or a campy veneer, Thompson Square’s music reveals a profound level of honesty for which there may be no precedent. In that light, Just Feels Good might just as accurately be titled “Just Feels Real.”
The assertion that Just Feels Good is actually a more intimate introduction into the psyche of Thompson Square than their self-titled debut is a big statement considering that album’s history-making in-roads. Powered by a trio of hit singles including the No. 1 double-platinum-selling “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not” as well as “I Got You” and “Glass,” Thompson Square swept the 2012 Vocal Duo awards (CMA, ACM, CMT, ACA). “Kiss” was the most-heard song at country radio in 2011 (Mediabase), and secured multiple-week runs atop the sales and ringtone charts as well as two GRAMMY nominations. Major media (Leno, Kimmel, Conan and more) and major tours (Jason Aldean, Lady Antebellum, Luke Bryan) put them in front of tens of millions of viewers and two million concert goers. Thompson Square is also the only established married duo to ever receive CMA Vocal Duo of the Year honors. Keifer and Shawna Thompson’s hot streak continued when they won the ACM Vocal Duo of the Year honors for the 2nd consecutive year in April 2013.
And despite the promotional pounding and a grueling 250-date-per-year schedule, they managed to create a more grounded and cohesive collection of songs as they went. “This album evolved on its own in a way we weren’t even aware of,” Keifer says. “That’s one of the coolest things about writing, finding songs, recording and going through a process like this. The music takes on a life of its own. When we got done I called Shawna over to look at the list of songs, because it hit me that they actually tell a bigger story about our journey to Nashville, finding each other, making it work, life on the road and everything else. We didn’t actually sequence the album that way, but you could. It’s us. And it was completely by accident.”
That bigger story, which they’ve told often, is one of Nashville’s best-known 10-year overnight successes. Arriving in Music City the same week – Keifer from Miami, Oklahoma, Shawna from Chatom, Alabama – they met almost immediately at a singing competition and have been inseparable since. Realizing their solo aspirations weren’t getting any traction, they finally closed the second ring in their marriage-and-music connection. Thompson Square signed as the flagship artist on Stoney Creek Records, and the rest is history.
“Ever since we’ve been married, we’ve always worked together,” Shawna says, trying to explain their multilayered success. “I don’t know that the other way would work.” Keifer adds, “We actually tried it at the very beginning, and it didn’t. Obviously we fight like everybody else and, when we do, we do it really well. But if we had a choice between being together all the time and not being together, we’d choose the former.”
That sense of unity, and the natural struggle implicit in any committed relationship, gives Just Feels Good a deeper well of experience upon which to draw, particularly when writing. “As a married couple duo, you’re a little gun shy about doing certain things, because you don’t want to be coined as the boring married couple,” Keifer admits. “And that’s just not our lifestyle at all – it’s actually quite the opposite. We grew up in very rural small towns where it’s redneck and people like to party. So we stretched the reins with our writing to keep from being painted into a corner.”
Shawna and Keifer have credits on six of the album’s 13 songs, including the first single “If I Didn’t Have You,” already their fastest selling AND rising to date. That song’s message of a big, even universal, love is echoed in postcard-picture “Maybe It’s You” and the rhythmic, who-out-kicked-who debate of “For The Life Of Me.”
More playful themes are found in the rollicking romantic interplay of “Everything I Shouldn’t Be Thinking About,” the fast-paced, recurring relationship saga of “Here We Go Again,” the aquatic-romantic metaphor of “Testing The Water” (which even features a rap by Shawna Thompson), the unbridled, glass-raising party anthem “Here’s To Being Here” and the sunny-day stroll of the title track. The dramatic, surging power ballad “I Can’t Out Run You” and never-say-die “Run” offer divergent takes on that verb. And the deeply personal rises again in the autobiographical “That’s So Me And You,” an erstwhile mantra for their relationship, the Springsteen-esque “You Don’t Get Lucky” and the hypnotically smooth closer “Home Is You.”
For the production of Just Feels Good, Keifer and Shawna once again teamed with New Voice, the four man collective behind their first album. “We intentionally went outside the box a little bit and stretched the Thompson Square sound,” Keifer says. Shawna agrees, “We used some different loops and approaches to get what we wanted. And it’s very diverse. We were listening the other night and there are a couple of songs that sound really country – more so than a lot of the first album. And then there are songs that sound a little more edgy.”
Expanding sonically while drawing close to their core in writing and song selection, Thompson Square have taken the next bold step in one of the most thriving young careers in country music. Having done that while also sustaining one of the most thriving marriages in country music is truly astounding – or maybe it’s just their secret ingredient.
“There’s growth in terms of the production, we’ve grown as songwriters and we’re more focused,” Keifer says. “These last couple years, we’ve really honed in on what Thompson Square is and how we want to communicate that. It’s a fun record, a bit of a roller coaster ride, and there are a lot of emotional turns.” Shawna punctuates the statement: “Much like our lives.”