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Thompson Square isn’t a real place, exactly. It’s the musical territory staked out by the husband-and-wife duo Keifer and Shawna Thompson, an exciting and unpredictable area where country meets rock, rough meets smooth, and one vagabond heart finds a harmonious common ground with another.
“It’s the place where we create our thing, a little fantasyland where we live,” Keifer said.
And now the rest of us get to discover that magical place. The duo will showcase material from their self-titled debut album, released in February, when they perform at 8 p.m., Aug. 24, at the Appalachian Fair. Reserved seating is $8.
Fans began truly getting to know their way around Thompson Square with the release of the infectious radio smash “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not,” a fitting introduction to the Thompsons’ natural chemistry and spirit of buoyant romance. Things have happened very quickly since then. They’ve been an opening act on superstar Jason Aldean’s tour, packed high-energy shows of their own and seen the “Kiss Me” video become a favorite on CMT and GAC.
Perhaps most emotional for the duo was their debut performance on the legendary Grand Ole Opry.
“That was bucket-list stuff,” Shawna said. “That’s something you dream about all your life.”
The suddenness of their success belies the fact that — separately and together — Keifer and Shawna have been learning their craft in Nashville for a decade.
“To see it paying off right now is elating,” Keifer said. “Every day I try to take a little time, soak it all in and say thanks.”
Shawna grew up in tiny Chatom, Ala., learning traditional country songs from her guitarplaying father and soaking up the sounds of Reba McEntire and Alabama on the radio. Keifer was raised in Miami, Okla., where he was exposed to everything from Roger Miller and Merle Haggard to punk rock and heavy metal before finding his most profound influences in tunesmiths like Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. Each moved to Nashville in the same week. They met at a singing competition a few days after hitting town. “I walked in and saw her, went right up and started talking to her,” Keifer recalled. “She beat me in pool, and that’s where it started.” Like Keifer, Shawna sensed a connection right away. “I knew immediately,” she said. “It sounds so cheesy, but it was a love at first sight thing for me.”
Each had come to Music City intending to pursue a solo career, and for a few years that’s just what they did.
“She was doing her own thing, and I was doing my thing,” Keifer said. “After a while, it made sense to combine what we did. We looked at each other one day and said, ‘Maybe we should try to do this.’ ”
And so, Thompson Square was born. They adjusted to the idea of combining the pressures of married life with a career choice that demanded near-constant togetherness.
“A lot of couples can’t be together 24 hours a day, but for us it doesn’t work unless it’s like that,” Keifer said. “It’s still like we’re dating, and we’ve been married for 11 years. We like to have fun, we like to laugh and we like to rock out — so that’s what we try to do.”
The pieces truly began falling into place for Thompson Square in 2009, when manager Shawn Pennington caught the couple’s show at a Nashville club. Within days, Thompson Square was performing for the staff at Stoney Creek Records, and before they knew it they were signing a contract.
“This label has been amazing for us,” Keifer said. “They’re making our dream come true right now.”
The first step in bringing that dream to life came when the duo hit the studio to record their debut album, which combines the twosome’s wide-ranging influences into a loose, lively and identifiable sound all their own.
The playful “Let’s Fight,” for instance, is an upbeat ode to friendly marital spats and the ensuing reconciliations. They explore the endless dynamics of couplehood throughout the album, as in the opening rush of the ebullient “I Got You” and the muscular, mischievous “Getaway Car.” But they also explore the darker side of relationships, as on simmering ballads like the conciliatory “If It Takes All Night” and the fragile “Glass.”