Since the release of their debut album and No. 1 breakout smash, "Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not," the husband-and-wife team of Thompson Square (Keifer and Shawna Thompson) has been setting the music world on fire.
In addition to a run of sold-out shows in tour support of Jason Aldean and Lady Antebellum, Thompson Square have earned more than 25 major award nominations in the last two years. They've won back-to-back ACM Vocal Duo of the Year awards and have been recognized by the Grammy Awards and the American Music and CMA Awards.
The duo is out on the road supporting their new album, Just Feels Good.
I sat down with guitarist Keifer Thompson to discuss the ACM award, the new Thompson Square album and what he believes makes country music so special.
GUITAR WORLD: You and Shawna [Thompson] recently won your second consecutive ACM Award for Vocal Duo of the Year. What was that experience like?
It was just amazing and complete euphoria. Many of the artists we've looked up to all of our lives were out in the crowd watching. The first year I think they were probably thinking, "Who the heck is this?" because they didn't know who we were. This year, it seems like we've become more solidified in our country music family. It was cool; especially now that everyone knows who we are and that we're not a "fly by night" thing.
What inspiration went into making the new album, Just Feels Good?
We didn't set out on a course where we were going to make a certain kind of record. We just let it happen organically. The first album explained more of what the sound of Thompson Square was all about. For this one, we opened our lives up to the fans a little bit more. The songs just kind of fell into place and made sense. We could have named this album Just Feels Good even if we didn't have a song named that. We're very proud of it.
Where does a song like "If I Didn't Have You" begin?
It was shortly after Shawna's dad had passed away. Our co-writer, Paul Jenkins' grandpa had also recently passed, and we were all on the bus and started thinking about who’s left over after someone's gone. The definition for that song can mean something different for everybody. It can be whatever it needs to be. Everyone's got a "you" in their life.
Tell me how Thompson Square came together.
It came out of the need for us to be together; that's how Thompson Square was born. Shawna and I are one of those weird couples that don't like to be apart. Things work better when we're together. I was touring with other artists playing guitar and she was at home doing her thing, and we were both just miserable. We started thinking about how we wanted to put our marriage at the forefront and wrap that up in music. The only option was to become a duo. Once we started singing together everything made sense. That's when things started really happening.
What kind of gear are you using on tour?
Right now, I've got a 4x12 V20 Budda rig with a Gibson 335, and that's kind of it. Just getting back to guitar, amp and cord. Then cranking it up and letting it rip! [laughs]
Did you know right away that you had something special with the song "Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not"?
We heard it as a hit right away. There's just something about that song that makes you want to listen to it over and over. I remember the first time we heard it, we thought, "Oh my gosh, this is a monster!" And turned out, we were right! [laughs].
You and Shawna also have a book coming out as well.
It's called Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not, and it's coming out June 4. We collaborated with Travis Thrasher on the project. It's a fictional piece loosely based on the song. It's about two young people with music as their common thread. But it's not autobiographical or our life story or anything like that.
When did you first start getting into playing guitar?
I started playing when I was 12 after my Mom and Dad bought me a Squire Bullet from a pawn shop. I remember taking lessons from this elderly woman (believe it or not) and I couldn't crawl at the pace we were going. I've always done everything by ear and eventually taught myself how to play. Once I got into Nashville in 1996, I started hunkering down learning the craft and the number system. From a singer/songwriter standpoint, the acoustic part of guitar is what I gravitated to more than anything.
What was your practice routine like?
I was never one of those kids who practiced for hours every day growing up. My practice was/is (and it drives my wife crazy), whenever I'm sitting down watching TV or doing anything else, I'm playing. I also like the fact that I'm not as well versed a guitar player as some others. From a songwriting stand point, some of the things I discover on guitar no one taught me. So when I find a new thing, it usually triggers an idea for a song or a lick. I brought a lot of that into both albums.
Who were some of your influences?
[Merle] Haggard and [Bruce] Springsteen are my two biggest influences. Haggard made me want to start writing songs. And once I discovered Bruce, that started my passion for becoming a singer-songwriter. There's something so cool about the simplicity of what they do.
What makes country music and its fans so much different from your typical music fan?
I think it's because a lot of what we talk about is the story of the common man. The small town, working man or the person that's struggling. We tell stories that people can relate to. They're songs that basically tell everybody's story. Country music today encompasses a lot of different elements, and that's what makes it so special.
Photo (top): Getty Images Courtesy of the Academy of Country Music
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.