iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Michael Bialas

GET UPDATES FROM Michael Bialas
 

Did You Hear the One About Thompson Square and How They Keep It Two-gether?

Posted: 02/ 7/2012 5:18 pm

It sounds like one of those corn-pone one-liners straight out of Hee Haw.

How do you break up a happily married couple?

Make them a duo in a country band.

Of course, back in Hee Haw's heyday in the early 1980s, Keifer and Shawna Thompson were too young to even think about the dating game.

Thirty years later, the husband and wife singing-songwriting couple known today as Thompson Square (T2 for short) have made duos fashionable again in Nashville, a place known for celebrity D-I-V-O-R-C-E almost as well as Hollywood.

Album coverTwo times the Thompsons is better than one, they figure. It's certainly a no-brainer for Keifer, who over the phone in December discussed his love-at-first-sight moment.

After moving to the Music City within the same week in 1996, they met at Nashville Nightlife, a singing competition for upcoming artists.

"I walked in and Shawna was there and I basically went right through the door and right up to her and asked her if she wanted to play pool and she beat me and we talked and hit it off really well and that was it, man," he said before pausing dramatically. "We just couldn't be apart after that."

Three years later, on May 15, 1999, Keifer and Shawna were married, and it only took them a decade or so -- with band changes that included Runaway Gypsy and Thompson Squared -- to become "overnight sensations."

Their self-titled debut on Stoney Creek Records, released just a year ago (February 8, 2011), propelled them far beyond the Nashville skyline primarily on the strength of their platinum-selling No. 1 single "Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not."

The whirlwind year actually began in November 2010 with their Grand Ole Opry debut at the Ryman Auditorium. T2-Jason AldeanThey spent most of 2011 opening for Jason Aldean, then capped the year with seven nominations (and three victories in the form of Fender Telecaster guitars) at the American Country Awards in December. (The Thompsons with Aldean, right, at the ACAs.)

"Yeah, we're looking forward to hanging those suckers on the wall," Keifer said a week after the ceremony in Las Vegas. Thompson Square also was looking ahead to another productive year, with the Grammys, a new album and a spot as "special guests" on Lady Antebellum's Own the Night tour.

Asked in a separate conversation more than a month later what Thompson Square can do for an encore in 2012, Shawna said, "Well, it's gonna take a lot to top (2011). We had so many firsts last year, being on the Opry for the first time, having our very first No. 1. Those things you can never redo... I think last year we wound up doing 270 dates, so we were on the road a lot. We loved every second of it. We don't know what do with ourselves when we're home."

For the first time in "probably two years," Shawna said they were finally able to enjoy going out to a movie (The Grey) together the previous night.

New ThompsonsThe Thompsons, who had a hand in writing nine of the 12 songs on the first album, do everything together. Well, almost. A hectic schedule between those high-profile tours prevented Keifer and Shawna from simultaneously taking part in this interview.

They had one day back in town in mid-December before closing out their tour schedule, then were taking a monthlong holiday break. As Shawna was getting ready for a video shoot that night, Keifer noted while laughing, "When we come home, they pile it on us."

They wouldn't have it any other way, though, said Keifer, sounding weary but satisfied. "It's been a wonderful year, man. We can't believe it's happening to us."

The same holds true for Shawna, who was finally able to call and share her feelings on the last day of January. It was just 24 hours after "Glass," the fourth single from the album, was released to country radio. The beautiful ballad written by Ross Copperman and Jon Nite is the first single to feature Shawna's lovely vocals.

"We thought maybe it was probably a good time to introduce my voice a little more. Also, it's a really, really pretty song," she said, adding while laughing, "I wish I would have written it."

With all that lies ahead in 2012, the anticipation continues to build as the lovebirds prepare to celebrate Valentine's Day in Salt Lake City, where the Lady A arena tour resumes February 14. The next night they'll play the Pepsi Center in Denver. Yet the Grammys are what's currently on their radar.

One nomination as best country duo/group performance and another for "Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not" (written by Jim Collins and David Lee Murphy) as best country song mean date night for the Thompsons on February 12 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where the 54th annual awards show will be televised by CBS.

"Oh my gosh, man, it doesn't get any bigger than that," Keifer said, the just-happy-to-be-nominated mantra sounding genuine. "Wild horses couldn't keep us away from that night."

Asked about their chances in a category with Aldean/Kelly Clarkson, Kenny Chesney/Grace Potter and The Civil Wars, Keifer laughed. "Oh, who knows, man. I don't care... I'm not gonna worry myself to death about it."

Shawna just plans to relish every second of the evening.

"It's unbelievable that our name is gonna be part of that," she said. "The night we got the call from our manager (Shawn Pennington) about it, I sat there in silence for a minute and then just kept saying 'What? Can you say that again?' I didn't believe him.

"Kind of a funny thing about it, I've got a vision board here at home that I made about six or seven years ago. And I've got a little bitty picture of a Grammy on there. So, it's pretty cool to see that come to fruition somewhat with a nomination," she said, laughing.

They won't be performing, like they did at the ACAs, where the raven-haired beauty, no longer sporting two-toned locks with streaks of platinum, did wear a 15-pound T. Rains custom-designed dress with more than 1,000 shell buttons stitched on the bodice.

ACAs crops"It was a little nerve-wracking," Shawna said. "You know, you're always worried that you might have a malfunction." (Shawna, left, with Keifer at the ACAs.)

That's a minor concern compared to where they were only a few years ago. While joined at the hip since arriving in Nashville, their professional partnership wasn't quite as intact, according to her supportive spouse.

"It was just one of those things where Shawna and I had been in town for 13 years, and we had deals and lost deals and got close to stuff and lost it," Keifer recalled. "The 13th year, Shawna was like, 'I can't handle it no more.' "

Understanding her frustration, he said, "I tell you what, let's give it one more year, and if we don't have it done by then, we'll get out of here."

About two months later, in 2010, they came across the make-or-break "Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not."

"The timing was just perfect on it," Keifer said. "... At some point you have to make a decision whether to keep on going and beating yourself up and letting your heart keep getting broken or make a switch and turn another page to your life. And we were right at the edge of it."

Not that their relationship would have suffered, though. Performing separately for about five or six years after they met each other, the Thompsons -- against the advice of their future manager -- became a duo.

As Keifer remembered it, Pennington figured no one in or around Nashville would accept a married couple playing country music at that time, around 2006-07.

A few years passed and Pennington saw some new music on Thompson Square's MySpace page and contacted them, saying they would be a good fit for Broken Bow Records, Aldean's label that's a sister imprint to Stoney Creek.

Keifer continued the story. "And we were, 'Hey, wait a minute. Weren't you the guy that told us that this was a stupid idea?' And he was cool. We've been friends of his just as long as we've known each other."

The Thompsons' insistence to stay together -- personally and professionally -- eventually paid off.

"We decided we didn't want to be apart -- ever -- and that was kind of when we formed Thompson Square, out of just the raw necessity of being together all the time... It's perfect, you know. It's exactly what we wanted to do. We fight like everybody else does and we fight good," said Keifer, who even co-wrote "Let's Fight" for the album. "But it's just the way it's supposed to be. We love being together all the time."

They just may be the envy of Nashville, where keeping your act together while remaining a married couple makes you a rare romantic pair, indeed.

"Yeah, it's a pretty special thing that we've got," Shawna gushed. "Being able to do ... have a career, doing what you love to do and also sharing that with the one you love, I mean it doesn't get any better than that. Of course, we have our days where we argue and fuss just like any other married couple. But I think, really, music is our therapy because we can be having our fight and then go onstage and by the end of the show, it's over with. We've forgotten what we were fighting about in the first place."

While beginning work this month on a new album they plan to finish recording in March or April, Shawna expects the tour with Lady A to either match or outdo the number of 2011 live shows.

Traveling "old school" on a bus with their own sound technicians and a backing band that includes recent addition Erik Halbig on guitar along with previous members Matt Hauer (guitar), Angelo Collura (drums) and Darren Theriault (Phil Vassar bassist), Shawna exhibits the enthusiasm of a teenager getting ready for prom.

"It's so awesome to have a band of brothers on the road that have gone through everything with you," she said.

A fanatical follower of Auburn football for just as long as she's been singing, the native of Chatom, Ala., also enjoys playing sports with her athletically fit husband, a former all-state high school player in Miami, Oklahoma. Keifer also ran track and competed in soccer from age 8 and into his college years at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah before graduating from Missouri Southern State University in Joplin.

"Keifer and I love to play golf, but we're terrible," Shawna admitted, hoping that drawback won't prevent them from eventually joining a foursome with Darius Rucker, a skilled golfer (once a 6-handicap) and previous touring pal who's also on this year's bill.

Extended the invitation by the Lady Antebellum camp last year, Shawna believes "it's a really good fit" with a crowd likely to be closer to their demographic than last year's Aldean audience.

The Thompsons were touched when Lady A presented them a cake on the first tour stop, January 27 in Tulsa, and hope to hang out more with the group's Grammy-winning members, Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott, a recent bride.

Married to drummer Chris Tyrrell since early January, Scott is "still glowing," reported Shawna Thompson, who has been invited to watch the video of the wedding but so far hasn't been asked for any marital advice.

Scott might want to consider hiring the T-Squares as part-time marriage consultants if the need arises.

Getting guidance from fellow performers with a proven track record and years of personal experience (Shawna turns 34 on February 25; Keifer will be 38 on March 17) might be better than anything gained from watching TV's Dr. Phil, Dr. Drew or, for that matter, Doc Campbell, the dastardly character from Hee Haw.

Did you hear the one about the Oklahoman and Alabaman who walked into a Nashville bar?

They're the beautiful dreamers who still believe the couple that plays together, stays together, then lives happily ever after.

And that's no joke.

Credits
Thompson Square publicity photo by Traver Rains.
Thompson Square performance photo at the American Country Awards by Tony Donahue/Courtesy of FOX.

See the video of Thompson Square's "Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not":



 

Follow Michael Bialas on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mjbialas