A version of this story appears in Wednesday’s Life section of The Oklahoman.
Thompson Square celebrates hard-earned breakout success
The country duo of Miami, OK, native Keifer Thompson and wife Shawna are opening for Lady Antebellum on the trio’s 2012 tour, launching Friday at Tulsa’s BOK Center and returning in April to Norman’s Lloyd Noble Center.
After more than a decade of struggling to make their music heard, Keifer and Shawna Thompson are now competing for best new artist awards.
And the husband-and-wife duo known as Thompson Square has been in the country music business long enough that they don’t even find it all that unusual.
“Obviously, we’re not new artists; this isn’t our first rodeo. We’ve been around for — well, I hate to say how long we’ve been around — a long time. We’ve been in Nashville for … over 10 years,” Keifer Thompson said in a phone interview last week.
“We’ve been in the game long enough to where (we know) there’s artists that have been around for 10 years that just get a new artist. It’s just a weird way that it all works out sometimes with the math and timing and everything else.”
A native of Miami, OK, Keifer Thompson could hardly ask for a better time to make a triumphant return to his home state. After a breakout 2011 fueled by their smash “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not,” the duo will open for superstar trio Lady Antebellum Friday at Tulsa’s BOK Center and again April 7 at Norman’s Lloyd Noble Center. In between, Thompson Square will return to Keifer’s hometown for a Feb. 17 concert at Buffalo Run Casino, where they played their last Oklahoma show about a year ago.
“You’re always worried that you go back to your hometown and no one cares … and actually it was overcapacity by a few hundred people. So that meant the world to me,” said the former paper boy for The Oklahoman. “There’s no better state to be from, and I miss being there desperately. I’m really looking forward to getting back as many times as we’re going to this year and spending some time on my home turf.”
Thompson Square spent much of past year on the road, playing more than 200 shows and opening for Jason Aldean’s “My Kinda Party Tour.” The duo was named Billboard’s top new country artist of 2011 based on record sales, while Mediabase gave them similar honors on the strength of radio airplay.
They were nominated for the Country Music Association’s best new artist award in November, and they are among eight semi-finalists vying for the similar fan-voted honor at April’s Academy of Country Music Awards.
“Even though we have been in Nashville for so long, we’re still learning the ropes and just trying to get used to this wild ride,” Shawna said with a laugh. “We’re still the new kids on the block.”
The couple, who have been married 12 years, first met by chance when they were both newcomers to Music City. In 1996, Keifer graduated from Missouri Southern State University in Joplin and headed for Nashville, while Shawna moved there from her native Alabama shortly after graduating high school.
“We actually moved to Nashville the same week … and we met that first week. So it was serendipity,” Keifer said by phone from Alabama, where they were visiting her family and spending their downtime playing “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.”
Careerwise, serendipity was in short supply for the couple for awhile. They initially pursued separate solo careers, but about seven years ago decided to form a duo. Still, they didn’t sign with independent Stoney Creek Records until 2010.
Serendipity was back on their side when they received a demo of a new song called “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not.”
“The first listen, we knew there was something special about it. We just looked at it other and were like, ‘Oh gosh …’” said Shawna.
“‘That’s a hit!’” Keifer added.
“‘We gotta get in the studio and record this,’ Shawna finished. “We’re just very grateful to (songwriters) David Lee Murphy and Jim Collins every day for allowing us to record it because it’s not every day that new artists get a (top)-drawer song. They’re hard to come by.”
The spirited ballad was the most played song of the year at country radio, the iTunes country song of the year and a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Heatseekers chart.
The couple received a Grammy nod for best country duo/group performance for the breakthrough hit, which earned its songwriters a best country song nomination, too. The song and video also garnered Thompson Square three American Country Awards, and they followed it with another top 10 single, “I Got You.”
“We were both ready to give up. After 13 years of heartaches, you can’t (help but) say ‘how much more are we gonna do this to ourselves?’ With the success of ‘Kiss Me’ and ‘I Got You’ … it’s just been a rocket ship the last year, and it feels great,” Keifer said.
“I don’t know if we deserve all of it, but we certainly worked our butt off for it. You know, we paid our dues and then some, so it’s nice to reap some benefits from all the hard work.”
With: Darius Rucker and Thompson Square.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Where: BOK Center, 200 S Denver, Tulsa.
Information: (866) 726-5287 or www.bokcenter.com.
When: 7 p.m. April 7.
Where: Lloyd Noble Center, 2900 Jenkins Ave., Norman.
Information: 325-4666 or www.lloydnoblecenter.com.
When: 9 p.m. Feb. 17
Where: Buffalo Run Casino, 1000 Buffalo Run Blvd., Miami, OK.
Information: (918) 542-7140 or www.buffaloruncasino.com.