By Peter Cronin
Thompson Square’s Keifer Thompson
As the male half of Thompson Square, one of the most celeb rated and successful duos on the current country music landscape, Keifer Thompson knows more than most about the importance of finding the right partner. But coming up in small town Miami, Oklahoma, collaboration was the last thing on the aspiring songwriter’s mind. “I’m a huge fan of Springsteen, Haggard and those guys that just write for themselves,” Thompson says. “I grew up listening to Freddy Fender and Roger Miller on my dad’s 8-tracks in the garage.”
Under the influence of his older sister and his high school peers, Thompson became “like a magnet going through a metal store,” absorbing everything from Def Leppard to Metallica to The Cult to the Sex Pistols to Violent Femmes, and broadening his musical horizons at every turn.
“I didn’t pull out of country,” he says. “I just incorporated that ‘80s rock ‘n’ roll with the country music I already had.”
Actually, that’s a fairly apt description of the edgy-and-appealing musical mix Thompson and his spouse/duo partner Shawna honed to perfection on Thompson Square’s self-titled 2011 debut. After an initial single failed to set the world on fire, the duo’s sophomore release, “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not,” did just that, shooting directly to the top of the charts and becoming the Most Played Song at Country Radio in 2011. The song was subsequently named iTunes’ Country Song of the Year and earned Thompson Square two Grammy nominations. When the dust cleared, the duo had been nominated for 14 industry awards, and they walked away with Vocal Duo of the Year honors at the 2012 Academy of Country Music Awards.
With a whole passel of co-writers and no less than four producers on board, Thompson Square’s smash debut was truly a team effort. But when young Keifer came to Nashville, he was still bent on staying true to his influences and remaining a one-man show.
“If you want a class in songwriting, put on a Tom Petty record, put on Springsteen,” he says. “They wrote the greatest songs right there. There’s a lot of those guys early on that helped me out.”
Whether he’s writing with his talented spouse or with top writers like Brett James and Dean Dillon, Thompson has long since benefited from the special magic that can happen when two or more talents gather in a writer’s room. But those songs he writes by himself still have a special place, and he brings that stubborn, individual streak into every writing session.
“I love co-writing, and I love being able to bounce things off of people,” Thompson says. “I can tell the difference if I co-write it or write it solo, but I think you can have a little bit of both. You use your outside-of-the box voice and cram some of that into mainstream country radio. That’s how you make artists.”