Several years ago, vocalist Shawna Thompson (formerly McIlwain) left her small hometown of Chatom, Ala., to seek fame and fortune as a country singer in Nashville. While there, she met fellow vocalist Keifer Thompson, who was attempting to launch a country career of his own.
Ultimately, their connection led to both marriage and the creation of Thompson Square. Before Keifer and Shawna take the stage at BayFest, they were gracious enough to give Lagniappe readers an inside look into their world as artists.
SC: You two have been on the Just Feels Good Tour, which took you into Asia and Australia to perform for some of our men and women in service. What was it like performing for the members of our military?
ST: It was by far one of the coolest things we’ve ever done. The experience was amazing. I’m almost speechless thinking back on it. We met so many sweet, sweet people while we were there. All the men and women were so appreciative. There was one night that we were playing Okinawa (Japan). It was raining and cold and they still came out. We just had a big party. It was amazing.
SC: I’ve seen you and Keifer on stage, and you two have such great chemistry. Being together all day everyday, how do you keep from getting on each other’s nerves, and if you are on each other’s nerves, how do you pull it together for the show?
KT: Well, man, it’s like every other marriage, but you’re in a tin can rolling down the road every day. It’s a little different being together all the time. You have to learn to deal with it. Honestly, it just works. We tried it the other way and were doing our own thing, and that didn’t work at all. We didn’t like being away from each other. We still fight like hell and all that stuff, but these people are spending a lot of money to come see us. They’re dedicated fans, and I just can’t tell you how much I appreciate our hardcore fans who come out and see us. It’s just like that woman (of Internet fame) said, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
SC: Shawna, you’re from Chatom, which is not far from Mobile. With all you’ve achieved, what’s it like going back home?
ST: It’s pretty cool. If we go out to dinner like over in Spanish Fort, people have a tendency to recognize us a little bit more when we’re at home than in Nashville, but it’s always flattering, you know. I haven’t been back home to Chatom in quite some time. It’s actually been a few years. When I’m there, everybody is really cool. It’s always awesome to see my old classmates, and they come out and support me at the shows. I’m sure there will be a bunch of them at BayFest.
SC: You’re touring in support of your latest album “Just Feels Good.” Whereas most artists might have one or two producers, you two had a team called New Voice Entertainment. What was it like working with them?
KT: It was as bad as being married and on the road together (Shawna laughing). Instead of having one wife, it was like having five wives. No, those guys are great. They’re friends of ours. Tully (Kennedy) and I and Shawna have been friends for many, many years. Besides being Jason’s (Aldean) bass player, he played for me down on Broadway years and years ago. So, I’ve known him forever. It was fun. You think producer, and you think they’re the guys calling the shots. We worked as a team on it. They actually played on the record, so they were actually producing something and not just calling the shots. We’ve done two albums with them, and I don’t regret anything. We’re going to change everything on this next project and worked with another producer, or two or three, just to change it up a little bit. We actually matured a lot from the first album to the second album, as far as egos and sensitivity issues. Drummers and bass players are the most sensitive creatures on Earth.
SC: In addition to the production, you had a team of songwriters that you worked with. When it comes to collaborations, what do you look for in a songwriter?
KT: Well, the most important thing is whether they suck or not. We try to look for songwriters that don’t suck. Honestly, there are two main things to collaborating with somebody. We’ve been in town (Nashville) for so long now that we know a lot of them and made a lot of good friends. The biggest thing for us is liking who you’re in the room with. There’s a bunch of great songwriters that I’ll never sit down and write with, just because I’ve heard so many horror stories about how mean they are or how rude they are and all that crap. I don’t have any room in my life for that. You might write a good song, but you’re going to share the success with someone that you can’t stand, or they can’t stand you or respect you. I rather write with some young and upcoming buck than some seasoned guy that’s just a turd. We’ve got our little cliques together, and we write with the people we love. It’s a pretty easy formula with us.
SC: One song that you included on the album was “I Can Outrun You,” which Trace Adkins did a few years ago. What made you want to cover that one for this album?
KT: We thought that Trace really screwed the song up. He did an awful, awful job on it. I’m just kidding!
ST: We actually had no idea that Trace had cut it. The songwriters that wrote the song, Kyle Jacobs and Joe Leathers, were out on the road with us. Joe asked Kyle to play it for us on the bus, and we fell in love with it. He told us that Trace Adkins had cut a few years ago, so we decided that we would put our own spin on it. Trace’s version was more acoustic with just a piano. We wanted to make a bigger production out of it.
KT: Trace’s version just shook the rafters with that huge voice that he’s got. It’s amazing, man. That guy can sing.
SC: You mentioned your next project earlier. Tell me a little about that.
KT: If I knew that, then I would tell you. We’re in the beginning stages of all that. We’re in the woodshed and figuring out what the next generation of Thompson Square will be like. We’re writing a lot of fun stuff and seeing where it goes. We’re not going to release any new singles until the album is out. We probably won’t release anything until March or April of next year. We’re going to get in the studio and make sure everything is perfect before we release anything else.
Date: Friday, Oct. 3, 9:30 p.m.
Stage: AT&T/Southern Ford Dealers Stage