All Heart Podcast Talks With Thompson Square About Merle Haggard’s Songwriting Advice

With romantically charged #1 hits like “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not” and “If I Didn’t Have You,” multi-platinum international success, and honors as Vocal Duo of the Year from both the ACM and CMA Awards, Country duo Thompson Square admit they don’t have much left on their bucket list. So for the husband-and-wife team of Keifer and Shawna Thompson, the next chapter of their career is about something different.

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“This album is called Masterpiece, and the definition of a masterpiece is an artist’s life’s work,” Keifer explains, hinting at the creative satisfaction behind the duo’s third studio album. “When we’re 80 years old and we look back, we want to be able to say we’re really proud of all the stuff we did.”

Working independently for the first time, Masterpiece arrives at a tipping-point moment for the duo – and it finds them taking skillful control of their acclaimed musical bond.

Brought together by love and undeniable talent, Keifer and Shawna each moved to Nashville separately in the early 2000s, but soon met while competing against one another in a local singing competition. They formed Thompson Square as complete unknowns, taking the Country scene by storm with an organic vocal blend that harkened back to the duets of icons like Johnny Cash and June Carter.

For years they rode a wave of success rising from their Grammy-nominated, double-platinum breakout “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not,” traveling the world with superstars Jason Aldean and Lady Antebellum and racking up Country-radio favorites like the devoted “I Got You” (Top 10 in 2011) and the flirty “Everything I Shouldn’t Be Thinking About” (Top 5 in 2013).

But after 17 years of marriage and the birth of their first child in 2016 – a son named Rigney Cooper – their priorities have realigned, and they’ve started chasing another dream. Parting ways with their former record label on good terms, the duo were set free to create a project with the help of top-shelf producers Nathan Chapman (Taylor Swift) and Dann Huff (Keith Urban), but without the diluting influence of any Music Row machinery.

What emerged truly is their Masterpiece, an album filled with all the passionate potency Thompson Square is known for, plus a fearless new range of sounds and personality. Pristine Country balladry is joined by sandy reggae funk, fire breathing arena rock and sensual R&B, as the duo strives to be honest with each song’s creative genesis.

“It is extremely diverse,” Shawna admits about the 11 new tracks, nine of which poured from their own hearts. “We didn’t design it that way, but Keifer and I love all types of music, and I think that shows more on this record than any of the others.”

“Let’s Do Something Stupid” (written by Keifer and Jason Lehning) puts that balanced musical appetite on blast, and also reveals the spark behind their famous love story. Sultry, soulful and backed by a slow-grinding R&B groove, it’s guaranteed to stir passions.

“It went back to the time when Shawna and I first started dating,” Keifer explains. “I was actually going out with someone else when I met her, but I was running away from that. I knew instantaneously that this is what I’d been running to, and instead of playing it safe, we jumped in.”

Songs like “Good Day” send the listener straight into relaxation mode (it was written by the Thompsons in the Bahamas with frozen drinks close at hand), while others like “Up in Smoke” crank up the intensity through pounding drums and hot-blooded vocals.

Penned by Keifer and Cary Barlowe, “A Love Like This” tips a hat to the textured rock of U2 – a meant-to-be anthem for a once-in-a-lifetime romance – and “Millionaires” mixes twangy fun with programmed beats as the couple “take their love and turn it into money.”

“You’re gonna start moving and dancing, and it’s just super fun,” Keifer says of the track. “When people think about Thompson Square, they think of love, and we wear that as a badge of honor. ‘Millionaires’ just speaks to that in a fun way.”

No Masterpiece would be complete without addressing love’s darker side, though, and so the duo self-produced a handful of emotional tracks which neither felt comfortable allowing anyone else to touch. “Breakers,” for example, finishes the album off with just a piano and Shawna’s wounded vocals, detailing a real life extended-family dispute.

“It was really difficult to sing because it’s so personal, and we had to do several takes to get a good one where I wasn’t actually crying,” Shawna says. “When I listen back, I can still hear tears in my voice.”

But it’s the project’s title track that gives the album its foundation, and shows where the couple stands today. Inspired by the Thompsons’ idyllic family life, Keifer wrote the track solo and admits it’s his favorite song on the record, so he and Shawna recorded it with all the back-porch authenticity of its creation.

“I woke up one day with that title in my head, and I was thinking about my life with Shawna and now Cooper,” he explains. “It was like ‘Man, if I died today, that’s my masterpiece – my love for my wife and this wonderful little boy.’”

As new parents and a newly independent duo, Thompson Square have undoubtedly stepped into the next chapter of their Country-music fairytale … one which Masterpiece documents in unedited clarity. They’ve scored the hits and won the awards – and they’d be happy to do it all again – but for the first time in their career, there’s nothing holding their creativity back. Luckily, they’ve never been more ready to share it with fans.

“It’s really one of the most liberating experiences we’ve had in our career,” Keifer admits. “It’s an exciting time, because if we can really do this record justice, we’re gonna have that one-on-one relationship with the fans – and that’s what it really should be all about in the first place.”

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