The Grammy nominated, unpredictable and unique duo Thompson Square, Miami's own, Keifer (Keith) Thompson and wife Shawna, once again packed Buffalo Run for a homecoming concert Feb.17.
The couple's musical career has sky-rocketed since their last performance here, bringing in arms full of awards. A whopping total of 14 awards and nominations including wins at the American Music Awards(AMA), nominations for Best New Artist and Vocal Duo at the Country Music Awards(CMA)and two County Music Television (CMT) Music Awards nominations and the kicker of them all, two Grammy nominations.
Keifer was born and raised in Miami, his parents are Miami residents Darrion and Carol Thompson. Keifer graduated from Miami High School in 1991 and worked for awhile at what was then Reasor's grocery store.
During their performance here Shawna said that she would call Keifer, “Keith,”his real name, while they were in Miami. On stage, Keifer, after looking over the crowd and spotting old friends and family members said,“This is hard because I want to come down there and talk to all of you instead of stand up here singing.”
I caught up with Shawna and Keifer before the show on their tour bus, where they were busy decorating for a birthday celebration for one of their merchandising guys touring with them. While talking to Keifer, I was struck by how he maintains eye contact and is very direct. When these two paired up, it was a match made in heaven, truly they are a dream match for each other. It's obvious by the way Shawna looks at Keifer as he speaks and the way he says her name.
MNR: Tell me about some of your favorite memories of living in Miami, I heard you were athletic.
Keifer: “I played ball.” (Tour manager begins laughing.)
Keifer: “What are you laughing at son, I was good. Winning the state championship in soccer was cool. My dad was actually the one who spear-headed the whole project of getting it in our high school. If it wasn't for him they wouldn't have it right now. We were trying to get soccer in before I graduated, you know to help with college. We went to the Olympic Development Team and all that stuff and then the year after I graduated they finally got it in. There was so much opposition it was ridiculous, they tried to fight it. That was one of my coolest memories was when they built Striker Field for us and put our name up on plaques. Some baseball families went out and destroyed it with crow bars, put that in your story. I've got so many memories of this place. I had a lot of great friends and still do.”
Shawna: “I've heard stories over and over and over again, craziness.”
Keifer:“Going to Noel after graduation and partying down there, canoeing and going fishing with all of our friends. Dragging Main that's one of the funnest things that I've ever done. Playing football, I had a blast playing football and running track, and everything sports I did, it actually kind of helped make me who I am, you know as far not giving up, being a team player and not quitting. I have so many memories of this place.”
MNR:What do you love the most about your hometown?
Keifer: “Coming back, just seeing everything. It's like a tidal wave of emotions and memories and flashbacks. A lot of it has changed, but a lot has stayed the same. Seeing the high school and going back out and walking the college campus today was cool. I hadn't thought about it, I hadn't had those feelings for years. It's always good to go home and go to the house I was born and raised in and seeing Mom and Dad.”
MNR:When did you first discover your voice, that you could sing?
Keifer: “You know I'm not sure, even when I was a kid and I'd walk around the house in a diaper and my plastic guitar and imitate Elvis, I've always had it in me. I was pretty shy actually up until my teens...It's hard to believe now, but I grew out of that.”
Shawna: “He's definitely not shy now.”
Keifer: “I've always had it in me, but I think I was probably 14 or 15 when I wrote my first song. I just really got bit by it. That's when I knew I really wanted to do it, I didn't know if I was good or not, but that's what I really wanted to do. So, all my focus kind of came around 14 or 15, when I really knew I wanted to do that for a living.”
MNR:Did you get encouragement from anyone in the community?
Keifer:“Well, there was a guy named Dee Poole, who has since passed a way, but he had King Karaoke which was down on the corner of Steve Owens and Main. We would go to the Thunderbird and sing karaoke and that was really my first public singing experience. Dee believed in me, and he encouraged me.We would write songs together and go down to the karaoke studio and record. And my parents have encouraged me in every single thing I've ever done. That's all I've ever had is encouragement. They've never told me 'you can't do that' they never tried to steer me one way or another. They've kind of tried to keep me from hitting the sides, keep me on track, but for the most part I was my own man and they let me do what I wanted to do. They're probably my biggest influence as far as encouragement in thinking I could do this for a living.”
MNR: How do you get from Miami, Ok. to winning multiple ACA awards and Grammy nominations? Tell me about that journey.
Keifer: “Well the short story is in 1996 I moved out there (Nashville) and met Shawna.
Shawna (laughing): “You could end it right there.”
Keifer: “We started dating and we've been together ever since. That's really when I started finding my own way,when I met Shawna and started to sing and what I wanted to sing. But it just takes years and years of persistence and not giving up. It's a lot of tears and it was 13 years before we got a record deal, and how that happens I don't know. I mean how we got our deal is different than everyone else's, in how they cut their deal, and everybody's story is different than everyone else's. It took us 13 years of working odd jobs, and just working our butt's off and playing, playing, playing, and just trying and just believing, I think that's the biggest thing, we just never stopped believing that we were gonna get here.”
Shawna:“Going with our gut.”
MNR: What was it like, a kid from Miami looking around at the Grammys, was it a dream come true?
Shawna : “We were soaking up every little second of it.”
Keifer: “It's hard to believe, you know I used to play soccer here, and I'm in LA at the Grammy awards nominated, and I get to share it with my wife. It was just....it was unbelievable you know. Springsteen was sitting right in front of me. Paul Schaffer was sitting right in front of us and the Foo Fighters were right next to us.”
Shawna:“It was cool because Bruce opened the show and you could see him when they walked on stage behind this wall that they had up. I kept watching for him waiting for them to come out one by one, and then I elbowed Keifer and said,'There they are, there they are.' We were fans for the night for sure.”
MNR: You certainly have achieved success and become a star, what's the best part of that, the upside?
Keifer: “ I think being able to do this with Shawna is the most important thing. The music doesn't keep us apart it actually bonds us together which is a really special thing. A lot of times music is the divider in a lot of marriages you know.You never see each other, it's tough. We decided early on this (points to himself and Shawna) was more important then the music. So, how do figure out how to keep those two together and that's how we formed Thompson Square.”
Shawna: “It's like we're on vacation together all the time, (giggling) with a little work in there.”
MNR: Has there been a downside?
Keifer: “Not any. ...Well I say that, the only thing that's been bad is that our dog is old and blind and deaf, and now we can't have him out here because he can't handle it. That's the one down side to the whole thing. I bought Harley for Shawna the first year we were dating, he's been through everything with us.”(Shawna's mom is caring for Harley while they are on the road.)
Shawna: “He's like our kid.... Being away from my family is really hard too, we haven't seen them a whole lot in the last two years. We used to come and go fishin' with his dad, and shoot skeets out at his Grandpa's house”
MNR: I was just at he Martina McBride/George Strait concert at the BOK in Tulsa, both country legends now I'm here with you two who are sky rocketing newcomers, have you had any mentors?
Keifer: “No, not any. I mean we've always been on our own.We just did it our way and got our deal our way,we made a record our way and we dress our way. We've done everything on our own. We've never had any help doing anything. That's what makes it special to us. We're each other's mentor.”
MNR: What's the best advice you've been given?
Shawna: “We had other artists tell us to soak in every second of this and enjoy it because it could be gone.That's just the way the music business is.”
Keifer: “I guess just don't give up. I mean honestly we haven't had any advice, I mean we've been on our own. We knew what we needed to do.”
Shawna : “We had tons of people say, well you can't do that or that's not going to work. It's sad to say. It was more negative than positive.
Keifer:“ I guess it was the best for us, because the discouragement just motivated us more to do it. I just get mad and want to prove them wrong.”
MNR: If you could spend time with any singer alive or dead who would that be?
Keifer: “ Probably Springsteen for me.”
Shawna: “Etta James.”
Keifer: “Springsteen or Mozart. Mozart, that would be ridiculous. Sitting down with Mozart and watching him score.”
Shawna: “That would be hard core.”
MNR: What song or lyrics move you or what song could you listen to over and over again?
Keifer: “I listen to a lot of stuff. I get a new album I wear it out. I drive Shawna crazy.”
Shawna: “Keifer will tell you that for me, I'm really hard on songs, too hard.”
Keifer: “Too hard, not every songs got to change your life.”
Shawna: “Bruce Springsteen was huge influence of his and I'll be honest I didn't get it because I was raised around country and didn't know a lot about Bruce. There's this one particular song called 'Terry's Song' that's on the Magic record of Bruce's”
Keifer: “I'm impressed you remember that.”
Shawna: “Keifer told me, you have to listen to this one song and if you don't get it something's wrong with you.”
Keifer: (laughs)“We're getting divorced if you don't.”
Shawna: “We were in the car in the parking lot in front of Auto Zone and he went inside, the song comes on and he comes back out and tears were just rolling down my face. It completely moved me. It's a song about...”
Keifer: “...it was his manager and best friend of about 25 years that died, and he wrote the song for Terry. It's just the most intimate way you can speak about another man, from one man to another.(laughs), a straight man to another straight man. Just pure love. That song just kills me. It's so great.”
MNR: Describe what it's like on that stage when the crowd is there with you and really into your music.
Keifer: “It think it's the most addictive drug that you could have. I've never done cocaine but I imagine it's probably about as addictive as that. It's something you can't live without. You want more of it. There's no other feeling. From the time I was going to concerts, I was thinking one of these days they're going to be singing my lyrics back to me, and here we are doing it. It's the ultimate compliment.”
Shawna: “It was hard for us to go to concerts,we wanted to be up there.
MNR: Favorite concert?
Shawna: “Garth, Etta James.”
Keifer: “Garth, KISS, and Springsteen was a life changer for me, and Haggard.”
MNR: Since the release of the video for 'Glass' the buzz has been about how versatile you are and makes your music hard to describe.
Keifer: “ That's good, that's what we pride ourselves on. People saying you sound like no one else. That's what you want. We work really hard to do that. It takes a lot to be able to do that. The harmonies we have, its he natural harmony we have, we didn't really work on. People ask me, 'who do you sound like' and I say,'No one.' What's the point in that.”
MNR: Tell me about your most special moment with a fan that stands out.
Keifer: “We did a Santa Train and we saw a girl with a sign that said, 'My brother's in Afghanistan'.We walked off the Santa Train with all these toys and walked over to her and she was just bawling.”
Shawna: “When we were doing the radio tour to introduce ourselves we did a song'Keeping Up with the Jones' that didn't make the record but it's about alcoholism, this guy came up and said,'That song is my life'. To see somebody react to our music like that is pretty moving.”