Thompson Square tells the story behind their breakout hit "Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not?" at the Billboard Country Music Summit. (Photo: Michael Seto)
There's an old saying in Nashville that "it all begins with a song" and that point was driven home at the Billboard Country Music Summit when husband and wife duo Thompson Square, songwriters Jim Collins and David Lee Murphy, Broken Bow New Media Specialist Lynettte Garbanola and producer Tully Kennedy shared the story behind the duo's hit single "Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not?"
"David came in with the idea," Collins said, crediting Murphy for the song's inspiration. "We write once or twice a month and we had just come off the hit 'Big Green Tractor' with Jason Aldean."
Collins said they wrote a verse and a chorus during the first writing session. "We wrote for 30 minutes then went on a four-hour lunch and came back to it days later," recalled Murphy, who compared crafting the song to writing "a little movie."
"We've got a weird job," Collins said of the songwriting process. "You've got two grown men sitting around singing love songs to each other all day."
As they got into the second verse of the song they had to decide where the couple in the lyric was heading. "It felt like they should get married," said Collins, "but of course we write songs for other people and a lot of the artists we write for -- and we hadn't heard of Thompson Square at this point -- most artists we write for are young and have tattoos and are tough. When you start interjecting marriage, they don't want to talk about that. They want the little girls to come scream at the front of the stage, but it felt like that's where it should go."
It proved a perfect fit for Thompson Square's Shawna Thompson and husband Kiefer. "We listened to so many songs for the record," said Shawna, "but the first time we heard 'Kiss Me,' we looked at each other and said 'We have to cut this song!'"
David Lee Murphy laughs alongside Thompson Square during their panel at the Billboard Country Music Summit. (Photo: Michael Seto)
"The finished product wasn't that far from what the original was," Kiefer said. "A lot of times, the worst thing you can do as an artist is to try and reinvent the wheel, especially when you have artists who are writers, and they write a song and record the demo. That's probably how it should be. A lot of times ego gets in the way and you'll say 'I want to make it my own.' Ninety percent of the time you should leave it alone and just enhance what they've done."
Kennedy praised Collins and Murphy for giving the song to a new act on a new label instead of holding out for a bigger name act to record it. "It says a lot for these guys because they could have said 'We could have a bigger hit with an established act,'" he said, "but I know David and Jim love to help break acts as well."
"Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not" was Thompson Square's breakthrough single, but it wasn't their first single. The label was working a song called "Let's Fight," but once radio began hearing "Kiss Me" the label started getting feedback that it had more potential to the be duo's breakout hit.
Secrets Secrets Secrets: David Lee Murphy whispers to Kiefer Thompson during the panel. (Photo: Michael Seto)
As the song began to gain traction, the duo filmed a video and Garbonola says support from CMT was key in the song's success. "CMT was really supportive. We actually premiered the video on the CMT Insider App. When that Insider App kicked in, we were excited about it. That was an excuse to have a story to take to media," she said. "When they played the song on the App, CMT called and said, 'We got quite a few hits from that' and that was an early indication that there was something there.
The single became Thompson's Square's first No. 1 hit and propelled their career forward, helping them earn their first vocal duo of the year trophy from the Academy of Country Music in April. "We were blessed to have it," Kiefer says. "Some artists don't get a song like that their whole career."
As a songwriter himself, Kiefer acknowledges he hopes to be responsible for the duo's chart-topping hits, but he advises other writer/artists not to be hesitant to record outside songs. "You've got 30,000 registered songwriters in Davidson County," he noted. "While you're out touring, they are writing your next hit."