Thompson Square Talk 'Masterpiece' & 5-Year Gap Between Albums: 'Some Things Don't Work Out Like You Want'

Garrett Merchant
Thompson Square

This past Friday, Thompson Square unveiled Masterpiece, their first album in over five years. Fans have been continually asking the duo’s Keifer and Shawna Thompson why there has been such a lapse of time between the new project and 2013’s Just Feels Good. Keifer tells Billboard that definitely wasn’t the plan.

“Life is funny, and sometimes things don’t work out like you want,” he admitted, while stressing the past five years have seen some good in their lives as well. “We had a kid in the process, and he’s been the biggest blessing we’ve ever had,” he says of their son, Rigney Cooper, who was born in August 2015. “We got out of our deal, went in and made a record. We hadn’t been able to make a record in about five years. To be an artist or a creator and not having been able to put an album out is very much suffocating. It was really starting to mess with us, because if you are the type of person who wants to write and record music, and you’re not able to do that, you just kind of ask, ‘What’s the point?’ That’s what you live for. It was definitely a process getting out, and as soon as we did, we went into the studio with who we wanted to work with, and recorded the songs we wanted to do. It was one of those things that we had to do. It was time.”

In 2010, the husband-and-wife duo kicked off their career with the flirtatious “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not,” which topped the Hot Country Songs and Country Airplay charts in April 2011. Their next four releases each hit the top 15, including another Country Airplay No. 1 with "If I Didn't Have You" in 2013. But since 2014, their biggest chart showing was “Trans Am,” which peaked at No. 44. Keifer says they felt they needed to do something to jumpstart their career after having been a member of the Stoney Creek roster since the beginning. “We just felt that the switch had been flipped off on us in the relationship. We just listened to our heart and our gut on it, and just said that we felt like we had ran our course at the label. You spend your whole life trying to get a record deal, and you ask out of one? It sounds crazy, but the paradigm shift in how music is consumed is so drastically different than it was before. It is something that is encouraging to all independent artists like us. I’m not saying that we wouldn’t take another record deal at some point or explore that avenue, but it feels good to be in control of our lives 100 percent. We just want a chance to live or die by our own sword because if we stayed there, nothing is going to change.”

Thompson credits his former label for their willingness to let them depart. “The new regime was very gracious. They said, ‘I’ll never hold an artist back who doesn’t want to be here. I want you to be here, but if you don’t think we can do for you what you need done, then I’ll let you go,'” he said, adding that in the end, the decision came down to simple economics. “We have to make a living for our family, and we do that by producing and putting out music, and we’re not doing that at a level that we need to. Spotify and SiriusXM have played a huge role in this launch, as well as some radio stations. We are working our butts off and seeing how everything unfolds, and just being nimble. If people ask us about doing a show, it’s a matter of moments if we can get these things done. It’s really quite liberating and interesting to be independent. It feels good to be in control of your own destiny.”

Masterpiece is an album that is full of different moods, with “Good Day” and “Up in Smoke” leading the way when it comes to the upbeat fare on the disc. Kiefer says the two locked into one of their favorite styles of music on the former cut. 

“We are reggae music fanatics. We were in the Bahamas for a songwriting retreat, and ‘Good Day’ is just a snapshot of that day. When we wrote it with Eric Belz and Frank Rogers, Eric had this synth horn signature lick that set it off. We just wanted to create this ‘take me away’ kind of vibe, and make it a literal snapshot of this beautiful day that we had in Nassau. The guitars on ‘Up in Smoke’ was a lick I came up with before I had the song. It’s a true story about how Shawna and I got together, and my transition from a bad relationship into a good one.”

And on the other end of the emotional spectrum, there’s “Breakers,” which closes the disc. It’s perhaps the most passionate and emotional that Shawna Thompson has ever sounded. Her spouse says that’s for good reason. “That song was very difficult to write. It’s about a family member that Shawna finally had to cut out of her life. She couldn’t even talk about it at first without crying. I finally got her to talk about it, and it was very therapeutic. We got through that, and wrote the song. We pieced the song together because she cried the whole time. We’d get a word here and a word there. It’s just difficult when someone who is supposed to be your protector turns their back and betrays you. It just breaks your heart. It’s a tough pill to swallow. That was the worst thing that has happened to us in the past five years, and also her life. It just needed to be sung about,” he says, adding that he is proud of her for allowing herself to be so vulnerable. 

“I think that as a songwriter, you are doing yourself and your fans an injustice if you don’t speak the truth about stuff that you don’t want people to hear. I promise you that everyone has a family member that has done something like that to them. You can’t get away from it. That’s the beautiful thing about music. We can tell these stories about ourselves and it mirrors so many people’s lives. That’s exactly what that song has done for some of our fans.”