You would think the touring life would take a toll on Keifer and Shawna Thompson, a.k.a. the hit-making hubby-wife duo Thompson Square. Cramped tour buses, scant private time, a lack of cuddly coupleness that helped drive 2010 breakout hit Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not to No. 1 on the country charts.
You would think that — and you would be wrong.
"Actually I think we're happier on the road," says Keifer, who'll bring his bride to the Florida Strawberry Festival on Sunday for one of the must-see shows on this year's lineup. "When we're home too long, we start to hate each other. We invite other people over so we won't get a divorce."
He's joking (maybe — hopefully) and soon allows: "We fight like everyone else. But it's also extremely rare these days to find two people who sing so well together and have that kind of harmony. Most people don't want to spend that much time together, you know? We do. We're that needle in a haystack."
Awwwww. Now that's the good gooey Hallmark stuff that will draw a lot of lovebirds to Plant City this weekend. And Keifer is right: Nashville's Thompson Square is a rare tandem in popular music. There have been plenty of sibling acts — Andrews Sisters, Everly Brothers, sparring Kinks and Oasis — but save for Steve and Eydie, Captain & Tennille (um, who just split up), Ike and Tina Turner (uhhh …) and a few others, married bands have been few and far between.
It's a tricky package to present and maintain. Thompson Square admit they try to walk a tightrope between edgy and schmoopy, best illustrated in the playfully chop-busting cut Let's Fight ("Baby, you and me been getting along for way too long ...")
"Our fans like that aspect of it," Shawna says in her Alabama twang. "High energy, but good intimate moments, too."
"We fight the 'cute' word a lot," adds Oklahoma native Keifer. "Some people come to our show thinking, 'Oh, they're a married couple, they're not going to rock very hard.' But it gets loud."
And that's another secret ingredient to the success of the Grammy-nominated Thompsons, who first met at a Nashville singing competition (instant attraction, even if they did work solo for awhile).
"We have our heart and soul in country," says Keifer. And yet, they listen to all parts of the radio dial: rock, pop, punk, metal, "Elvis Presley was an early influence."
That shows, too. At first glance on the concert stage, Thompson Square, sartorially speaking, looks more like a rock act working the Whisky A Go Go in West Hollywood.
"We absolutely love heavy metal and punk and hair metal too, so that's a huge compliment," says Shawna, who buys a lot of her stage clothes at — big reveal — T.J. Maxx. "You find the funkier stuff in clearance!"
It's in their sound, too. The riffs kicking off hit I Got You ring like something from circa-'80s Bon Jovi. Still: "I don't know if we could ever pull off a straight rock record," Shawna says, adding that it's hard enough writing a country one.
They've released two LPs, both on indie labels, both successful: 2011's Thompson Square and 2013's Just Feels Good. And each one tested their patience: "We usually need a third or fourth person when we write," Shawna says. "It's hard to write together. We have to have a referee sometimes. It's the little things. Keifer will like a line, and I don't."
Keifer laughs, perhaps revealing Thompson Square's final, ultimate secret to success: "She always has to win in the end."
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.