Trace Thompson Lets Music Move His Soul
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photographer / Brandi Caplinger
Music has always been the undertone of Trace Thompson’s life. As a little boy, he frequently pulled out his parent’s vinyl records and got lost in the sound. In middle school he began to learn how to play the piano but quickly fell in love with the sound of a guitar, even though he didn’t have one himself. In the summer of 1989 he purchased his first guitar from Guitarworks.
He played music all through high school, winning the Johnson County talent competition two years straight and placing well at the Indiana State Fair finals with just his voice and guitar. He even played with a southern rock band when he was allowed to do so, as a backup singer and rhythm guitarist. Thompson really got the itch to perform after standing on stage at Brown County’s Little Nashville Opry when he was a teenager. During his junior year he started writing music, and in his senior year he submitted a song he wrote to a national creative arts competition and won.
After graduating from Center Grove High School in 1993, he went to Nashville to see if he could make something happen but quickly learned he was too naive to the business of music. He came back to Indy and worked three jobs, including a firefighter emergency medical technician position at the Bargersville Fire Department, and put himself through college. After a 15-year break, Thompson started writing music again while living in Texas. Due to family reasons he moved back to Indy in 2015, and a couple of years later formed the band called Trace Thompson & Another Round, which consists of Jason Smith (lead guitar and background vocals – also a 1991 Center Grove grad), Mike England (drums) and Ken Nicholson (bass guitar).
In 2018 Thompson released his debut album, called “Get It Right.”
“I figured worst-case scenario, my grandkids might listen to it someday and think it’s cool,” Thompson says. The album hit national syndication from New York to Los Angeles, and he had three number-ones on independent charts for more than 14 weeks. He also charted in the United Kingdom and Australia. His first single, “Jesus & Me,” took him just 45 minutes to write. He followed that up with “In My Rearview.”
Both songs landed on several streaming radio services. In 2018 he got a handful of nominations for the Josie Music Awards (JMAs). He and his wife Dana traveled to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, to Dollywood’s amusement park for the awards ceremony. The pair arrived early to ride rides. When they got to the ceremony later that day, they were famished.
“I went to get us some corn dogs, and when I came in I saw that people were dressed to the nines so I was trying to sneak in the back door, corn dogs in hand,” Thompson says with a chuckle. The awards show ran long so he got up to grab some peanut M&M’s, and that’s when his name was called for winning Modern Country Male Artist of the Year.
“I was eating them when they announced my name and I almost choked,” he says. “Now my fans bring peanut M&M’s to our show sometimes as a good-luck charm.”
Through the course of his career, his band has opened for many artists including Chase Rice, Justin Moore, Randy Houser, and the band Midland. Last year he experienced a “pinch me” moment when he opened for Billy Dean and Neal McCoy at the Marion County Fairgrounds. Instead of hanging out in his trailer, McCoy watched Thompson’s entire show from the backstage staircase to avoid being seen. McCoy told Dana, “I’m staying back here because I don’t want to take away from Trace’s performance. This is his show.” Thompson was surprised when he turned to see the headliner watching his show.
“The schedules those guys are on is grueling, like a 2 a.m. bus call for a show at 10 p.m. in another state, so the fact that he took the time to do that meant a lot to me,” says Thompson, who appreciates each and every opportunity, as well as his fans.
“When I first started I was playing for the bartenders and waitstaff,” Thompson says. “Now we’ve got people making table reservations before the show and packing local venues out, more often than not.”
Each year the band puts on a number of charitable events as well. Thompson has supported the Indianapolis Firefighters Emerald Society and the Wounded Warrior Project, among others. Plus, for the past three years he has put on the Trace Thompson & Another Round Give Back Jam, a benefit concert that helps a local business, cause or family in need. The idea was birthed during the pandemic when everybody was stuck at home. Thompson invited Smith to come over and do a live stream. They then donated the proceeds to local restaurants and created tabs for first responders to enjoy lunch on the community, in thanks for what they were doing.
“We had an initial goal of raising $700 and ended up making $2,400, so we split that between Johnson’s BBQ Shack, Campbell’s Highland Grille and The Corner Bar,” Thompson says. “We even went up to help hand out lunches as the police officers rolled through the parking lot, which was really humbling.”
The second Give Back Jam benefitted a little boy in the community named Colton Darst who has arthrogryposis, a congenital joint condition that limits his ability to use his arms and legs. The Darst family used the funds to purchase some much-needed special equipment for him, including a new desk and chair to help with virtual learning at home.
Last year they donated proceeds to Hands of Hope Indiana to provide Thanksgiving meals to 300 foster families. This year’s Give Back Jam will take place on Thompson’s birthday, November 12, and he’s still praying over which charity will be the beneficiary.
Though he still performs, these days he focuses primarily on writing songs, often collaborating with top songwriters in the industry. For instance, he’s written with people who have written recent number-ones for Jason Aldean, as well as hits for Brad Paisley, Alabama, Rodney Atkins, Kelsey Ballerini and Brantley Gilbert. Thompson was excited about a writing session he had in June with professional writer Jeffrey East out of Los Angeles and Tedd Swormstedt from Ohio.
“We got a really cool song out of that session, and we’re coordinating some time in the studio to cut a demo,” Thompson says. “I’ve had the pleasure of writing several songs with Jeffrey. He taught me to celebrate everything.”
Thompson has even gotten to write with some of his idols from back in the 1990s. For instance, he wrote with Brady Seals from Little Texas, and Steve Dean, who has written for Rick Trevino, Tim McGraw and George Strait.
“It’s cool to get to meet the heroes who helped form my sound,” Thompson says.
These guys are happy, too, because Thompson brings new energy to the writing sessions. A lot of prep work goes into being a professional songwriter. Thompson goes into each meeting with multiple hook ideas, each with a unique twist that’s relatable yet unexpected. He also comes in with cool guitar riffs, chord progressions and/or finger-picking sounds that help set the vibe for a song.
“If you can do both, you’re considered a heavy writer because a pro writer appreciates the new ideas and doesn’t have the entire burden of coming up with something fresh day in, day out,” Thompson says. “If you and the pro click, you may get another shot at writing with them again, but you have to impress their publishers too. There’s a lot more to it than just writing songs.”
He’s written with up-and-coming hitmakers of today, for artists like Jackson Snelling, a contestant on American Idol, as well as powerhouse country singer Heather Victorino. This year Thompson is up for 10 JMA nominations, six of which are for songwriting. The awards ceremony will be hosted at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville this October.
“What an incredible moment it would be to hear my name called and stand on that stage,” he says. “That’s sacred ground, for sure.”
Thompson genuinely appreciates his fans, who have been along for the ride and continue to be supportive.
“There’s nothing more gratifying than having an audience sing your song back to you,” Thompson says. “It’s a rush like no other.”
Thompson has hinted at a release of some new music this fall. Follow his socials for more information, or visit tracethompson.com.