Dan + Shay at 2020 GRAMMYs
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Dan + Shay On Bringing 'Good Things' With New Album, Tour Plans & Why Lizzo Is Their Dream Collaborator
This time last year, Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney—better known as Dan + Shay—were holed up in Smyer's unfinished home studio, where mattresses leaned up against the walls and Mooney held up pillows to track vocals for what would become their fourth studio album, Good Things. A year later, the LP became the first country album to ever be certified gold by the RIAA the week it was released, following its Aug. 13 arrival.
That juxtaposition is an anecdotal portrayal of the country stars' story: A hard-working duo composed of a brilliant vocalist (Mooney) and mastermind producer (Smyers), whose DIY approach has made them one of the genre's biggest acts of the moment. Though they've been signed to Warner Music Nashville since the beginning of their career in 2012, Dan + Shay have built a loyal fan base by managing their own social accounts, connecting with fans by actively responding to comments and sharing satirical takes on their songs.
Combining those efforts with infectious melodies and heartfelt lyrics, the pair became a household name in 2018 with their nostalgic ballad "Tequila," which was followed by wedding song "Speechless"—both of which won Dan + Shay a GRAMMY for Best Country Duo Group Performance (in 2019 and 2020, respectively). And in 2019, they struck gold—ahem, quadruple platinum—again with the romantic, Justin Bieber-assisted smash "10,000 Hours," yet another GRAMMY winner for the duo.
Riding high on those hits, Dan + Shay kicked off their headlining arena tour just before COVID-19 struck stateside in March 2020. With the world hitting pause, there was a silver lining for the country stars: plenty of time to record a new album. The 12-track Good Things is a mix of Dan + Shay's uplifting pop-leaning tunes and trademark emotive ballads. Mooney insists that whether happy or sad, every song encompasses the album's title.
"I think a lot of the best things in our lives come from the darkest places, whether that be a breakup, or whatever it is," Mooney says. "We hope that through this crazy year that we've had, we'll come out on the other side of this with a lot of good things, even though we've all been through a lot. That's how we grow as people, we learn things, and we move on."
GRAMMY.com caught up with Smyers and Mooney on the heels of the album's release to discuss their worldwide impact, tour re-igniting, and the chart-topping superstars they hope to collaborate with next.
You declared in a tweet that Good Things is your best album yet. What makes this feel like your best?
Smyers: We felt like our self-titled album was kind of the moment where things really connected on a different level. We had "Tequila" and "Speechless," and we've been trying to build on where they took our career. We feel like we owe it to everybody who have gotten us where we are—our fans, our team, everyone around us—to keep pushing ourselves, raising the bar.
I guess it made us put some unnecessary pressure on ourselves. Every time we were in the writing room, it's like, "Alright, I got this idea," "Well, is it as good as 'Tequila'?"
The blessing in disguise is we had a year and a half off of the road. We tried to make the most of an unfortunate situation. We camped out in [my home studio] and dug in. We pulled songs that we wrote three years ago, and songs that we wrote six months ago. We tried to pick the best material that we possibly could, and I feel like we really tapped in.
We tried everything. "What if we did it two BPMs faster?" "What if we did it in this key?" "What if we stripped it back?" By the time we wrapped up the project, it was like, "This is the best foot we can possibly put forward."
We put ourselves out there with that tweet, so there was a lot of pressure when the album came out, because our fans went into it thinking that. But we feel confident about it. We're so proud of every song front to back.
The first single from Good Things, "10,000 Hours," seemed to follow up the success of "Tequila" and "Speechless" in a huge way.
Smyers: Yeah, that song exposed our music to a whole new fan base. It was crazy to have that song be such a big hit and not really even get to play it live. We've finally got back on the road and are able to feel the energy, impact, and weight of that song.
Mooney: We haven't gotten to meet BTS, but we did have one of the guys [Jungkook] cover "10,000 Hours" which was so cool. Seeing those things proves how music is so universal, and shows the power of music that a country song written in Nashville could be then sung all over the world. It's a very unifying feeling, especially in the times that we're going through right now.
Do you feel like the response to that kind of set the tone for the rest of the album?
Smyers: Sonically, that kind of was the step in the direction that the rest of the album went. The overall aesthetics of the song—it was all about the vocals, and that was kind of the feature of the production. I feel like we really leaned into that for the rest of the album. There are so many vocals on this album, it's insane. I mean, hundreds, thousands of layers. And it feels cohesive. That song was written and recorded a long time ago, and we listened to it in sequence with the album, and it makes sense with everything else on there.
Along with Justin Bieber, you also co-wrote with Julia Michaels, Shawn Mendes and Tayla Parx on this project. You've always had a pop sensibility, but did working with pop artists have an impact on your process?
Mooney: Every experience that you have as an artist definitely impacts your craft, in a good way. We always try to be sponges in the way that we create. We've had a lot of people in the pop world be fans of what we've been doing since our first record—not just "10,000 Hours," "Tequila" or "Speechless." We got to meet Ed Sheeran very early on. It was such a cool thing to be able to watch how they work and be able to implement some of those styles into what we do. It definitely opened the door for a lot of different possible collaborations in the future.
I think it's good for the genre. It expands those walls a little bit, and sets the bar higher for everybody. The people who have come before us, like the Taylor Swifts, who have really pushed the boundaries, it's been good for everybody and made a way for people like us and the Sam Hunts of the world. It's just a really fun thing to be a part of.
Are there any other pop acts you're hoping you can collaborate with next?
Smyers: An Ariana Grande thing would be really cool. I nerd out on her social media when she posts videos in the studio, stacking harmonies. Her vocal technique and control is just unreal.
I feel like us and Lizzo could do something really cool. I remember hearing "Truth Hurts" for the first time. I was on a treadmill in Vegas at the ACMs, and it stopped me in my tracks. When that piano came in and she came in at the top, I had to get off the treadmill and text everyone I know. I'm just so blown away by her talent, her conviction, her authenticity. It would be a really fun one.
Mooney: We played a music festival with her after that song became massive, and Dan and I snuck out to front of house and we were raging. Absolutely raging to that song. And then she can just play the flute, and you're like, "Where did that even come from?" She's unbelievably talented. That's a very solid one. I would like to see a Dan + Shay/Lizzo [track].
Smyers: We're manifesting that. Putting it out there.
One thing that surprised me about Good Things is that half of the record is songs about breakups or relationships that aren't good for you, like "Irresponsible." As two happily married men, what inspires those kinds of songs, and how do you channel those emotions when writing them?
Mooney: It's funny, my wife and I, and I know that [Dan's wife] Abby does too, we love sad songs. When I think back on some of the toughest times in my life, the songs that really got me through were always really sad songs. There's something about that grieving process that is really beautiful.
The songs and the content don't necessarily represent where we are in our current lives, but that's the beauty of being an artist — being able to step into that role, and kind of be that storyteller for other people. It was interesting, though, putting together this project being in a happy place singing super depressing songs. [Laughs.]
Is there a song or two from this album that feel the most Dan + Shay to you?
Smyers: I would say a quintessential Dan + Shay song on this album would be "Give Into You"—the dark, brooding, emotional, nostalgic piano ballad kind of thing. That's something we've done since our first album, and what we always gravitate towards. If you left it up to us, we would have every song be a dark piano ballad. [Laughs.]
On the other side of the spectrum, I would say "One Direction." It's reminiscent of why people fell in love with Dan + Shay—a story, narrative lyric that's super heartfelt and emotional, but walls of harmonies in the chorus.
Mooney: Another would be the song "You." I feel like if you could sum up Dan + Shay, we've had so many wedding songs. We've already been seeing a lot of people using "You" as their wedding song. We got to play it live the other day, and it has a special groove to it that kind of gets you in the vibe. It's definitely gonna be a big wedding song for us.
Dan + Shay: The Wedding Song Guys.
Mooney: It's hilarious, people have used "Tequila" for their wedding. Don't ask me where that fits in. There was a girl who said she was using "Tequila" as her first dance. This is not a lie, this happened recently. I was like, "Have you heard the song?"
Like you mentioned, you've had a chance to start playing shows again. You were one of the acts who started their tour before the pandemic. Are there any major changes you've made as a result of the downtime you've had to think about the show?
Smyers: We feel really good about the tour that we put together last year. It was the most work we've ever put into anything. We did get to do three shows, which was amazing. I feel like, had we done months and months of preparation and rehearsals and then not gotten to do it, we would have been wondering, "Yo, is this any good?" We got three in, and everything really worked, so we were like, "Cool, we know we can do this."
Now comes the question of [if] all the songs that we played in the set a year and a half ago were in there for a reason. They were either fan favorites, they were good live, we had cool content, or they made sense transitionally. But now we've got a whole new album of material.
Selfishly, we want to play the whole new album and add that much time to the set—which we honestly might. We don't want to cut anything, really. The new songs, for some reason, just sound and feel better live than anything we've done before. So I think we will play a good majority of the new music and we'll find ways to integrate them into the flow of the set.
Shay, are you ever nervous about hitting your power notes on stage?
Mooney: It is a nerve-wracking thing, especially these first couple shows back. But I've been doing a lot of singing — singing to my kids, and we've been in the studio — so I wasn't nervous about that. What I was nervous about is the in-between moments. I haven't been on a stage in so long, so I think I'm probably more nervous about what I'm doing with my hands and how I'm moving. I've got the singing part down. Those high notes, I know that they're gonna be there. And if they're not, then I'll just fake like my mic broke.
You can just bust out the moves from your "Lying" and "Steal My Love" videos.
Mooney: No lie, I think that helps so much with these upcoming shows. I was like, "Dude, we're dancers." I mean, we're horrible dancers, but it still kind of helps with your swagger on stage, because that was something that I felt like I completely lost. Maybe I still look very dumb, but at least I'm doing it with confidence.
Can you guys believe it hasn't even been 10 years since you've known each other, let alone accomplished everything you have already?
Mooney: It's honestly crazy. I think about it all the time. In some ways, it feels like it was yesterday, and in a lot of ways, it feels like it's been 30 years doing this. It's incredible to have those moments and milestones together. We always say, doing this together has been so special because the lows are not near as low, and the highs are even higher.
This last year has especially made us even more appreciative of all the things we've gotten to do. And we've had the time to actually look back, reflect, and be thankful for those things that we never quite got the chance to take the moment to be like, "This is incredible." We are very blessed and thankful guys right now.