Dan + Shay Talk New Album, ‘Good Things,’ Writing with Shawn Mendes and Drake’s Influence
Songs from the project began surfacing in October 2019 with the cross-format smash “10,000 Hours” with Justin Bieber. The song, which is the top streamed country song so far this year on Spotify, spent 21 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart and was the duo’s seventh chart topper on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart. The track landed Dan + Shay their third straight Grammy for best country duo/group performance, making them the first act to snare the award in three consecutive years.
The pair, who co-wrote all of the songs on the album, worked with their usual impressive roster of Nashville top tunesmiths, including Ashley Gorley, Ross Copperman and Jordan Reynolds. This time, they also added some leading pop songwriters to the mix — including Jason “Poo Bear” Boyd, Julia Michaels and a certain top 40 superstar named Shawn Mendes on “Body Language.”
After the band’s third album came out, Mendes began posting on social media — specifically praising “Tequila” and “Speechless,” both of which became Top 10 hits on Billboard’s Adult Top 40 airplay chart.
“We were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is crazy. Like Shawn Mendes knows that we exist,” Smyers recalls. An online friendship led to Dan + Shay touring with Mendes in Australia, and getting into a room with him, Jordan Reynolds and Scott Harris to write “Body Language.” “We were just listening to random stuff. I remember Shawn was really inspired by Drake at the time and he was playing ‘Marvin’s Room,’ which is one of my favorite Drake songs too,” he continues. “I don’t know if that inspired the direction of ‘Body Language,’ but it kind of had that R&B flow and groove. It was incredible to watch him work. He’s got the goods.”
Other musical influences found their way onto Good Times. Orchestral tale of temptation “I Should Probably Go To Bed,” which hit No. 1 last summer, references The Beach Boys and ELO with its majestic sweep, while the pop refrain of the jaunty “Steal My Love” sounds straight out of the Backstreet Boys’ playbook. Meanwhile, the sweet piano ballad “You” draws on the unadorned early ‘90s hits from Alan Jackson and Brooks & Dunn. “I got into a nerd phase listening to those because they were so open and everything was sitting in the right place,” Smyers says. “There’s just some magic in that minimalism.”
Though their sound spans a number of styles, Dan + Shay consider themselves first and foremost country artists. “We write country songs — the topline, the lyrics of these songs,” Smyers says. “We moved to town because we fell in love with country songwriting and what was happening in Nashville and Music Row. The quality and the standard here is just unbelievable. We make sure the title, the concept, the payoff is great, like all country songs are. But with the production, we pull from all different influences. We grew up listening to all kinds of music, not just country, but pop, rock, R&B, hip-hop, everything… and you hear that in the music.”
In the dark depths of the pandemic this winter, Dan + Shay lobbed a musical love letter to their fans with “Glad You Exist,” which is No. 3 on Country Airplay this week. The tune, written before COVID-19, quickly went viral, with people posting videos on social media with loved ones they were glad existed — ranging from romantic couples to parents with their children, BFFs and even patients with health care workers.
“It gave people a voice. A lot of times, especially with guys, you don’t have the words to say, So we kind of gave them something to say,” Mooney says. “And it was just incredible to see all the stories. We had military homecomings, we had people posting about their kids. I was scrolling through there and I would make it maybe two stories and just be a wreck. It kind of became something that was so much bigger than us. Obviously you try to put things into motion and you can hope they become what you hope they can be and this song just took on a life of its own. It was a very human emotion of like, ‘Man, we’re all going through this together.’”
Like many artists, Dan + Shay stepped up their social media game during the pandemic as a way to connect with fans with touring off the table, though Smyers admits he takes the responsibility to an extreme. In the past two weeks, album track “Lying,” (which gives Bill Withers a songwriting credit because of its interpolation of his ’70s soul classic, “Lean on Me”) has gone viral — thanks to a video that features the pair going all in on a new line dance, even though, by Smyers’ own admission, the duo are “very self-aware we’re not great dancers.”
“Social media is crazy. It is a full-time job,” he continues. “We’re so stubborn about [not] giving anyone the password to our accounts. I’m a psycho. I’m on here trying to respond every time. If somebody wants to put themselves out there and champion your song, the least we can do is say thank you.”
That mentality of gratitude and positivity also plays into their music, which is devoid of any cynicism or hint of the social and political issues wracking the country, even though they occasionally address such issues via social media.
“We write a lot about what we know and we write about love and heartbreak and life,” Mooney says. “If we can unite people and make music that’s something people can to escape to or [use] to heal, find something that they need, then that’s the most important thing for us to do as musicians.”
Though many of the songs were written, or at least started, before the pandemic, the shutdown allowed for endless dabbling with the production, especially since the bulk of it was recorded in Smyers’ home studio — dubbed Abby Road in an homage to both his wife’s first name and the legendary British studio where the Beatles recorded. Describing his home studio as largely a guest bedroom with a mattress leaning up against a wall, Smyers admits, “I will tinker for eternity on this stuff, especially having a home studio where I can work for 18 hours a day and completely flip something on its head…like, ‘Sure, I’ll stack 64 layers of vocals on this.’ The blessing of having all this time on our hands really allowed us to leave no stone unturned.”
The pair kicked off the final countdown to the release with a First Listen virtual listening party on Apple Music Thursday night, followed by a previously taped appearance on Today’s Citi Concert Series this morning and a takeover of Pandora’s Today’s Country station. Tonight they will play a concert on the Great Lawn on Nashville’s Centennial Park, the first show of that scale at the location.
“I’ve been coming [to Nashville] since I was 8 years old and I remember the first time I was driving into Nashville and passing by and seeing the Parthenon and the park. That’s such a Nashville staple,” Mooney says. “It’s going to be a party for sure. It’s set up for a rager and we’re ready to do some celebrating.”
After their spring 2020 headlining tour was halted only six days after it started because of COVID-19, their AEG-presented The (Arena) Tour, featuring Ingrid Andress and The Band Camino, will resume Sept. 9 for 30 dates, including a Sept. 16 stop at New York’s Madison Square Garden. As the Delta variant causes the pandemic to rage again, they are watching with a hopeful, but cautious eye that the tour will go as planned.
“What’s bigger than [the tour] is just humanity and keeping everyone safe— whatever that means, whether it’s vaccines or masks or just whatever it takes to keep people safe and to minimize this virus,” Smyers says. “If that means, I mean it sucks to even think about it, postponing the shows again, we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. We’re keeping a watchful eye on it every single day.”
As their star continues to rise nearly a decade after they met at a party at Smyers’ house (and wrote a song the next day that Rascal Flatts put on hold), the duo stress that they are content, but not complacent.
“You do have to be careful with the goals that you set for yourself — because if you try to set your sights too high, then I feel like if you hit anything less than that, you feel like you’re a failure, and you can’t do that with your music,” Smyers says. “I think we have to be content with where we are. But that being said, I feel like we push ourselves to be the greatest that we can be. If you’re not pushing yourself to be the greatest, then what’s the point?”