The music blaring from the second-floor stereo speakers was so loud it rattled the third-floor windows, setting off a late-night alarm. It’s happened often enough – at least 30 times in the first two months of 2016 – that everyone working afterhours at the Warner Bros. Nashville building collectively knew, “It’s just Dan + Shay.”
The duo – Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney – have literally been obsessing over the song selection for their aptly titled sophomore album Obsessed.
After finishing their debut album, Where It All Began, Dan + Shay never stopped writing songs and by the time they seriously thought about their second album, they had a Dropbox with more than 80 songs they had already demoed. “At the end of the night we get the board rocking and turn it up and just sit there and listen,” said Dan. Shay added, “We just want it to be Dan + Shay. Whenever you make your own lane and you’re not trying to chase anything else, that’s when it clicks and you can truly create.”
Their most enduring song is arguably “From the Ground Up,” the first single from their forthcoming album Obsessed.
It’s the most personal song Dan + Shay have written together. Dan, who said a great song starts with a powerful lyric, had just returned to Nashville following a heartbreaking trip to home for his grandfather’s funeral. Shay, who recalled it being “a real emotional time,” also lost his grandfather a short time later.
The two friends were recording vocals for another track when they started talking about the love their grandparents had for one another. Both families were married for over 65 years and that kind of long-lasting love is unheard of these days.
“When we had those conversations, that’s when we realized that kind of love is the example that we strive for in our own personal relationships,” said Dan, who initially worried it might be too personal before concluding, “That needed to be said in a song.”
“Like the song says, they lived in this tiny, tiny house and lived right up the road from us,” said Shay, who became obsessed with country music because of the stories told, like the one of his grandparents’ relationship. “All they had was each other and us. That was it.”
“From the Ground Up” has made an impression on listeners, evident by the fact that, according to Billboard charts, it was the No. 1 most added song at country radio. “It connected to people of all ages,” said Dan, who said its success is exciting and scary, “and you get a little choked up sometimes.”
Shay added, “Anyone can relate to it even though it’s a very specific story to us.”
No one knows the Dan + Shay sound better than they know themselves, so whether it’s a heartfelt ballad like “From the Ground Up,” their first No. 1 “Nothin’ Like You,” or the up tempo title track “Obsessed,” their music has largely been the two of them in the studio working all night on one song after another.
“We were recording some vocals for this new album,” recalled Dan, “and we had the studio rented out and we always ask, ‘How long do we have the studio?’ It probably took us about two hours to do what we needed to do but we just stayed there the entire night. We were, and continue to be, just fixated in that environment – cranking up music – just jamming. That’s when you know you’re truly obsessed with it.”
Shay has been bound and determined to make his mark as a songwriter in Nashville ever since his father brought him to town when he was eight and again when he was 12-years-old, but it wasn’t until meeting Dan that he found someone who he naturally felt comfortable with when it came to songwriting, singing harmonies, recording and eventually performing live.
Whether it’s another late night with their acoustics jamming for close friends or on stage for thousands of fans on tour, Dan + Shay enjoy what they’ve been able to create together. Their layered voices – Shay brings a gospel and R&B flavor, while Dan is influenced by the harmonies of Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles – give each of their songs, especially a song like “Obsessed,” a dynamic feel that stretches the boundaries and creates its own unique place in the soundscape that is contemporary country music.
“Whenever Dan and I got together there was just a magic in the room,” Shay said, “This is what we’ve been trying to do is capture that energy. Everything on our iPods that we had listened to for years had come together in that moment. This is Dan + Shay.”