Since coming together a little over a year ago, Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney—known collectively as Dan + Shay—have established themselves as one of country music’s most promising duos. With pristine vocals and a knack for writing clever yet relatable songs about looking for, finding and losing love, Dan + Shay bring a youthful sense of energy to country music. Their debut album, Where It All Began, harnesses that energy with 12 radio-ready tracks.
The album’s title comes from the last line of their debut hit single, “19 You + Me,” which, upon its release, had the biggest first week by a new duo in trade publication Country Aircheck’s history, was the most added debut of 2013 at country radio and was certified Gold by the RIAA. The harmony-rich song reinvents the popular theme of nostalgia through a flurry of evocative imagery: you were California beautiful, I was playing everything but cool; it was everything we wanted it to be, the summer of 19 You + Me.
“'19 You + Me’ is where it all began, and those words are the last you hear in that song. It felt appropriate for our first album,” says Shay, a native of Natural Dam, AR.
“These 12 songs really define us,” adds Dan, who grew up in suburban Pittsburgh, PA. The pair first met during a late-night jam session at Dan’s Nashville home. “They’re honest, and this whole project started with Shay and I writing songs together. That’s how we met. Where It All Began is the story of who we are, who we were and who we’re going to be.”
Already Academy of Country Music Award nominees for Vocal Duo of the Year, Dan + Shay are following in the footsteps of their perennially lauded influences Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban and Tim McGraw. And the sing-along songs that make up Where It All Began evoke the sound of those artists, along with a healthy dose of ‘90s rock and R&B.
But it’s the album’s writing that truly distinguishes Where It All Began. Dan + Shay wrote or co-wrote all of the songs on the record and bring an educated yet hip slant to country lyrics. “We just love songwriting,” says Dan, who produced the album along with Danny Orton and Scott Hendricks. “We wanted it to be a rollercoaster of emotions and a rollercoaster of sounds, something that takes listeners on a journey. We want people to fall in love with the album from front to back.”
From the introductory whistles of opening track “Show You Off,” it’s easy to go along for the ride. The duo’s favorite to perform live, the album opener and second single instantly identifies Shay as one of country’s best young vocalists. His pliable voice soars along to Dan’s deft guitar lines and the result is musical alchemy. “When you’re in love with somebody,” Dan says of the song’s message, “you’re infatuated with them and you want to be seen with them everywhere.”
The inspiration for “Stop, Drop + Roll” came from a rather unlikely source: the Stephen King horror film “The Mist,” which the guys were watching late one night. When a character burst into flames, Dan quipped that he needed to “stop, drop and roll,” and the likeminded duo knew right away that it was a song. “We paused the movie and literally wrote it right then and there,” laughs Shay.
Such anecdotes are proof that inspiration can strike at any time for a songwriter.
“What I love about the vibe that Dan and I have is we don’t worry about what we say,” continues Shay, citing album cuts like the intimate “Can’t Say No” and the bittersweet “First Time Feeling.” “When you’re writing, you can’t be scared to say anything.”
Anything or everything. One of the gifts that reveals itself upon repeated listenings to Where It All Began is Dan + Shay’s lyrical attention to detail. Songs such as “Nothing Like You” paint a picture in the minutiae, with lines about purple untied shoestrings and stacks of books.
“Lyrics don’t have to be cookie-cutter or straight down the middle,” says Dan.
But it does help if they’re conducive to group choruses, which the duo found out firsthand when touring with Hunter Hayes.
“We played ‘Show You Off’ for 10,000 people with Hunter Hayes and they all were singing the ‘ay oh’ chorus back to us,” recalls Shay. “It was amazing.”
Following a tour with Hunter, the guys will be joining Blake Shelton on his Ten Times Crazier Tour this summer.
“We’re such huge fans of these artists,” says Dan, “that it’s crazy to imagine that they believe in us enough to take us out on the road. We’re thrilled to introduce new fans to the music of Where It All Began.”
Earning an RIAA Gold certification for a hit single, going on tour with Blake, being nominated for an ACM and CMT Music Award—they’re all milestones that have become a part of the Dan + Shay story. And with the release of their debut album Where It All Began, the most exciting chapter is about to be written.