Dan + Shay Discuss How Their Love of Tequila Led to Hanging With Demi Lovato & Their Biggest Hot 100 Hit Yet

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Patrick Tracy
Nashville’s Smyers (left), 30, and Mooney, 26, also rise to No. 2 on the Hot Country Songs chart.

Since their fateful meeting on December 7, 2012, Dan + Shay have managed to notch four No. 1 singles on the Country Airplay chart and three top 10 albums on the Billboard 200 -- with their recently released third LP, Dan + Shay, earning the guys (Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney) their second No. 1 album on the Top Country Albums chart.

But for whatever reason, the songs that were obviously hitting with the country audience only got them up to No. 43 on the Billboard Hot 100 -- until they sang about a certain liquor. 

The duo's latest single, simply titled "Tequila," has helped them earn their first top 30 (almost top 20) hit on the chart, currently sitting pretty at No.. 21 on the July 7-dated tally. "You see the list of names that are on the Hot 100, Drake, Cardi B, all these massive artists -- and then Dan + Shay. It's like, 'Did somebody make a mistake?'," Dan Smyers remarks to Billboard. "It's an honor."

Judging by Dan + Shay's latest ventures, it's definitely no mistake. The guys just played "Tequila" on the Today show plaza earlier this week, the video won a fan-voted CMT Music Award earlier this month, and the song just became the duo's fourth Country Airplay No. 1. With or without tequila in their system, Dan + Shay are buzzing. 

Billboard sat down with Smyers and Mooney before the iHeartRadio album release party for their new self-tilted LP last week, to chat about their career-changing hit, how it helped catch the attention of Demi Lovato, and, of course, their love of tequila.

When you were writing "Tequila," did you think this was going to be your biggest hit?

Smyers: We knew it was really special, we were really proud of this song. Sometimes a piano ballad is a little risky to put out as a radio single, but we put ["Tequila"] out, and immediately we could feel the reaction was, like, so elevated. Radio embraced it, played it, and the fans reacted to it. A few months later, and the song has taken our career to new heights. It's cool that we trusted our gut on that one.

Who thought of the idea for "Tequila," and why was it not another liquor?

Mooney: That was [our co-writer] Jordan Reynolds.

Smyers: Jordan actually was watching our Instagram story, he's like, "Dude, you guys drink a lot of tequila. We gotta write that song." It's kind of what inspired us to write that tune. I'm glad we did -- it's gotten us a good bit of free tequila, so hopefully that'll keep pouring in.

Mooney: Pouring in, I like what you did there.

So tequila is clearly Dan + Shay's drink of choice, but is there a tequila cocktail of choice?

Mooney: Yeah. I think Dan, he does usually a soda water or a LaCroix with tequila. Sometimes I do Red Bull and tequila. That sounds crazy. People are like, "Are you kidding me? That sounds extreme."

Smyers: That's how he gets his hair to stand up.

Mooney: It's exactly that. But yeah, that's usually what I drink on stage. I don't drink too many... I have that just on stage. But we like get sipping tequilas as well. You know, Don Julio 1942. And there's also a tequila I've been drinking a lot, they have an extra anejo -- like extra, extra anejo -- and it's called Dulce Vida. Having a song called "Tequila" is pretty dangerous for us, because everyone's like, "Hey, let's do a tequila shot!" And we're like, "All right!"

Are there any funny moments from filming the video, since you filmed it in the middle of a Colorado winter?

Mooney: Not that anyone saw. No one saw me fall, but now I'm confessing to you guys, I fell like 30 times. One of the things that stood out to me was that it was freezing cold. We were sitting there. We had a piano, I think they had got it off of Craigslist. They found this piano...

Craigslist piano in an award-winning video.

Mooney: Yeah, I think was like this lady's piano. They bought it from her off of that. We're trying to look cool, and it's freezing. I think we did 4 or 5 takes. I was trying to play it. Like, my fingers were about to fall off. I think after we got done filming those scenes, we found out that there was a heater over on the side that everyone was using. And we're sitting here, freezing it up.

Funny story, actually after they had filmed that, they set it on fire. They had burned the piano, which was a whole 'nother thing that took forever to get it lit. I think the lady was like, "Hey, if you guys aren't using that..." They knew that we were using it for a video. She was like, "If you guys don't want that, I'll take it back," as we're looking at the burned, the charred remains of this piano. Hopefully it wasn't very sentimental to her. 

Now you have an award to show for it. So you can say to the lady that her piano won an award.

Smyers: They can make a copy of the award for her.

Along with the chart success and your CMT Award, you've had an amazing response to your new music from celebrities like Demi Lovato. What was your first reaction to finding out she's shouting you out?

Smyers: That was crazy. We had no idea she was a fan. We're huge fans of hers, obviously. We didn't know what was going on. It was blowing up. Notifications were crazy. We were like, "This is awesome! She has like 100 million followers! That's gonna be a lot of people hearing the song." It really kicked off the buzz on that song.

Have you been in contact with her since she shouted you out?

Mooney: Yeah, we actually got to meet up with her in London. She's just the sweetest person in the world. We landed in London, and she just happened to be there for a couple hours and she came to our hotel. We hung out for a while and she's just the nicest, most humble, incredible human being.

 

Thank you @ddlovato! --

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Was she fangirling over you guys?

Smyers: We were fangirling over her, for sure.

Mooney: There was some mutual fangirling. She's says that, but...

Smyers: That's the name of our fourth album, Mutual Fangirling.  

Mooney: Just a bunch of collaborations. That's so cool to us to have people like that. Taylor Swift has been playing "Tequila" in her pre-show playlist, and Shawn Mendes had tweeted at us and reached out. It just makes you feel good whenever fellow musicians and artists -- obviously, having the fans, you wouldn't be able to do it without them -- but having someone that does what you do give you a pat on the back, and be like, "We're really digging what you're doing," is a really cool thing for us.

Have you felt any impact from having the pop community latch onto you guys?

Smyers: Yeah, it's definitely had an impact. I think on our social media, specifically. The fans of pop music -- especially Demi Lovato -- are super, super passionate. They're on it, always. I think ever since she started posting about us, even Shawn Mendes started posting about us, a lot of people have been on it and sharing the music. We've seen the numbers, the statistics have gone up as well. Not just in the states, but like internationally.

Those artists have such international followings. I mean, Shawn Mendes is doing three nights at the O2 Arena in London. Demi's on an arena tour in Europe right now. So for them to expose us to those audiences is really cool, especially with country music growing overseas in Europe and other places. We're going back for a headlining tour in Europe in January, so hopefully there'll be a few more people than were there last time.

 

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That's amazing! Now, I figure it's only appropriate to end this by having you guys finish the lyric, "When I taste tequila..."

Smyers: I get hungover. Ever since I turned 30, I definitely catch a strong hangover after a night of drinking. Tequila, not as bad. If I drink other things, like all the things that we reference in the song: whiskey, red wine, champagne, scotch. I'm like way hungover. With tequila, still hungover, but just like lesser of the evils.

So you can't actually drink whiskey, red wine, and be fine like you say in "Tequila"?

Smyers: No, no, no, I'm a liar.

Mooney: You liar. I'll say, when I taste tequila, I don't remember. I feel like tequila nights... There's always that one friend who's responsible for the hangover the next day. When you're shooting tequila, it tastes so good, so you're like "Oh, yeah, I think a couple more." You feel fine on tequila for a while, and then you go from 0 to 100 pretty quickly.

A version of this article was published in the June 30 issue of Billboard.