Dan + Shay on New Single: 'If This Was the Last Song That We Ever Put Out, We Would Be So Proud'

Dan + Shay
Catherine Powell

Dan + Shay

Dan + Shay were in the middle of a headlining arena tour when COVID-19 shut down touring and life in general in March. But as their new single, “I Should Probably Go To Bed,” out today (July 31), shows, they have made the most of their time in quarantine.

Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney started the song with co-writers Sean Douglas and Jason Evigan while in Los Angeles in January for the Grammy Awards, where they took home their second consecutive trophy for country duo/group performance.

It wasn’t until lockdown that they pulled the song back out and tried it on again for size. The pair finished writing it and then Smyers, working out of his home studio -- a spare bedroom he converted and cleverly calls Abby Road Studio in honor of his wife’s first name and the famed London studio where the Beatles recorded -- produced and engineered the track. He also played every instrument, including piano, drums, bass, acoustic guitar, synth and strings.

The result is a lush, heartbreaking ballad with a gorgeous arrangement and layered harmonies that pays a debt to The Beatles, Queen, Electric Light Orchestra, and most obviously, the Beach Boys’ groundbreaking album Pet Sounds. Mooney’s soaring vocals top anything he’s done previously.

Smyers and Mooney talked to Billboard about creating the track, the first single from their upcoming album, two days before its release.

It's such a heartbreaking song. How did two happily married men and your co-writers get yourself back in that mindset of a man pining for a lost love?

Smyers: I think that's the beauty of writing. It almost allows you to get into character for however long that session may be. Also with the beauty of co-writing, you can pull from past experiences from multiple people's lives to create this. We knew we wanted it to be a situational thing where somebody's battling with temptation and they're defenseless from whatever that temptation may be. In this case, it’s somebody that they can't quite keep themselves away from.

I think we've all been in that position. The fact that we knew that the message is very relatable and direct gave us a platform to be a little bit more experimental and dress it up with big production and pull in lots of different influences.

How much did you get written in Los Angeles versus how much was done after COVID-19 hit?

Mooney: We had written a verse and a chorus and maybe a little bit of a second verse as well in Los Angeles. [Then] after being quarantined for a few weeks and after Dan and I knew we were healthy, I went over to his house. It was a big deal. We’d been quarantined for so long and hadn't seen or talked to really anybody for obvious reasons. We started jamming on the piano and we fell in love with playing music together again in those first 20 minutes. It felt like there was magic in the room.

We’d played the song a few times in soundcheck and we knew we loved the song and the vibe, but it just wasn't quite there. Dan just started playing piano and I started out riffing on stuff, singing random melodies and I had this little groove for a bridge. Probably within the next hour we had that song finished.

[Pre-pandemic], we had shifted our entire focus to touring and when you get in that mode, you kind of forget the importance of a song. When we got back in that room, we started to remember how everything we do revolves around great music. In order to move forward, we have to truly bring great content. Our fans deserve it, radio deserves it.

And so we actually had the time to really think about our music and to be able to methodically lay out a plan and to be able to record it how we want it to. Dan takes probably four days on just one kick drum sound. If this was the last song that we ever put out— it's not going to be, but if it was -- we would be so proud of it. This is what we've been trying to reach for up to this point.

How long did it take to come up with this arrangement? It’s very reminiscent of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and Brian Wilson’s way of layering vocals.

Smyers: That was the inspiration on all the harmonies. It was Pet Sounds -- all the genius and magic behind that is something that I've always studied.As we evolved throughout our career, we haven't really had the opportunity to really dive into that as much as we would've liked to. And this has kind of given us that moment where we just have had nothing but time on our hands to really have fun with that and to experiment and to pull those influences.

There’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in there, there's some Queen influence, some Prince. All kinds of crazy stuff and we put our modern touch on it.

I would lay in the bus at night while we're driving down the road and one crazy night I stumbled upon the Pet Sounds a capella vocal tracks and I like studied inside and out and tried to pull inspiration from that. It was having the time and having a home studio, which is essentially just the guest bedroom with a mattress leaned against the wall and, blankets on the floor, to just tinker and just experiment and try different things.

Once I heard Shay start singing his impressive vocal acrobatics into the mic, I was like, “We need to make an arrangement in a production that supports that,” and the vocal is deserving of that. That's why I spent so much time on the sonics of it while being conscious of not overdoing the production or overplaying the instruments to get in the way of what's most important. From a fan's perspective, they're just hearing, “Wow, that's a crazy vocal.” Shay’s lead vocal is amazing. So everything in there is intended to support that.

Shay, how are you feeling about singing it in concert and trying to hit those high notes?

Mooney: I feel like I’ve put myself into this corner and I’m going to have to sing it for the rest of my life [laughs]. Dan and I started tinkering and singing all these random things and I was feeling so inspired and doing all these crazy notes. I thought about that later, like, “How the heck am I going to do these live? These are some ridiculously high notes.” It is going to be nerve-wracking every time. But I think that we'll be able to nail it, especially with Dan giving me the confidence like that.

This is a very pop song. Are you worried at all about a backlash from country programmers?

Mooney: From the beginning, we've had such a great relationship with country radio and they've supported us in such a big way. It's been amazing to watch how music has evolved and how the genre lines have been blurred. And I think that they know that we're there to stay. We're not trying to deviate from country, we're just trying to write great music. And I think that that transcends genres, which is very hard to do, but we've managed to do it on a few now.

We’re trying to give them a great song that their listeners are gonna want to listen to. I think pushing and blurring those lines a little bit is good for all formats. We're just trying to get the most amount of people in the world to hear our music because we're so proud of it. We spend so much time trying to make it great.

The video also comes out today. What was it like shooting a video in quarantine?

Smyers: Everybody had to get tested for COVID on the way in, and there was a COVID compliance officer walking around and making sure there was never a moment where people had their masks off. It was crazy, but, you know, it was what we had to do. And I think it felt good for people to get back to work. People were eager for that. I think this moment has caused us to step back and to appreciate, “Hey, we all get to do music for a living. This is incredible. It's a dream come true.”