Dan + Shay Interview: ’19 You + Me’ Duo Explain Tattoos, the Tent in Their Living Room and Lost Redneckery
Fans know Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney of Dan + Shay met at a house party, but there are a few other details about that fated night that paint a more accurate picture of where the duo came from, and just how quickly their careers took off.
The party was at Smyers’ old house on Morton Ave. in Nashville. It’s a home they describe as “rough.” Smyers, a Carnegie Mellon grad., recently told Taste of Country why there was a tent in the living room.
“We didn’t have enough money to pay for heat, so I went to a thrift store and bought every sheet in the place and built a tent in the living room,” he says. “We just all huddled around, like ‘Nashville is awesome!’”
Girls roamed around inside their tent, but the two hardly paid them any attention. Instead, they stayed up playing music, drinking beer and writing songs until 4AM. Later that week, they wrote a song together. Immediately it was put on hold by Rascal Flatts.
This was December 2012. A few months later Mooney was still being described as “a redneck in an urban world” by CNN. They profiled him as a solo artist on T-Pain’s Nappy Boy Entertainment label.
Six months later they were signed by Warner Nashville, with an album in the works and a single at radio. ’19 You + Me’ is a lighter, more polite brand of country music reminiscent of their idols Rascal Flatts. Their sound is polished, but that’s not all. This band is more professional than most music veterans. Little things — like Dan grabbing Shay’s hand to stop him from nervously tapping on the counter during a radio interview — stand out.
The new ‘Where It All Began’ album (released April 1) falls in line with what fans hear on ’19 You + Me,’ a song that earned them an ACM nod for Top Vocal Duo, and opening slots on the Hunter Hayes and Blake Shelton tours this year. Smyers and Mooney talked to Taste of Country during CRS week in Nashville.
You two have a great starving artist story, about not being able to pay the heat before you met.
DS: I did some funny things when I moved to town. I couldn’t pay for heat and I was like doing research groups. I was taste-testing pizza, which was pretty nice because I didn’t have any money to eat so I’d go to these Papa Johns or Dominoes pizza taste-testing. It was like $25 for an hour and they had left over pizza and I’d be like “Hey you mind if I take a couple of those boxes?” I’d take ‘em and I’d eat ‘em.
I did that kind of stuff, I was trying on t-shirts, whatever I could do to make some money. I figured if I lived here I didn’t want to pick up a side job. I just wanted to focus all my time and energy on writing songs and producing songs. You gotta go all in if you really believe in something.
"All these 19s were popping up. Single title, and we got 19 more adds that day and I told Shay when I saw this tattoo shop, ‘I swear I’ll get a tattoo today.’ He’s like “Nawww.’"
Shay, for the most part you sing lead on ’19 You + Me.’ Do you switch it up on the album?
Shay Mooney: He does harmonies, and he does literally everything else. Singing is literally the only thing I do [Dan smiles shakes his head in disagreement]. Dan produced our album and that was awesome. We wrote all the songs together and he played everything and it was just — yeah.
DS: We got a fun little process man, we just have a laptop and just kind of write a song and just start building it and then get carried away. We’re like man, that guitar part sounds cool. Let’s do another guitar part, let’s put a banjo on it. Let’s put a keyboard on it. We just got carried away because we were so excited about the songs. And then the label was like “Cool, this is your album.”
SM: It was cool because when we were writing all of these songs, we loved playing together. So we were playing it for all of our friends and they were “You all’s voices blend so well together, there is something special there.”
Aside from ’19 You + Me,’ what is the one song people are going to walk away from your concerts talking about?
SM: There’s a song called ‘Show You Off’ that’s gonna be on our album. It’s the first song on the album, opens it up. It’s a really fun crowd-participation song. There’s an “Eh-oh, eh-oh” part. We played that out a couple of times. We played a show with Hunter Hayes and we teach the crowd the “Eh-ohs” and they sing it back to us. People have fun with that song. It’s called ’Show You Off,’ so it’s about showing a girl off, taking her downtown. It’s high energy.
Have you had a chance to talk to Rascal Flatts?
SM: We have. They’re super cool guys. We love their music. We grew up on Kenny Chesney … it’s funny, when we say like Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban people are like “What do you mean you grew on it?” I’m 22 so it’s like when I was growing up that was hot. And obviously Tim McGraw and George Strait and all of them.
We loved Rascal Flatts and I loved their sound. We got to hang out with those guys, we saw them recently at St. Jude.
"We didn’t have enough money to pay for heat, so I went to a thrift store and bought every sheet in the place and built a tent in the living room … We just all huddled around, like ‘Nashville is awesome!’"
In the video for ’19 You + Me,’ you had the Roman Numeral 19 tattooed on your arm. Is that real?
DS: It’s real.
SM: I actually have one as well.
DS: We got it in Salt Lake City, Utah. It was crazy, it was like the second week our song went for adds at radio, and all these 19s were popping up. Single title, and we got 19 more adds that day and I told Shay when I saw this tattoo shop, “I swear I’ll get a tattoo today.” He’s like “Nawww.”
So we walked into the tattoo shop and 20 minutes later I had my first tattoo.
Shay when people find out you’re from Arkansas, do they expect a certain amount of redneckery?
SM: [laughs] Yeah.
DS: You oughta see his car.
SM: It’s so funny. I travel a lot. Ever since I was a kid it wasn’t the cool thing to be — cause I was a redneck. I grew up on a farm you know. I took care of the animals and all that stuff. So it was funny, I was a redneck but I went to school more toward the city for like a couple of years. And the girls there, at that time it wasn’t very cool to be a redneck, so I try to tone down my accent a little bit. Since then I’ve traveled a lot and lost a little bit.
Growing up on the farm, were you milking cows …
SM: We had cows. I milked cows. We had goats, chickens. Just about everything. We had a little bit of everything. It was fun, man I loved growing up there.