Dan + Shay Talk ‘Obsessed,’ Discuss Evolution of Country Music

"I think we fell in love with country music for the storytelling aspect."

By Brian Ives 

Today (June 3), Dan + Shay release their latest album, Obsessed. The duo—comprised of singer/songwriters Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney—tell Radio.com that they began working  on the album while touring for their last one, 2014’s Where It All Began.

“You can make a record on a laptop,” Dan says. “We work a lot on our bus; we bring out a little mic rig and record a lot of the stuff ourselves.”

It’s a far cry from the way country albums—or albums in any genre—used to be recorded. But time moves on, and so does technology. Ditto for country music. But there’s one thing that’s common to country, no matter what the era, according to the duo.

“Ultimately, country music is about storytelling,” says Dan. “We moved to Nashville to be songwriters, and we’re so inspired by what was going on on Music Row. And our favorite country songs of all time were the songs that told a great story and made you feel something on the inside. And that’s what Kenny Chesney did, and Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban and [Tim] McGraw and all those guys that we were listening to growing up.”

He notes that, no matter how much (or little) production is on a track, it can still be country. “Whether there’s loops or beats behind it or whatever it is—and I know guys like Sam Hunt out there pushing the envelope, and then there’s folks out there like Buddy Williams and Michael Morgan who do the traditional country thing. There’s a broad spectrum of how you can deliver it, but ultimately the songs that reach the most people and hit the most people in the heart are the ones that tell stories and that people can relate to. So that’s the backbone of country music. So however people do their thing is up to them, and it’s really cool that people are accepting different ways of producing records now. Country music’s growing. It’s only good for the format.”

Shay continues, “And I love how that’s evolved. A couple years ago that might not have acceptable to have something, have a [drum] loop or whatever. I think that any kind of music, any genre evolves over time, and it kinda takes bits and pieces from other things. It’s pop music—people kind of get scared with that [term] in country —but it [refers to] things that are popular. It’s what the culture is; it’s the technology we have now. A lot of the reason that we didn’t have it back then is it didn’t exist; loops didn’t exist then.”

Those drum loops and other danceable elements are bringing more people to the genre, he says. “I think more people are listening to country music now is because they wanna hear that beat; they wanna hear that thing that makes ’em move a little bit more and makes it hit a little harder in their speakers in their truck. People wanna hear the storytelling of country music. Like Dan said, that is the essence of country music, storytelling, and it’s making people feel something that they’ve never felt or that they’ve—taken back to a memory, and it’s nostalgic. It’s a very nostalgic genre and makes you feel things. And I think the vehicle that gets it there, whether it’s a loop or whether it’s a steel guitar, whatever that is, I don’t think it matters. I think people just wanna hear it in a new, fresh way, and they also love the other kind of thing. I think it’s whatever you’re into.”

Their current smash, “From the Ground Up” (the video has over four million views on YouTube), holds strong to the idea of storytelling. Dan explains: “‘From the Ground Up’ is definitely the most special and the most personal song we’ve ever been a part of. And we actually went to our buddy Chris [DeStefano]’s house, who we wrote ‘Nothing Like You‘ with, and we weren’t even planning on writing a song that day. We’re going over there to record vocals on another song, and we just sat down talking.”

“I had just gotten back from my grandfather’s funeral, and Shay’s grandfather was in the hospital. We were just talking and sharing stories about our grandparents’ lives, and how they were married for 65-plus years. And we’re like, ‘Man that doesn’t happen anymore. That’s like a special love that’s rare these days.’ And we’re just reminiscing on cool memories and going to our grandparents’ house, that same house they lived in their entire life, and we’re like, ‘Man, that’s how we wanna live our lives and treat that like our own personal relationships.'”

“We were just sharing stories and letting emotions pour out, and the song wrote itself. And hour and a half later we had ‘From the Ground Up,’ and we were like, ‘Man, how did this happen?’ It was a song that wasn’t meant to be written, with a positive message.”

Shay says that it actually appeals to people who weren’t Dan + Shay fans before. “It’s just been amazing to see the fan reaction, and not even just fans, but people that would not normally listen to our music, people who just like music, and they’re just moved by songs.”

He continues, “I think we fell in love with country music for the storytelling aspect, and we wanted to write that song that anyone can relate to. And people need this kind of song right now, I feel like, with all the divorce[s getting coverage] in the media. Everyone needs that hope to look forward to, and I think everyone wants that deep down, they really want that true love.”

It seems destined to be a wedding classic. “People who aren’t even married yet, we’ll hear like, ‘I’m not married yet, but when I do [get married], this is gonna be our first dance song.’ There’s a lot of stories that are coming in of all kinds of stuff, not just marriage, but about their family and about their grandparents. It kind of captures the essence of the whole song. So yeah, it’s great that that’s happening.”

Dan + Shay’s Obsessed is out now, catch them on the road this summer; check their website for details.

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