Exclusive: Dan+Shay’s Dan Smyers Talks CMA Nominations, Crafting The Perfect “Tequila”

Dan+Shay. Photo: Patrick Tracy

Dan+Shay’s mammoth hit “Tequila” has been a mainstay on both country radio and Hot AC this year, with its smooth dynamics and aching vocals.

The song has surpassed 100 million streams on Spotify, and has earned more than 260 million on-demand streams. The track spent multiple weeks atop the country radio charts. In August, on the heels of the No. 1 party for “Tequila,” the duo headlined a block party in Nashville for 10,000 fans.

The smash also brought the the duo’s Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney multiple nominations at the upcoming Country Music Association Awards in November, including Music Video of the Year, Single of the Year and Song of the Year. They are also nominated for Duo of the Year.

“It’s funny because we were the ones who announced them with Luke Bryan and Sugarland,” Smyers tells MusicRow. “I probably looked like a fool when our names were called, because you never go into it expecting that. We knew the song had a great impact, but there is a lot of great music and it’s a very hot time for the country format. For our name to be called a few times is a cool thing. We worked super hard on that song and the album, so it was a great validation. To be accepted by our peers and be nominated by our peers is just awesome. It’s a win just to be nominated.

“And getting a free ticket to the show! Those tickets are expensive,” he quips. “We know, we just bought some for our families.”

“Tequila” is one of three songs this year to be nominated in both the Song and Single of the Year categories at the upcoming Country Music Association awards. While the Single of the Year honors commercial success, the Song of the Year accolade tends to honor songs on the basis of songwriting quality.

“It’s fun to have both of those nominations because they do honor very different things. Those are always two of our favorite categories,” Smyers says. “We moved here to be songwriters. That’s our first love. We love being artists and doing shows, but part of that is being able to hear and feel fans singing our songs back to us, or hearing it on country radio. Being an artist is a vehicle for our true passion, which is being songwriters. To be in both of those categories is crazy.”

He gives credit to his “Tequila” co-writers, Nicolle Galyon and Jordan Reynolds. “To be in the song category with two of my favorite writers. Jordan Reynolds, we live like next door to each other so we are always working on songs like three or four days per week, and he’s about to be the next ultimate breakout songwriter star. The first day I ever wrote with him a few years ago, I texted my publisher and said, ‘This guy is about to take over Nashville.’ And then Nicolle, who is just prolific and genius. We’ve worked with her on a few of our albums and she’s incredible.”

Smyers co-wrote the track in early 2017. He says “Tequila” garnered interest from other artists in the Nashville community looking to record the song, but Smyers elected to hold on to it, knowing he had something special.

Smyers knows well the hold frenzy that comes when the songwriting community hears a great song; Dan+Shay had attempted to put another hit, “Break Up In The End,” on hold. The song would later be recorded by Cole Swindell.

“With ‘Break Up In The End,’ someone sent me that demo and said, ‘This song was just written,’ and I thought, ‘This is a Song of the Year, I’m putting it on hold.’ And right when I sent that email back, they said, ‘Hey sorry you’ve got the second hold on it. Cole just put it on hold.’ We were hoping he would cut a different song, but those things happen.”

Though the duo’s tight-knit vocals make “Tequila” sound effortless, Smyers recalls the weeks he spent in the studio, crafting “Tequila” to match his sonic vision.

“I worked so hard on that track. I think there were like 140 tracks in my Pro Tools session,” says Smyers, who worked with co-producer Scott Hendricks and mixer Jeff Juliano.

“In the studio we cut at Ocean Way with a great band. On the demo, we had a piano start it off, but I wanted to have an acoustic guitar because I could see the video in my head of a heartbroken person walking up to the mic and singing it. We tracked it at 80 beats per minute, six bpms slower than we have it on the album. I finished up a rough track and we did a scratch vocal on it, and something didn’t feel right to it,” he recalls.

Smyers collected the bare bones recordings made for the track, working feverishly to revamp it. “I basically took everything that was recorded and I sped up all the band instruments and I asked Jordan to send me the midi from his piano on the original demo, which was in a different key. I transposed it and subbed that piano back into my track with the band and it was magic. That was the missing thing. That original piano in the demo, there was something haunting and ethereal about it. It was still dynamic and a ballad but it had more energy.”

Smyers’ hours of painstaking work to get the exact sound he was looking for has paid off, as “Tequila” has transcended the country charts, crossing over into the Top 15 on radio’s Hot AC chart, a milestone Smyers appreciates for opening up the possibility of more fans to gravitate toward country music.

“The crossover of ‘Tequila’ has been really cool because we haven’t abandoned our sound. That’s a song you could hear at The Listening Room or the Bluebird or any writer’s round. It’s a Nashville song, four chords and the truth on this one. When it gets to the mainstream and it’s on Hot AC or Top 40 it’s an honor for us, because we know someone is listening to that station that may not have heard country music before.”

“Speechless,” the duo’s follow-up to “Tequila,” has also earned nearly 80 million on-demand streams and has sold 600,000 track equivalents. The official music video, featuring footage from each of their real-life weddings, has reached nearly 20 million views.

A songwriter at heart, Smyers says he and Mooney are always in the studio working on new music. “Even though as artists we are on record cycles, we still write songs. Literally, I think the day after our album came out, we were still writing and we had writers on the road with us. It’s nonstop. We are hashing out demos and working out ideas for what could be the next project.

“It’s interesting because we’ve had some success and got a fanbase and the attention of a lot of people. It puts more pressure on you, because more people are listening now. Your fans will check it out at midnight when [new music] comes out, so you owe it to those fans to deliver the best music you possibly can.”

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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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