When Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney launched their self-titled third album in January 2018, the country duo knew it would be a risk to release a piano ballad as the lead single in their market — but they didn’t know the bold move would break genre boundaries. The song, “Tequila,” became a top 20 hit on Billboard’s Mainstream Top 40 chart and made them one of the year’s biggest crossover success stories. The track also reached No. 1 on both the Country Airplay and Hot Country Songs charts, as did the romantic follow-up single, “Speechless.” Their chart domination has already earned Dan + Shay a Grammy and five Academy of Country Music Awards — and now, with seven Billboard Music Award nominations, the pair (who will also perform at the show) is looking to push the country envelope even further.
Why do you think pop fans are reacting to your music as much as country fans?
Smyers: Pop is in a cool place where songs with stories are working. That has been a big door-opener for “Tequila” to cross over to top 40. People are hungry for that nostalgic feeling country music evokes, and pop artists and producers are respecting what’s happening in our world.
Did you want to introduce a more pop-leaning sound with this album?
Smyers: No, our music is a blend of our influences: We listen to country, pop, hip-hop, R&B. We pushed ourselves to really dig deep on this album’s production, but we didn’t compromise our sound. It’s true to us.
Mooney: We’ve been touring for the last few years, figuring out what our fans like and what people react to. I’ve watched Dan grow as a producer, experimenting to figure out what the Dan + Shay sound was.
Has your success opened doors for you in songwriting?
Smyers: We’ve gotten to work with a lot of our heroes in Nashville and also Los Angeles. We met Max Martin recently — I totally fanboyed when he walked in the room. We were writing with a few people at his compound, and Max heard what we were working on and popped in. He liked it and gave us a few pointers. But we stick to our core group and continue to write with Jordan Reynolds, who has been on all these songs. We never want to abandon the people that helped get us here.
Are you nervous about following up this album?
Mooney: There is a little bit of pressure on us, but it’s good pressure. Our fan base has grown exponentially. Our mindset is to continue to do our thing and try to elevate ourselves. We’ve been having more fun than we’ve ever had making music.
This article originally appeared in the April 27 issue of Billboard.