When rising country duo Dan + Shay found themselves in the enviable position of getting to go on tour with none other than Blake Shelton, the pair found themselves instantly worried about one particular thing.
Pleasing Shelton's longtime and loyal fanbase? Living up to the Voice coach's network-worthy standards? Nope. Turns out these guys have their eyes on the ball.
"He’s always playing basketball so we’ve been working on our skills," explains Dan Smyers. "We got to beat Blake. If we’re going to play him at hoops, we got to win."
"There’s a major height advantage there he has," notes Shay Mooney, to which the pair laugh and quip, "That’s why we stand on top of each other’s shoulders...we're almost his height."
Having the luxury to focus on whuppin' a (tall) superstar's butt at basketball is something both Dan and Shay don't take for granted, having put in their lean days and hard work prior to hitting the big time. Both spent time in non-country music pursuits before meeting each other in Nashville in 2012 -- and finding an instant songwriting camaraderie that led them to their first steps toward developing music as a successful duo.
"I didn’t have enough money to pay for heat or electricity, or anything else in the house, so we went to the thrift store and spent about $4 in sheets and made it into tents in the living room," Dan notes of his earliest days in Music City. "That's how I was rolling in Nashville ... I seriously was going to the back of Walmart, getting the bread with the yellow sticker on it that was four days old for 67 cents.
"But when I moved to Nashville, I knew I wanted to write country music and that was what I had to do," he continues. "I couldn’t do something else – I had to go all in."
Shay had similar feelings regarding the genre, and when the two met, they knew they had a kind of magic on their hainds. "When we got together and started writing songs, we were just kind of crashing at our friends’ places, wherever we could get a free cup of coffee or whatever," Dan relates. "We were just doing what we could; writing songs everyday just 'cause we loved it. And you know, it just happened naturally. Nobody forced us to be together."
Shay explains that their dual appreciation for country helped them shape the songs that would eventually lead to multiple publishing deals, as well as their 2013 debut titled, aptly enough, Where It All Began. "Growing up on country music, it was the songs," he explains. "It was all about the song. If you had a great song, everything else kind of fell into place. When we started getting together and writing songs, that’s when people started reacting...they loved our songs.
"That’s why we kind of focused on songwriting and that was just what was working for us – the songwriting aspect of it."
As one might expect, this focus has resulted in a volume of work that the young songwriters can pick and choose from for future releases. "[We write] 4 or 5 songs per week to this day, so we’re on about album no. 6 right now," laughs Dan, who adds that the two settle creative differences by "arm-wrestling."
No, not really! "That’s one of the beauties of being able to collaborate in songwriting," he says. "There’s somebody that can always play devil’s advocate. There’s somebody that can always say, 'What about this?' or suggest something else. I mean, that’s music: You’re making it for people to listen to and when you’re writing an idea or singing an idea, you’re not going to really know how it sounds as much as somebody who’s in the room listening to it."
"If we don't agree on something," notes Shay, "You move onto the next idea."
"It's really cool to be able to hear Shay sing something, and as a listener, I’ll think is that great or is that not great? And vice versa," Dan muses. "That’s just how we work together and a lot of times we do end up battling on stuff, but it’s not like we’re fighting each other, we’re fighting for the betterment of the song. So it works out for us, and at the end of the day we hang out and cool down with a beer. It’s a good process."
Right now the pair are enjoying their joint success as a band, but when asked if they ever plan to work as solo artists, both smile and shake their heads. "Unless one of us like, you know, has a major accident or something," Shay says. "We have so much fun doing this. And it’s a lot funner being on a stage and doing it with someone else. You never know what the future holds, but we’d never even think about that right now."
"It’s cool to be able to do this as a duo," adds Dan. "I mean, we both pursued other things before...it’s not the same if you’re by yourself.
"Shay and I have this moment whenever we would sing our song, '19 You + Me,' and fans would sing that back to us. We would look over at each other and have the chills every single time. And it’s cool to be able to share that with somebody...We’re rocking this as a duo."
Watch out Blake: You may have the height advantage on the court, but these guys genuinely know how to work as a team!