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Interview: Dan + Shay reveal all about their new album and recording with Kelly Clarkson

We caught up with the duo ahead of their new album arriving on Friday.

Dan + Shay
Credit: Warner Music

Dan + Shay broke through in 2013 with their Platinum debut hit 19 You + Me and have gone on to become one of the most popular duos in Country music.

Their second album Obsessed arrived in 2016 and they supported it with performances in the UK at C2C: Country to Country 2017 and a headline UK tour last November that included a sold-out show at KOKO in London. With their current single Tequila riding high in the charts, Dan + Shay are gearing up for the release of their self-titled third album on Friday (22nd June).

I caught up with Dan + Shay in London earlier this week to find out the background to the new record, discuss working with Kelly Clarkson on Keeping Score, and to find out their touring plans.

A lot has happened since I saw you in November. The show at KOKO was amazing and insane wasn’t it?

D: Thank you man. That was honestly one of the most memorable shows of our entire career. To be that far from home and to have that many people come out to the show and sing the words back to us, it’s one that we’ll never forget. That venue is beautiful too. I saw the Brothers Osborne played there recently and posted a picture and it brought back memories of how amazing that was. We partied pretty good that night as well. I lost my in ear monitors that day. I don’t know what happened. I need to go back and try to find them because I haven’t had them since but that was a blast!

While we’re over here we’re hopefully figuring out an opportunity to come back in 2019 and do another tour. There’s so many good venues in London so we’ll definitely be back. We’ve got a new album in tow and hopefully we’ll be able to play that front to back for the fans. The fans here incredibly know every song on the record and they really dig in, not just the singles and not just the ones we have videos for. We sold out at KOKO and hopefully we can keep that rolling.

I think the new album is your best record yet…

D + S: Thank you man! That’s awesome!

You’ve released quite a lot tracks ahead of the album. Why did you decide to release the new music in that way?

S: It’s different nowadays with the releasing of music. It used to be a much different format. You didn’t have the ability to do what you can now. You can put songs out on Spotify or Apple Music and you don’t have to put everything out at once or wait six years to put out a record. It’s nice to get a couple songs out, to get the tastemakers out there to hear it and if they’re liking those tracks, then they’re going to like the new album. We want to give our fans something to look forward to and a little taste of what’s to come. It’s been crazy to see the reaction, just with the songs that we’ve released. They’re not necessarily our radio singles that we would push in the States but they’ve been listening to them like crazy and sharing them. Those have so many streams on the web so that’s been pretty cool to see the reaction to the songs and it gets us excited. I think it gets everybody excited for the rest of the project. We’re just so proud of this album and we feel it’s our best album yet but it’s really cool to hear you say that. We appreciate that and thank you for listening to it man!

 

You’ve really given me a headache when it comes to compiling the best albums of the year guys! When Tequila came out I thought that was your best track yet, then you kept releasing new tracks and they were my favourites. Keeping Score with Kelly Clarkson is amazing. How did that song come about?

D: Thank you man. That’s a special song. That concept is something that we touched upon a few times on this record, it’s the idea of comparison and something we struggle with a little bit in our lives. We’ve got a lot of cool things going on personally. We’ve both just recently gotten married and Shay had a kid and life is really good. Professionally… we’re in London right now doing the coolest things in the world. We get to play music and sing songs for a living but you get caught up in this thing… everything is so quantifiable with charts – radio charts, Spotify, iTunes or whatever it may, you’re always comparing yourself to other artists and other people instead of just soaking it in and appreciating the moment. We made a record, we get to go on tour and we’ve got beautiful wives. Life is really good but you’re always striving for what’s next and that’s something we’re trying to get better about… trying to appreciate the moment.

We wrote about that a few times on the record and this song felt special. It’s just about appreciating someone you’re with, ‘hold you close, enjoy you more and spend a little less time keeping score’ not worrying about measuring yourself against other people. We wrote that song and we tracked it. It felt special and it felt awesome and we were like, ‘this would make a really cool duet’. We’ve always wanted to do collaborations and get into that world. I can say this because I’m the guy who presses the red record button when we do these tracks but I think Shay’s the best singer I’ve ever heard. He’s my favourite vocalist and I was like, ‘who would be a good compliment for that?’ It needed to be somebody with a really powerful voice that could stack up with Shay.

When you say that, the first person that comes to mind is Kelly Clarkson, probably one of the most powerful voices of our generation and just an absolute sweetheart. She’s the coolest person in the world. We sent her the song and literally within an hour and a half she hit back and was like, ‘I’m in! I love this song, it’s amazing. Let’s do it!’ We flew out to L.A., tracked her on it and selfishly I say that we did it so we have an excuse to hang out with Kelly Clarkson more because she’s the shit. That turned out great and fan reaction to it so far has been amazing. We’re fired up about that and hopefully it also gives us an excuse to do it live with her sometime at an awards show or at a TV appearance or something like that.

Have you convinced Kelly to do a full Country record? It feels like she’s been threatening for so long…

S: (laughs) Threatening! I love that.

 

Well she released a Country single a few years back and I really thought an album was next, then she dropped a soul record…

S: She’s down with it and she obviously has deep roots in the Country world. I don’t know when that will happen but we’re just honoured to have her on that track. Like Dan said she’s just such a great person. Beyond being one of the best singers of all-time, she’s just a great person and a great hang. I’m trying to become best friends with her so we’ll see how that goes.

You just need to take her a bottle of red wine. She loves wine!

D: That’s what you guys were doing the other night and you got invited to her Halloween party!

S: We were! Yes she invited me to her Halloween party so I’m going to go as someone relevant (laughs).

D: He’s dressing as Kelly Clarkson…

S: Yeah, I’m dressing as Kelly Clarkson! (laughs). She’s awesome.

I feel like this album is optimistic, upbeat, romantic… there seems to be something for everybody. I seem to be gravitating towards No Such Thing…

S: Nice!

I like your vocal delivery on the verses. It’s quite R&B, it’s a little bit staccato and it’s quite different for you…

S: Yeah man! We have a background in a lot of different kinds of music. Dan had a background and rock and I listened to a little rock and even hip-hop and pop and a lot of R&B growing up. We both really love R&B and that kind of had that R&B flair. We actually wrote that song with a buddy of ours Matt Dragstrem, a really talented track guy and writer, and David Lee Murphy, (who did) Dust on the Bottle which is one of the biggest songs of all time. I feel like (No Such Thing) is probably the last song you would think that David Lee Murphy would be a part of (laughs). He has a number one song right now in the States in Country with Kenny Chesney, Everything’s Gonna Be Alright. That was a really fun writing day and it threw out that track. We were vibing on it for a while and it’s just different for us. We had we had written some stuff like that in the past and touched on that world but this one just felt really cool and special. I feel like that’s going to be one of the standouts on the album because it is a little bit different. That’s one of my favourites on there too.

 

Has all the travelling and touring you’ve done inspired and/or shaped this record in any way?

D: Yeah, a little bit. You get out on the road and you see what the fans react to live. I think that’s a big influence on the songs that we write and the songs that we pick to put on the record. We have that in mind. It’s kind of a blessing and a curse because it limits your creativity a little bit. You get an idea and you’re like, ‘I don’t know if that’s going to translate at a live show’. That’s such an important part of our career. We have the perspective now we’ve done so many shows all around the world and you see what songs react from the Where It All Began album and the Obsessed album, and it gives you guidance.

We’ll think that this vibe is going to be really cool in the show, then hopefully it’ll translate when we go in the studio and record it. Then you narrow it down and pick it for the record. Definitely the traveling is inspired that. We’re both happily married right now and that’s obviously an inspiration on the record but missing your wife and missing your family is something also that inspires you. That sense of longing when we’re were out there traveling inspires you to write songs and get ideas.

The romantic thing on the record, that kind of translates in songs like Speechless. You’re out here on the road, you’re flying eight hours over the Atlantic Ocean and you’re thinking back or looking through pictures on your phone and you get ideas. We wrote Speechless about the moment we saw our wives in their wedding dresses for the first time. It’s things like that when you’re missing your wife or you’re missing home and get this inspiration or get a title. It definitely has an impact on the songwriting and I feel like that’s transparent when you listen to the record. I think we’ll really feel that when our fans get the whole body of work, tracks one through eleven.

Speechless is the song that’s finally going to knock Russell Dickerson’s Yours off the top of the wedding songs list surely?

D + S: (laughter) Yeah!

S: You can ask Rascal Flatts about that, they’ve probably had some of the biggest wedding songs. God Bless the Broken Road is probably the biggest wedding song of all-time. When you can get one of those it’s a really special moment. Our song From the Ground Up was a massive wedding song for us in the States. Now Speechless is actually becoming that for us and it’s been crazy. At meet greets usually every other person has gotten married to that song. It’s just really cool to see that and to be a part of people’s day is just a crazy thing. We know that’s a big moment and we both just went through that fairly recently. It’s a huge moment and it’s a huge honour to be a part of that. It’s crazy to think that we could be a big part of their wedding day. There’s only a few moments in your life that you consider to be staples of your life – getting married, having a baby… there’s these big life moments and that’s one of the biggest you can have. It’s a huge honour for us to be a part of that.

What are your plans for the rest of the year in terms of touring in the States?

D: We’re out with Rascal Flatts right now until September, which is an honour for us. They’re one of our favourite groups of all time. Anybody who’s listened to our record and knows what Rascal Flatts sounds like, you can hear that inspiration. We grew up listening to those guys so that’s a super fun tour. Shay actually wrote a number one song for those guys a couple of years back, I Like the Sound of That, which was a big hit for them. We’ve actually written a couple of other songs on their records that we get to sing live every night with them, which is a crazy full circle moment. It’s surreal to be able to get up on stage with those guys.

Then we’re going out with Chris Young, another friend of ours who we’ve done some shows with in the past, he’s really hitting his stride and blowing out some big arenas and just crushing it right now. We’ll sprinkle in a few headlining dates within those tours. It’s going to be fun. It’s cool to do the support thing. You’re getting in front of a new audience and gaining new fans.

We’ve had enough success and enough singles at this point where in a 30 to 40 minute set you can play basically all singles and the fans pretty much know of all but you also long for that headlining set where you can do 75 minutes and play some of your favourite tracks on the record that might not have been a radio single per se but you know there are fans in London or in Florida or wherever you are that love that song. You see social media reaction, ‘why didn’t you play this song?’ but when we get to headline we’re going to play them all, which is going to be fun. Right now we’re supporting and trying to get the fan base but soon enough we’ll be circling back and doing our own thing.

Dan + Shay’s self-titled album is released on Friday 22nd June 2018 through Warner Music. They will be back in the UK in January 2019 for a headline tour at the following dates:

Friday 18th – Birmingham O2 Institute
Saturday 19th – Manchester O2 Ritz
Tuesday 22nd – Bristol SWX
Wednesday 23rd – Cambridge Junction
Thursday 24th – London O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire

Tickets are on sale from 9am on Friday 22nd June via www.axs.com and www.gigsandtours.com.

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