When Dan + Shay were on the road earlier this year, Dan Smyers would retreat to his bunk after the show, get stoned, and immerse himself in the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. He had discovered the isolated a cappella tracks to the 1966 album online and studied the way Brian Wilson arranged the intricate vocal parts.
“That inspired me more than anything,” Smyers tells Rolling Stone. “Over the course of releasing records, you evolve into your sound. You find what your lane is, be it at country radio or just in the music marketplace. And for us, the vocals are the thing. As much as I practice, I’m never going to be a great guitar player or a savant musician, but I can arrange vocals really well.”
Smyers proves his point with Dan + Shay’s majestic new single “I Should Probably Go to Bed.” Written by Smyers and Shay Mooney with Sean Douglas and Jason Evigan, and released Friday, it’s a swirling, successful experiment in stacked vocals and tight harmonies that draws upon elements of ELO’s A New World Record, Queen’s A Night at the Opera, and those Pet Sounds arrangements that Smyers dissected on the bus.
“I listened to those old records when vocals were so important. The most impressive thing to me about all of that is those guys did it for real. They did it live and would rehearse and have to sing it as a group,” says Smyers, who admits he had the luxury of modern recording techniques when tracking “I Should Probably Go to Bed.”
Smyers recorded the song during quarantine at his home studio in Nashville, playing all of the instruments — piano, drums, bass, and acoustic guitar — and building an orchestra of strings on his synth. His home studio is essentially a guest bedroom, with a mattress propped up against the wall to muffle ambient noise. When Mooney came over to do his vocals, Smyers insisted he sing while holding a pillow over his head. “I did a lot of nerdy shit,” Smyers says. “But that’s how I came up making records, in the bedroom.”
Dan + Shay began writing “I Should Probably Go to Bed” while in Los Angeles for the 2020 Grammy Awards, where they won their second Grammy for their performance of “Speechless.” The idea was to come up with a new signature song with an instantly recognizable intro — like their other Grammy winner, “Tequila” — that would instantly grab the audience’s ear and could potentially open their headlining tour (now on hold because of the global health crisis).
“In the age of streaming, and with radio, there’s a lot of great content out there and there are a lot of distractions,” Smyers says. “So if you don’t start the song with vocals, you’ve got to hook them with some sort of instrumental at zero seconds. I started a little sketch, just playing the piano.”
He ended up with the song’s simple yet magnetic hook, the musical underpinnings of a song that Smyers says is about temptation. For the songwriter and producer, temptation is the pursuit of creating a perfect song. “Why should the fans care about the song if the artist doesn’t care about it?” he asks.
“I Should Probably Go to Bed” is the follow-up to Dan + Shay’s collaboration with Justin Bieber, “10,000 Hours.” They’ll release a video for the single later on Friday.