Dan+Shay’s “Save Me the Trouble” : Makin’ Tracks – Billboard
Written by GRB on 08/08/2023
At the end of the first verse of the new Dan + Shay single, Shay Mooney’s voice cracks as he addresses a stunning woman in a bar, “I’m beggin’ you please.”
Mooney is a singer with enormous control, and his request isn’t for her to accompany him home; overpowered by the expectation that she’ll break his heart, the protagonist instead asks her to leave him alone. Mooney’s small vocal imperfection speaks loudly in the context of a blistering performance.
“I thought that line was really important to set up that chorus,” says the group’s Dan Smyers, who co-produced “Save Me the Trouble” with Scott Hendricks (Blake Shelton, Brooks & Dunn). “‘I’m begging you, please’ — that’s kind of you putting your fist on the table and saying, ‘I’m vulnerable. I’m defenseless.’
“Shay is the greatest singer to ever do it, you know. He’s my favorite singer I’ve ever heard. I’ve never heard him hit a sour note, and I’ve recorded a lot of his notes. But man, that line is great.”
“Save Me the Trouble,” which Warner Music Nashville released to country radio via PlayMPE on July 13, is an important single for the duo, the first since it experienced some inner turmoil, debated the future of the act, then refocused its energy on moving forward. It was so important that the pair set aside an entire day at Nashville’s Ocean Way to record the one song, which begins as a spare country track, reestablishes the duo’s powerful harmonies, then transforms into a pop symphony with a momentary touch of prog-rock drama before a stark, a cappella close.
“It just felt very adult. It felt very professional, but at the same time, very grassroots and very natural and genuine,” Mooney says of that session. “After the first time through, I was like, ‘Oh, my God. Damn. This is another level.’”
The foundation for that level was established Jan. 12 during a songwriting session at the East Nashville home studio of Jordan Reynolds (“Speechless,” “Tequila”), where they were joined by Ashley Gorley (“Last Night,” “Girl in Mine”) and Jordan Minton (“Best Thing Since Backroads,” “Good Time”). They set out to develop something that would provide a big concert moment, or a head-turning performance for an awards show.
“We definitely spent a lot of time that day figuring out what that kind of sonically would be for them,” says Minton. “Something that’s kind of big, anthemic, still feels like them — [with] fresh radio melodies that are really wide and big for Shay to sing.”
Smyers provided a title, “Save Me the Trouble,” that he had heard in a conversation, and they developed it as a barroom snapshot of a guy who recognizes the woman tempting him would only break his heart. They wrote the chorus first, in 6/8 time, using the title in the stanza’s opening line with drawn-out notes that allowed the duo to highlight its exacting harmonies. Halfway through the section, they changed pace with a rhythmic bounce, then reaffirmed the title twice more.
Mooney took the lead on the verse melody, pitching it in the bottom part of his range as they focused on the opening lines.“In that lower register, it gives you somewhere to go,” he says.
Gorley established key parts of the chord structure on piano and mapped out a general plot overview.
“He’s just so smart at knowing what a song needs and going, ‘All right, so we’ve got this in the chorus and the first verse; this is what the second verse should be about,’” says Reynolds about the veteran songwriter. “Everybody’s like, ‘Yeah, that is exactly what it needs.’ He introduces a great vibe and a knowledge and wisdom of songs, whether he is contributing a lot or a little.”
In verse two, they revisited the bouncy rhythmic idea, with Mooney changing the melody from the first verse in a way that temporarily reflected a cheery “just a little kiss” fantasy, before the protagonist remembers that this woman is a heartbreaker. “We always love doing that in the second verse: changing it a little bit just to give it somewhere to go,” Mooney says. “It’s not anything insane. It gives it enough [difference] that it’s something intriguing that you’re listening for the second time around.”
The song remains open-ended — it’s not clear whether the character takes the woman at the bar home — though the writers have an idea about it. “I think he does not,” says Minton. “I think the whole night is kind of in his head.”
Reynolds and Smyers worked on a demo when the song was finished, with Reynolds building out the instrumentals in the studio and Smyers editing vocals in a bedroom closet. “It’s a leftover closet for guitar cases and awards that I don’t know what to do with,” Reynolds says. “There’s stuff everywhere, and it’s not big, maybe four by five [feet]. It’s got shelves, so he just sets his laptop on a shelf, stands there and works, closes the door. I think it’s the most dead room in the house, but he’s never recording anything, so it doesn’t matter.”
Smyers felt enormous pressure when they brought it to the recording studio because “Save Me the Trouble” had so much potential. “I knew what it needed to sound like,” he remembers. “I could almost see the ProTools session laid out. I could see the knobs and levers in the mix, and I was like, ‘We just can’t screw it up.’”
The crew developed a gradually building production: “Every line, there’s one more thing kind of going on than the previous line,” says Smyers. Steel guitarist Russ Pahl overdubbed a winding, neo-synth sound underneath the prechorus in the first verse, and Smyers thickened the vocals by adding one harmony voice at a time. The bridge featured a pair of dramatic stops with a single cymbal clang by drummer Nir Z, plus thick harmonies, enhanced by some reverb effects that hint at the sound of a Black gospel choir.
“When you listen to the track as a whole, it feels a bit dangerous,” Smyers says. “I thought that was an important sonic pivot for us after coming off a couple of super-positive, major-sounding love songs in a row as singles. I felt like a little bit of danger, a little bit of angst, was the right pivot.”
“Save Me the Trouble” debuted at No. 21 on the Country Airplay chart dated July 29. It checks in at No. 27 in its third week.
“I love where it landed,” Smyers says. “It feels dramatic, and it feels intense. It’s gotten stuck in my head since the day we finished it.”