How Dan + Shay 'Rekindled' Their Friendship After Nearly Breaking Up: 'We've Got a Fresh Start' (Exclusive)

The country duo open up about how they turned a near-split at the height of their career into their latest album, 'Bigger Houses,' out Sept. 15

<p>Robby Klein</p> Dan+Shay 2023

Robby Klein

Dan+Shay 2023

Dan + Shay are back and better than ever.

The three-time Grammy-winning country duo — comprised of bandmates Dan Smyers, 36, and Shay Mooney, 31 — have long been country mainstays since bursting onto the scene nearly decade ago, but the pair almost decided to go their separate ways in 2022 after a challenging few years complete with a breakneck schedule began to catch up to them.

“I had fallen out of love with music because I was chasing the wrong thing. I was chasing social media,” says Smyers, who was dealing with extreme burnout. “I needed to re-fall in love with music before I could sort out my relationship with Dan + Shay.”

Mooney, meanwhile, was facing health challenges (everything from fatigue to panic attacks) while juggling two children at home with his wife, Hannah, 32.

After the duo wrapped their 2021 arena tour, they didn’t speak for four months.

“We've gotten to this place where we've gotten to do so many cool things together, but we hadn't really gotten to take time to appreciate what we had been able to do and we were just unhappy,” says Mooney.

“We got to do this arena tour after COVID, and we were through a lot of stuff, and life just happened. It wasn't any one particular thing that we were like, ‘Man, I just hate this guy now,'" he adds. "But we weren't hanging out as friends like we had in the past.”

Related: 'Brothers' Dan + Shay on Their Decade-Long Friendship: 'We're Family at This Point'

To remedy the situation (and fall back in love with music), Smyers decided to spend less time on his phone and more time with his wife, Abby, 35, and their four dogs: Joy, Chief, Macaroni and Ghost.

Mooney embarked on a “health journey,” quitting sugar and alcohol — and he and his wife welcomed a fifth member of their family with the birth of their son, Abram, in January 2023.

The fate of Dan + Shay together, however, was ultimately decided on one night in March 2022, when Smyers invited Mooney over to finally sit down and just… talk.

“I headed over to his house and honestly at that point I didn't really know what the future of the band was going to be. And I got there, and it just was the most incredible night," says Mooney. "That night kind of changed everything because we aired a lot of stuff out. I apologized for things in the past and he did the same. We had this come-to-Jesus moment."

The pair knew they had two choices moving forward.

“We can part as friends because our friendship is the most important thing, or we can really hash this out and work on ourselves and make this a sustainable thing and a healthier thing moving forward,” Mooney recalls. “And that's what ended up happening.”

<p>Rick Diamond/Getty Images</p> Dan + Shay performs in Texas in March 2014

Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Dan + Shay performs in Texas in March 2014

The two began repairing their friendship from the ground up, hanging out three times a week with no agenda — but inevitably with a guitar — writing their fifth studio album Bigger Houses, out Sept. 15, in the process.

Related: Dan + Shay to Drop Album 'Good Things' Next Month: 'We Poured Every Bit of Our Hearts Into This'

“Now when we get together, it's like we've rekindled that friendship that we had early on,” explains Smyers. "What are the odds when we were both struggling so much that we found each other, that our pace and styles and talents and abilities complement each other so well and that we've built something so real?”

“Dan + Shay is always going to be something to somebody,” Smyers continues of the inspiration behind one of the tracks on the record, aptly named “Always Gonna Be.”

“We've played a few shows recently and we're just able to celebrate it at the end. And I think us being close like we are now, it's just making the whole journey that much better,” Smyers says. “We took the time to work on ourselves… and I think we came out on the other side of it better individually and better as a group. It feels like we've got a fresh start."

“We've redefined what we think success is,” adds Mooney. "And I think that's really what this album is about: not chasing after things that are fleeting and putting your time and your effort into things and people that matter.”

“The boys are back,” he says, “and we're ready to rock.”

For more on Dan + Shay, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.

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