"I'm getting sick of the 'music-not-being-for-everyone' culture going around," Josh Epstein says, sitting on a couch with a keyboard and guitar propped on the adjacent cushions. "I want everyone to listen to our music and be able to find something that they like in it."
A week later, Epstein's on stage, standing next to his comrade-in-melody Daniel Zott, a big Lysol logo sprawled across his racer-suited chest. Together, they're emboldening the audience to quash all self-consciousness, clap along and dance their asses off. Dance to Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
"What we're trying to display," Zott says, sitting by his recording set-up, next to the couch in his basement, "is who cares about all this stuff?"
The pair rehearses in Zott's basement, in the the studio where he records his solo work and, most recently, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.'s Horse Power EP. If you haven't yet listened, their atmospheric, synth-gleamed, tender dance-pop is not to be missed. The beat-laden grooves show an admiration for hip-hop, while their angelic harmonies are so gossamer and synched, they set your head a-swimmin'.
OK ... let's get the name thing outta the way. "We knew when we named it that some people weren't gonna like it," Epstein says. "But the problem I have with music, right now, is there's so many bands. Everyone that has a computer has a band. There's a billion bands, so we thought at least people would remember [the name] because it would stick out as either being stupid or awesome. I think reactions will subside and, ultimately, I think our music speaks for itself."
"I feel like we already have a Dale Earnhardt sound," Zott says (check out the sidebar to see how critics across the country are reacting to the EP). Both were raised on Beach Boys and Beatles. "I never got into jamming and rocking out," Zott says, "I was always into the song." As they grew older, the sounds of Motown, hip-hop and '90s indie-rock would each play roles in influencing the duo.
Growing up with four brothers, Zott played a lot of sports. But an injury at 14 sidelined him, leading to him picking up a guitar. He joined The Great Fiction before he could drive. Epstein, also a lifelong athlete, joined Call It In The Air as a teen amongst 20-somethings, performing and touring. For a time during college, he drifted away from music, playing soccer between study sessions. After a period of illness during his sophomore year, he took up guitar again. And after recovering in 2004, Epstein formed The Silent Years.
Both of their other music projects are still going strong. Zott and The Great Fiction just wrapped an album while Epstein's Silent Years, having released an EP late last year, will be a headliner at the Majestic's Fucking Awesome Fest. But somehow, a window of time opened in late-2008, stretching through 2009, where both bands calmed enough to allow Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. the time to grow.
They'd already met a few years back, when Zott soundtracked a film for Epstein's roommate. Upon introduction, Zott began to serenade Epstein with T.G.F.'s "Pale Ego." The bond progressed from the back and forth of, "Hey-check-this-song-out," until the two agreed: "Yes, we should definitely do something together." Now that this "something" has expanded into a real band, they've bonded in the basement studio over writing sessions of preternatural compatibility and reciprocal encouragement for any sort of pedal, trick, melody or noise. With the EP creating serious buzz around the country, the group is finishing up their full-length and have seen it "develop into its own thing," as Zott declares, maturing from "my solo project attached to Josh's solo stuff" into a cohesive work of its own.
And so, beyond the sponsor-patched NASCAR jumpsuits, the big-billed baseball hats and an ironing board supporting a galaxy of pedals, we have something much more than two of Detroit's best melody mavens exploring the full extent of their pop powers. We also have that same call to arms Epstein threw out between songs. "Who cares ..."
"It's NASCAR!" Zott's voice flares as he shrugs, smiling, in response to a question about the band's jumpsuit stage costumes. "I also like dressing up, though. Again, this is a project where we could do anything, like, paste cereal all over us, anything — and people would have to accept it. We ... just don't care," he says.
"If our backgrounds are completely different, who cares? If our beliefs are different, who cares? All these things that people try to box themselves in and isolate themselves from other people in the world ... we're trying to be like: 'We're friends, we're making music and we don't care about any of that stuff.'"
"Also, with the uniform thing specifically," says Epstein, "I feel like if you don't change clothes before you get on stage, it doesn't feel like you're performing, especially when you're touring every day."
The Horse Power EP is out now on Quite Scientific Records, and a full-length is in the works for a fall release. The band hits the road in September for a cross-country tour (and that ironing board full of pedals stays home).
If "Who cares?" is the rallying cry, then here's the answer: everybody will. Soon. | RDW
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. • 8/20 • Detroit Science Center's Future Cruisin' 2010 • 5020 John R, Detroit 313.577.8400 • daleearnhardtjrjr.com
Go, Speed Racer, Go!
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. recently debuted their "Nothing But Our Love" video on Pitchfork TV and you can download "Vocal Chords" (for free!) on AOL Spinner. Here's what the rest of the world has to say about our favorite Detroit buzz band:
New York Post: "They are not a NASCAR band. (Unlike, say, rockers Saving Abel or 3 Doors Down.) DE Jr. Jr. is more like a ... paddle- boating band."
Yahoo! Sports: "It's ethereal, minimalist alterna-pop, with a kind of delicate beauty that would vanish like a Post-It note in a tornado as soon as the drivers start their engines ... "
Prefix Mag: "Is there a worse contemporary band name out there than Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.?"
KCRW Morning Becomes Eclectic: "The duo from car country — Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott — show a penchant for effervescent pop, but its the simple electronic flourishes they add to their cover of the Beach Boys' 'God Only Knows' that makes it special."
CMJ: "'Nothing But Our Love' stands out as the album highlight with its beautifully layered production, sentimental delivery and serenely optimistic atmosphere."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
knows what's hot:
His car: "The AC broke. I'm sweating like a piggie in this humidity."
Inception: "I haven't seen it in real life, but I dreamed a version of it last week that was amazing."
Falafel chips: "Who knew that you could combine the flavor and protein found in a falafel with the texture and convenience of a corn chip?"
Prussia: "Not the former Europeanq3 territory — the band. Mostly because of Brenton Bober. He is like a young Nick Carter."
Gluten Free: "You used to have to spend a fortune and go on a mad hunt to find gluten free TREATS! Now everybody's doin' it! You feel so light. I can fly!"
"Cinco de Friday": "A song written by a certain man from a certain news network here in Detroit."
"Hehp": "Pretty soon everyone in Detroit will be making this noise with their mouth. A stress reliever and a motivational cry of joy." | RDW