Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. first broke onto the scene at SXSW in 2011, where they did about eight shows -- the festival serving as a sort of mini, trial tour for those on the cusp of being discovered. This year, the band is eyeing half as many shows, which they kicked off with a private party Saturday night, hosted by Tito's Vodka. The band (not earnestly named race car driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and by extension, Dale Earnhardt Sr.), made up of Daniel Zott and Joshua Epstein, is immediately recognizable by their radio-friendly song "Simple Girl," but their live energy is more rock-heavy than the single would let on. Zott, the band's lead vocalist, took a few minutes aside while packing up equipment to chat with HuffPost about their rock-meets-dance sound, how things have changed since SXSW last year and their signature, neon checkered race-car sports coats.
How do you pick what shows you end up doing at SXSW?
Whoever offers us the most money, I guess. Last year we played a lot more shows because it was our first year, and this year we're picking ones that, whether they pay us better, or the venue will be a good event where people will come out, we're just being a little more picky and not do too many gigs. Because this is a lot more important for bands trying to get discovered, and we felt like that kind of happened, and we feel really lucky, and we want to come here and play, but we don't want to overdo it, and maybe we'll get a chance to see some other bands -- we didn't get to see any other bands last year.
Is there anyone you're looking forward to seeing?
Yeah, if I get to look at a schedule. I really want to see Fiona Apple. I want to see if Jon Brion is playing with her at all, but we'll see.
How have things changed since last year in general?
Well we have the new record out now, and we've really been able to learn a lot about playing shows. When we played here last year, we really hadn't played that many shows, and now [it's been] pretty much half a year of touring. So we're a little more comfortable with playing, being in front of a crowd.
What I took from your show is you guys know how to rock out pretty hard. I was wondering what your thoughts are on the whole discussion of dance music killing rock and roll, since you seem to toe that line a little bit.
I think we mix a little bit of Detroit rock with electronic, and I think it's silly to not include modern technology in what you're writing. I guess what's also really popular right now is things that are really nostalgic -- even the way we take pictures. We're throwing them into filters that make them feel old, and the music we're playing is throwback music, so I think what we're trying to do is be contemporary. We're trying to do something that is new, not be afraid of the technology, but also, don't throw out all the good stuff you've already learned from the 60s and 70s, just good straight up rock. Even the way we record -- I like to do a lot of things that are analog, I don't like using plug-ins, all this digital format stuff. But there's great things about digital recordings and electronic music that you can use and you don't necessarily have to sacrifice each other.
Lastly, your jackets -- are they handpainted?
Josh's wife actually painted them. She took a long time painting those.
And you just have the one jacket you wear?
We just have those ones. But we repaint them, touch them up a little bit. And that's a big part of what we do -- we really feel like you want to put on a show and bring things out visually and sonically that keep it engaging and not just go see a band play the music, because we feel like, you could just buy a record if that's what you want, but if you want to come to our show, you want to do a little bit more than just play our own songs.
Watch Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. perform "Morning Thought":
Listen to a snippet of Dale Earnhard Jr. Jr.'s cover Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" (which they first covered before her death):