The Detroit duo of Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott, known as the unusually named Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., are still here and are still making music. First started as just some basement demo recordings, Josh and Daniel have become one of the few to actually break out and find some legs in the indie pop world. With a sound that hits the soul of old school pop music as much as it does hip hop or electronic music, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. is like a blank musical slate just waiting to be filled up with beautiful melodies and poignant lyrics that evoke the vast emotions of life, and the world's fun and hard times.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. just released their sophomore album The Speed Of Things this past week, the next episode of this evolving project from these Detroit natives. The two recently sang the National Anthem at Comerica Park for game three in the Detroit Tigers vs. Oakland A's American League Division Series, and are currently on the road celebrating their newest release. I was able to get some words with one half of the band, Joshua Epstein, about the new album, the progression of the group, and working with the legendary Paul Simon.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. as a project is still around going strong. What are your thoughts about the progress you've made with it thus far?
Joshua Epstein: Daniel and I have really focused on figuring out the best way for the band to facilitate our workflow. At this point, we have the ability to be constantly creating, and that is the most exciting thing we could ask for.
Since the first album, how has Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. progressed as a band?
Joshua: I think that we are first and foremost each songwriters, and we have both progressed in those terms and in terms of our production skills. The new record feels more like a fully realized thought than the first.
What's the theme of the new album The Speed Of Things?
Joshua: Daniel and I both grew up in a pre-Internet world, but were young enough when it came out that we are fully fluent in it. We feel like this provided us with a fairly unique perspective on the current shape of life for us all, and we tried to make something like a time capsule of feelings (which is now officially the lamest sentence I've ever used).
I was having a conversation recently about how in any vibrant music city, people jump from band to band, and projects come and go that there sometimes is a lack of faith to get behind a lot of things. How do you think you were able to keep Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. going and passionate in the minds of you and your fans?
Joshua: We both feel as if we make each other better, and are therefore still very much excited on a creative level. Hopefully that translates to an energy that is genuine for people who listen to the music that we make.
What sort of sound are you going with on The Speed Of Things?
Joshua: We try to produce for the song, so I think it is a fairly diverse record sonically. But overall it's some sort of pop music that hopefully has some weight to it.
What inspires your music?
Joshua: I'm always inspired by going to an unfamiliar or uncomfortable place and shaking it up a bit. Sometimes thoughts fall out like dead leaves if the right wind blows (probably the second lamest thing I've ever said).
Did you work with anyone outside of the group on this album?
Joshua: Our friend Ben West helped us produce this much earlier on than he did last time which was amazing. Also, Paul Simon helped us with some production and mix notes for the song "War Zone". It was really surreal to be getting advice from him, and everything he said to try made the song better. He's a real genius.
You guys are a little bit more open-minded and able to work with people outside the general indie rock/pop circle. Talk about how important it's to be well-rounded these days.
Joshua: Music is becoming a melting pot. The Internet has made it easy to be a fan of music and as a result we grew up listening to everything. When you think of it that way, it just makes sense to make whatever you're inspired to make.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. hits fans of all sorts of music. Speak about that.
Joshua: I believe in songs. A song can outreach its genre if it's done well and has merit. We really focus on the song and maybe that helps us transcend "genre" in some ways sometimes.
What are your thoughts about Detroit these days with the emergency manager and going bankrupt?
Joshua: It's got more potential than any city for growth that I've ever seen. The future is bright, and once the infrastructure is strong again it will have its moment.
What's your thought about the creative culture in Detroit right now with all that's happening to the city still?
Joshua: There is a real visceral sense of change in the city right now, and I think that naturally makes people think a bit more creatively. It's a fun time here.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.'s new album The Speed Of Things is available now via Warner Brothers Records. They will be playing at the Jack White Theater at the Masonic Temple on November 23rd. For more information on Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., please visit daleearnhardtjrjr.com.
Photo Credit: JUCO