BY SAMANTHA MULLETT
Daniel Zott and Joshua Epstein began their indie-pop collaboration, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., in Detroit’s booming music sphere. Some call them “psych-retro pop” while others try to fit the duo into a “mesh of hip-hop and folk.” In 2011, Zott and Epstein released two singles, “Simple Girl” and “Morning Thought,” that infiltrated the blogsphere while sliding into notable mashups.
They’ve moved faster than their titular racetrack star, and will release their upcoming and upgraded album, The Speed of Things, October 8th via Warner Brother Records. We caught up with Dan and their latest four-legged roadie, Potato, the six-year old Chihuahua, while on Earnhardt’s North American tour.
What’s the brief history behind your collaboration with Josh?
Josh and I have been making music on our own since we were 13 or 14 years old, so we’d been playing for about 12 years before we got together. Once we did, we no longer had to stay with what we were doing so we tried some new things out. We could do anything we wanted because we just started so we got into the folky kind of scene, but with a dance theme. We like to write songs that you can sing along too, that have a lyrical structure, but we just like good beats too. Our first record together was just us goofing around.
Has Detroit’s rich musical history influenced your sound?
I think it’s played a pretty big role – both our parents were huge Motown fans. My dad used to go out in Detroit and see six different bands play two or three songs each. People like Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, etc. all in one night. From there I learned it wasn’t just the melody that was so strong but also showmanship – especially the costume and presentation.
Music or lyrics first?
Generally music first, but occasionally the lyrics. Each song is different; sometimes we’ll have a really good hook and put something to it that just fits.
You guys frequently mention the rapid Age of the Internet – what’s the meaning behind the line, “generation full of false starts”?
Part of it is that things are changing so rapidly. If you try to do something, you eventually change your mind. To keep up with everything you end up changing what you were once dedicated to doing. We’re told and we think that we can do anything we want. Yet we can’t. It seems like we can’t have an impact because we keep having to adapt. Things are moving super fast.
Taking a reverse step, what’s the first mind-blowing record from your past? Which have perhaps subconsciously influenced your music?
Josh and I both loved Boys II Men, kind of ridiculous R&B records. I had one on tape actually, but they did a lot of harmonies and weren’t afraid of being perceived as cheesy. The Beach Boys and the Beatles, too. They wrote songs that connect with people but also have a pop sound. They were able to mix complex and rich music with composition changes. They were able to reach everybody but get deep, and bring value to the world.
Comparison of new record to past albums?
This record is a lot more grown up, a lot more thought out. We never worked so hard on something. We wanted to make something that we like, think is good, and people will respect. We tried hard to make things that would last. The last record was made when we were just getting together and it was kind of schizophrenic – but these songs really work together.
What’s next on the horizon for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr?
Well the new album will be out October 8th, The Speed of Things. Then touring and coming to San Francisco in just a short time!
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