At first glance, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. might seem like a gimmick–two guys in racing suits capitalizing on a name-brand stock-car-racing dynasty. Upon listening, however, it’s clear their particular type of indie pop is anything but a stunt; the Detroit duo of Josh Epstein and Daniel Zott combine delicate, pleading vocals with ethereal melodies on their debut full-length It’s A Corporate World. We emailed with Epstein and Zott about the unfortunate name they almost went with, the Detroit scene, and their decision to cover the Beach Boys.
Are you guys big NASCAR fans?
We hadn’t ever watched a race before a few months ago, but we have spent a little time with it. We are huge basketball fans, so our loyalty lies with Dr. Naismith‘s game, for the most part.
Where did the name come from? Obviously from Dale Earnhardt Jr., but how’d you come around to it?
We started this project with the intention of having an outlet to make music as two guys interested in production. We also started with little thought of ever releasing the music so the name was just a funny afterthought.
After living with the name for a while, it began to feel sort of liberating to us. In a way, by setting the precedent of having such a ridiculous name, we feel uniquely able to move in any creative direction we are pulled in. After all, the music is so far removed from the name that it almost forces a listener to focus more on the music itself.
We also believe that one doesn’t have to take oneself too seriously in order to make serious work. We are very passionate about the music that we make, and we take the process and the art form very seriously. We also like to be able to laugh at ourselves and think that this is a healthy thing for people to do.
Finally, it’s better than “Counting Crows Part 2,” which was the other alternative.
Do you think it makes you harder to find on Google?
Nothing in life comes easy.
What would you have changed your name to if it hadn’t been okay to use “Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.”?
We had been prepared for some time to shorten the name to Jr. Jr. and there were many people urging us to do so. I think that people have a hard time accepting that we take our work and the craft very seriously with such a goofy name. We started this project as an outlet for the exploration of ourselves, each other, and new sonic ideas; but, we always wanted it to be fun. It’s a conscious decision that we make, to try and not take all of our moments as seriously as we approach writing.
Switching gears (racecar jokes!)–it would seem there’s a number of artists coming out of Detroit. How does the city influence your sound?
The city of Detroit is more of an influence in that there really isn’t a singular musical “sound.” Coming up as a musician in the city allows people to develop their own sound, as it’s less of a trendsetter and follower culture and more accepting of different types of music.
Listen to Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.’s “Skeletons”:
Do you hang out with anyone in the Detroit scene?
Yes, we do. I worked with the band Prussia on their new LP. Daniel also works with many bands as a producer and collaborator. We are playing a show with Danny Brown soon, and we love his stuff. The music scene is fairly insular so we all get to know and hang out with each other fairly regularly.
You guys have done covers of songs by two pretty major artists (“God Only Knows” by Beach Boys and “We Almost Lost Detroit” by Gil Scott-Heron) — what made you think you could do them justice? (I love them both, to be clear.)
I don’t think that we ever intended to release the songs, and so we never set out to do them justice in that sense. We hold those songs up with a great reverence to be honest. I think that since we approached them as creative exercises rather than as calculated products they ended up sounding like the other things we make, production wise, and we felt comfortable putting them out in the end because they had become homages to great artists in our minds.
Any of the Beach Boys reach out to you about your cover?
Not yet, but I bet Mike Love listens to it on his yacht as he sails around Aruba and Jamaica on his way to Kokomo.
Why is your new album (out June 7) called It’s A Corporate World?
The world and our country have changed dramatically and continue to change rapidly in many ways. Corporations are becoming increasingly bigger parts of all of our lives, and are ingraining themselves deeply into our society. This past year, 53% of Harvard’s graduating class went to work on Wall Street, while roughly the same percentage of Stanford grads went to work for Google. It is a corporate world, for better or worse. It’s definitely something that is on our minds, and has been for a while.
Does that have anything to do with those racecar suits you wear (and do you get free Cheerios for life?)
Definitely. You can’t escape advertising these days, and it seemed like an interesting idea to wear it ourselves during a performance and see how it felt to us and the audience.
Does it get hot in those suits?
So damn hot. It makes you feel like you worked a bit though, which is important for one’s self esteem.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. plays Mercury Lounge tonight and The Rock Shop Thursday, May 12.