Daniel Zott and Josh Epstein of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. like what they do. It comes across in everything – from the albums, to the videos, even the clothes they wear. Their sound is characterized by shiny, two-part harmonies that have the innate ability to alter moods within the first three notes. Pulling the sad out of their doldrums and lifting the happy to slightly higher heights.
Their live shows are no different. They truly are extensions of themselves, with both dudes typically dressed to the nines in suits that would make Rod Roddy blush; but they aren’t all for show. They’ve paid their dues and put in their time. Seeing as both Josh and Daniel took part in other Detroit-based music projects before joining forces to create the lively sound Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. is known for.
Despite his busy schedule, Josh from Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. was kind enough to carve some time out to answer a few questions about the band’s favorite MLB team, Daniel’s grandma’s basement, and even provide a little insight into where he and his bandmate dig up those slick outfits they’re always sporting.
You were both in different music projects before forming Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. How exactly did you two first meet?
We met through playing shows in the Detroit music scene. Daniel made a video with my roommate at a certain point and showed up to pick up a copy while my roommate was out. We bonded and that was our first real talk.
I’ve read a lot about the band starting in a basement with no intentions of ever reaching the public. So that begs the question ... how did your music eventually end up seeing the light of day?
My roommate had some friends over and asked me to put on some of the music Daniel and I had been working on. It just so happened that one of his guests owned a record label and wanted to put it out. There was a real immediacy to people's response with our music.
Sticking with the always interesting topic of basements, what kind was it exactly? Are we talking the fully furnished with a mini recording studio kind of basement, or was it more along the lines of a drum machine between a water heater and an exposed toilet kind of basement?
It was in Daniel's Grandma's basement. There was tile floor and wood paneling on the walls. I remember playing the wood grains with a spoon during one song.
The name Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. is pretty ridiculous. You settled on it for that exact reason, but were there any other names you were tossing around?
We really didn't want to get stuck in a genre or have to have a name to live up to. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. was really a way to signal to people that we were going to be different from their expectations, and then continue to defy them. But there really weren't any other choices we considered.
You come from a town with an incredibly strong musical pedigree spanning pretty much every genre. I know you’re only two full-lengths deep, but where do you see yourselves fitting in before it’s all said and done?
I think that we are two really hard working guys. We continue to get better and I really believe that we will make a lot more stuff together and it will continue to be strong and fruitful. As far as our legacy, that's not something anyone can really plan. I'd like to think that we will be around for the long haul though, which is really an accomplishment these days.
The band has made more and more high profile appearances in the last couple years (Lollapalooza, SXSW, late night talk shows, etc.). Do you tend to prep differently for those as opposed to the smaller, more intimate shows?
It's always the same amount of prep. Obviously, being on TV is different in that millions of people are watching your live performance as opposed to 700 at a show. But you kind of get used to the initial shock of it all and it starts to feel natural the more you do it. It's always an honor to be able to play music for people who actively want to hear it.
You’re big Detroit Tigers fans. What was it like getting to sing the national anthem at game 3 of the ALDS against the Oakland A’s at Comerica Park?
That was nerve wracking. Honestly the most nervous I've been in all my years of performing. We just didn't want to fuck up the lyrics like so many people have. I almost brought cue cards with me! Then right before we sang I was running through the lyrics and I drew a blank. Luckily muscle memory kicked in once we started!
Keeping with baseball, what's your take on the Fielder/Kinsler trade? Seemed like a win-win for both sides, but wanted a local’s opinion.
I've heard that Prince's wife cheated on him with Avisail Garcia. That's why he tanked last year and that's why we traded Avisail. In that case, it makes me upset to lose both those players. Hopefully small ball works for us this year though. Plus, Kinsler is a Jew. I am too, so I'm inherently a fan.
You put your city and its locals center stage in the video for "We Almost Lost Detroit". How long had you been dreaming of making a video that manages to lovingly wrap its arms around Detroit like that?
We really hadn't been dreaming of it for that long. My friend Andrew Smart (the director) and I were talking about that song and visual ideas. He was intrigued by Detroit as someone who had moved away and we showed him all of the cool shit that was happening around town. It just made so much sense to make the city and its people the star of the video.
Any local Detroit bands you guys are into as of late that everyone else should be listening to?
Tunde Olinarian is great. Hollow and Akimbo also are really special talents.
You two get photographed (and perform) in some pretty outlandish outfits - from checkered suits all the way to actual NASCAR racing suits. My girlfriend is a huge fan of the looks you guys pull off. So based on that you have to tell me … where in the hell do you get those clothes?
We both are pretty into clothing. We thrift a lot. Our friend/bus driver owns a vintage shop and gives us discounts sometimes.
Recently came across a live cover of Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" you did a while back. That song seems like a perfect fit for you guys, but are there any other songs you've wanted to cover that you simply haven't for one reason or another?
“Like a Virgin”. It's such a great song, but EVERYONE covers it. Can't beat that dead horse!
You’ll be at 20th Century Theater on February 14th, and you’ve played the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area a few times. Do you have a favorite spot or site to visit when in town?
I'm going to go to Nick from WALK THE MOON's house and steal whatever I can find there that's valuable. That's what I do whenever I'm there.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. is set to play 20th Century Theater on February 14th. Show starts at 8pm. So whatever Valentine’s Day plans you have, I suggest you break them.
Enter to win tics to the show HERE!