Following the release of their second album, The Speed Of Things, Detroit born and bred indie pop duo Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. have begun making a name for themselves for something beyond, well, their name. Quirky yet accessible, polished but never bland, Daniel Zott and Joshua Epstein have found the sweet spot between pop sensibilities and uniqueness, expanding their electronically-tinged hooks and dynamism just enough to keep things interesting without abandoning their comfort zone, deftly outmaneuvering any possibility of failing prey to the dreaded sophomore slump. The Speed Of Things changes gears often, shifting between exuberant choruses, love poem sensitivity, introspective melancholy and conversational assertions, but never stops moving forward through the swirling melodies and smooth vocals.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. recently packed Chicago’s own Metro with a sold out crowd, their largest ever outside of their hometown. Epstein’s colorful world map jacket and Zott’s curly hair tied into a ponytail on the side of his head were framed by flashing J’s and R’s sidestage as they opened up the set with “Hiding,” singing into a disembodied phone receiver and thrusting fists in the air with every “Hey!” The solitary incandescent bulbs attached to each mic stand illuminated intermittently, seemingly signaling new ideas realized mid-lyric, while each half of the duo dutifully took their turn leaping into the crowd to lend credibility to their synth-infused single “If You Didn’t See Me (Then You Weren’t On The Dancefloor).”
TMN: Congratulations on what was your biggest ever show outside of Detroit to date! How does it feel?
It’s an amazing feeling to have people in another city show up at all, so to have a record crowd made it even more special.
TMN: How have you been enjoying the tour so far?
It’s been the most successful and most fun. That’s a good combination.
TMN: You brought your dog Potato on stage during the show. What’s it like bringing him along? How does he like it so far?
It’s actually Josh’s dog, but yes, he’s been incredibly well behaved. He brings a lot of joy to the bus and helps us keep things in perspective.
TMN: I understand you recently did a benefit concert to raise money for a sick child. Can you tell us a little bit about this? How much of a responsibility do you feel artists have to give back to their communities in ways like this?
Alex is a kid who recently discovered he had brain cancer. His family got nailed with a huge bill and we were just trying to help out. It was a really fun day with him and his family. Being in a band is full of self-centered moments. You spend most of your time trying to make people care about you. So, it was good to spend a day thinking about someone else.
TMN: So I have to ask, what’s the story behind the name?
We wanted a name that wouldn’t restrict our sound. It’s so outrageous that it gives us freedom to sound like anything we want.
TMN: Will your children carry on the legacy as Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. Jr.?
TMN: Is Dale himself a fan?
He is. He says so in a video on tumblr via fox sports.
TMN: I understand you started the band rather casually without many expectations. Do you believe art is always best created with spontaneity? Is your process more calculated now that you’ve found success?
There’s a good mix of both. In order to finish any good idea you need to have vision and execution which is more calculated, but spontaneity is good for coming up with ideas and changes.
TMN: You both seem to split frontman duties 50/50 more or less. How does this work? Is your songwriting process the same?
We are finding our roles more and more as we grow together. We never plan for it to be perfectly split, but it does seem to balance out.
TMN: Many people consider indie pop to be a bit of a contradiction yet you guys blend the two worlds perfectly. Do you consider yourselves to be more of one or the other? How do you find balance?
We are just trying to make pop music in the old sense of the word. We’d like to make a popular song that has some substance to it.
TMN: How has the Motown style popular in your native Detroit and the presence of legends such as Jack White influenced your music?
Greatly. There is pride that comes from being from Detroit. You respect the history and feel responsible for the future. Makes us work hard at writing good songs.
TMN: You recently made a hip hop mixtape, can you tell us a little about that? What inspired such a side project?
It has been a dream for a while. We really like making beats and producing other people’s tracks. It was a way for us to let people know what we can do.
TMN: I heard Paul Simon worked on your new album in some capacity, what was that like?
It was wild to get his thoughts. He didn’t just have general thoughts either. He gave some recording tips that really worked well for War Zone.
TMN: What’s next for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.?
I need some lunch.
Photos by Andrea Calvetti