Let’s play a little word association game, shall we? I say “Dale Earnhardt, Jr.” You just thought “Nascar.” I say “Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jr.” You still probably thought “Nascar.” The former is right on. The latter, however, is way off base. The oddly-named Detroit indie-rock duo of Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott, who front the “Jr, Jr” moniker, are pretty far from the Nascar images that just popped into your head — and as it turns out, that’s pretty much exactly the point of their name. The pair met as mutual members of the Detroit music scene (they knew each other, but didn’t know each other, as it so often goes), and were officially introduced musically after Zott put out a solo record with which Epstein fell in love with. The chemistry was electric, and the buzz has put them on the fast track. As they push into the release of their new record, “Corporate World,” they’re gunning to keep tackling your misconceptions and the deadly compartmentalization they can bring. Don’t fall behind, because this car is about to start seriously speeding up.
I’ve gotta start by talking about the name. It’s pretty brilliant in the juxtaposition of what it implies against what you guys actually deliver musically.
Josh Epstein: When we started the project, we weren’t really planning on having a band. Just a project (laughs). So when we came up with the name, that was just the first thing we thought of. And then it started to make sense to us in this weird way. I think both of us are really kind of worried about where the world is right now, and something about NASCAR represents so much. It’s this giant thing for some people, and yet others know nothing about it. It’s a powerful draw and a powerful force. But we also think it’s kind of symbolic of where music is going, in a way. Even as a sports fan, some outlets may not even cover NASCAR, ya know? And it’s the same thing with music. Things have become really compartmentalized, where some people will only listen to something if it’s being talked about by a certain blog or will only listen to something if it’s on the radio. There are so many metaphors and ideas that it sparked.
And that defines your philosophy on music? Or even on life?
JE: I don’t think you have to take yourself super seriously to make serious and good art. Both of us feel that way. Now, we’re very serious about the work we do, but I don’t think that you have to walk around sad and tortured all the time. Everyone should try and be well adjusted and be as happy as they can be. So to some extent, we stuck with the name because it embodied the attitude we had in making the music, which was to make something really serious but have a lot of fun with it. So far, it still feels right.
Was there any worry about what the actual Dale Earnhardt Jr. might say?
JE: We were thinking we would have to change it at some point, honestly. But luckily, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., gave us his blessing to use the name. He’s really the nicest guy in the world. He sent us this really nice email, and when we read that we knew we had to keep this name forever.
So why did this pairing click so fast? What did you immediately enjoy about the vibes of working together?
JE: I had been in a band for a really long time where I was the primary songwriter, and I started to get to the point where I wanted to work with someone who was going to really challenge me in terms of trying to make full changes to my songs and the way I write. I had been trying to do that with other people for a while and it didn’t really work. But I tried it with Daniel, and the first song we wrote together was “Simple Girl,” and then we just kind of kept on going and after a month we had an album. It worked out really, really well. When you play in a band, there’s someone whose job it is to play drums, and whose job it is to play bass, and so a lot of times you end up forcing those things into songs. But with the two of us, we can both play all the instruments, and so we would just kind of listen to the song and think about what the song could use and then one of us would just play it. We didn’t end up having to put a lot of unnecessary stuff into each song, which made it a really unique experience.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from Daniel? What might he say about you?
JE: Daniel is very laid back. He’s very self confident in the least egotistical way. I’ve never met anyone that I’ve sensed that confidence in but where there was no ego. Nothing really gets him down. I’m kind of the opposite. So I think that’s the big thing I learned from him. For him, he would probably say that he’s probably learned a little bit about maybe taking a little more time to analyze things and just taking more time with things. He’s a pretty spur of the moment type of guy in terms of writing, and I think maybe I’m a little more careful. But I’m really not sure, though (laughs).
Where do these songs come from? Are they autobiographical, or rooted in imagination?
JE: The subjects of everything are mixes. Some of it is autobiographical, some of it is kind of fantastical. But in general, whenever you write about any character, you can’t help but write about your own experiences, ya know? So I think everything is somewhat autobiographical, even if it’s not (laughs).
You guys love doing remixes. Talk about you approach to those.
JE: Just putting a techno beat to something is kind of a cop out. That doesn’t excite me at all. So when we do a remix, we do have kind of a unique process. One of us will start with the song and basically take every instrument out except for the vocals and we’ll come up with everything new. Then we’ll pass it off to the other person, who tries to not listen to the song. So the first time they hear it will be with what the other person has done, and they’ll essentially produce it as if a song that the other one of us had written. So we have a lot of fun with that and it’s something really interested for us to. It’s definitely an involved process.
Is this record a logical step for you guys?
JE: It is a logical next step for our band in the sense that it is the record we had intended to put out all along. We’re also really grateful that people are able to have experience with some of our songs already. That makes touring a little bit easier, for sure. The whole thing has worked out really well. It’s kind of the new era of music in the sens that the Internet and the little EP has been such a good introduction to the world for us. The songs make more sense as a full record, so we’re happy that people get to hear it all now.
The buzz and the press around you guys has moved pretty fast. Has that made you feel the need to slow things down and be more analytical about where this could go?
JE: It’s been nothing but positives. We’re definitely not very analytical about anything. Both of us are producers, so we feel like that if both of us like it, it must be alright (laughs). Hopefully we have a lot of quality control between the two of us. But I don’t think that’s changed our outlook on anything we’ve done or anything we’re doing. If anything, we just feel really excited about the fact that we get to be busy. We’ve already been working on our next record, and things are still really moving fast. But we’re both really active, and no matter how fast things go it can’t catch up to how fast we want them to go (laughs). We’ll always be creating and doing new things.
Why are you excited to be a part of the music industry as it stands in 2011?
JE: It’s kind of like the wild west, ya know? There are a ton of opportunities for people that haven’t necessarily been there in the past, getting songs in TV shows and movies. I remember hearing that bands like Nirvana had policies where nothing would ever go into a TV show because they felt like that was selling out. But they were also making so much money off their record sales where they didn’t have to worry about it. Now, I think the world has gotten to a point where there is no such thing as selling out. Everyone is just trying to make a living. That’s the hope, anyhow. The cool thing is that you kind of get to do what you want. If it works, you get to keep doing it. If it doesn’t work, you try something else. It’s an exciting time.
What’s life on the road like for you?
JE: Touring is just such a completely different thing than writing. Writing is sort of introverted, and this sort of emotional catharsis. Playing live is more of an experience. More of an extroverted thing, being a part of a room and what’s going on that evening. I think a lot of bands fail to realize that when you’re playing live, its not just you playing a show. It’s the people in the audience that are causing the show to happen. So we just try to experience it and feel like we’re present in every place we go. The perfect show is when everyone is happy and has some sort of visceral emotion or reaction. But that just tends to happen sometimes in certain places for whatever reason.
What’s going to make the next year a success for this band?
JE: Obviously, anyone that puts out music to the public wants people to hear it. So hopefully as many people as feel like they want to hear it, get to hear it. Then I want to make another record and do the whole thing over again.
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