When you hear the name “Dale Earnhardt Jr.” you either think of the NASCAR driver or remain oblivious to the significance of the name. However, Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott make up the Detroit bred indie band duo known as Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. (note the second “Jr.”). It’s A Corporate World, the band’s debut album, was released last year and the two are preparing to release their sophomore album this fall. As you hear the band’s sound, cross-genre influences can be heard from the rhythm of the drum, the touch of electronica, the jazzy piano and the fragile, yet strong vocals. During the height of the CBGB Music Festival, the gents gave Life + Times a creative sneak peek into the unlikely inspirations of their music, an explanation of their freshly coined “karaoke wave” genre and Joshua’s confession to his newfound adoration of Randy Newman.
Life + Times: First off, I know you guys released your album last year. What’s been your day-to-day since the last release?
Joshua: Wake up in the morning, get massages, pedicures, manicures, every day.
L+T: But, you’re also working on a new album, correct?
Daniel: Yes. Oh, and doing alot of shows.
L+T: Do you guys have a name for the album yet?
Joshua: We’re kicking some around, but nothing that we’ve settled on yet.
Daniel: We’ve been waiting for someone like you to say something.
Joshua: Yeah, what do you think it should be called?
L+T: Oh, I don’t like this game. Something that relates to your hometown in Michigan.
Joshua: Great Lakes, Great Times?
L+T: Perhaps. At any rate, my iPod lists you as electronica, but I’ve heard some people refer to your music as beach wave, psych-retro pop and so forth. How would you guys describe your sound outside of calling it a genre?
Joshua: I think that we aspire to make music that people will sing in karaoke bars. So hopefully it’s future karaoke wave. If you think about it, every song someone does at a karaoke bar, you’ve heard…except when people do those weird country songs which always happens. People do all these Meatloaf songs. They’re classics. Every single song someone would do in a karaoke bar is a classic. As a songwriter, that’s what you want to write. You want to write that song that when someone goes to a karaoke bar they’ll be like, “You know, I’m gonna show off for this girl I brought here. I want to sing a Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. song.”
L+T: As far as inspiration goes, are there any particular musicians that you guys draw inspiration from or can relate to?
Daniel: A lot of dead musicians.
Joshua: There’s so many. I’m influenced by every musician I hear, because even if I don’t like something someone’s done, it sticks with me as something not to do. So, I think that, in general, I like to listen to everyone to figure out what I like or don’t like about them. It’s like an ever expanding puzzle.
Daniel: So, to figure out what you like, I guess?
Joshua: Yeah. It just adds pieces to the puzzle that you’re always putting together. You hear someone…like, I heard Owen Pallett a couple of years ago. It freaked me out. I was like “Oh my god!” It like opened my mind to these new possibilities of directions you could go to and to me that kind of just expands the palate.
Daniel: Pun intended. People that when they play I just know I’m nowhere near them in talent. That’s inspiring. We’ve been listening to a lot of Randy Newman on the way here. Joshua: I listened to “Living Without You” like 18 times this weekend. That song is like one of the top ten songs I’ve ever heard. I just heard it last week.
L+T: You guys obviously do songwriting together. The M83 remix, on a side note, I am a huge fan of and you guys have actually done remixes of some of your songs. When you do a live DJ set, how do you determine what’s next and the flow of it without “bumping heads?”
Daniel: We take turns. Sometimes he’s playing a song and I’ll feel like I know what’s supposed to come next. A lot of times, we’ll just let that person go two or three songs and we’ll just switch it up.
Joshua: I think the beauty of working in a partnership is if you find the right partner is that they always make decisions that surprise and excite you. I think that a lot of times Daniel makes decisions that I wouldn’t come up with, but that I love in every way possible. That’s the exciting thing about working with him.
L+T: Same goes for the albums, the remix albums as well, right?
Joshua: I think for the remixes, one of us usually starts it and then hands it off to the other person to finish it. I think that’s generally how it happens. Usually, the one of us that hasn’t heard the song will start it because we want to have a fresh take and then we hand it off. Those are all really fun. I think we’re gonna start doing a lot of non-commissioned ones at our DJ sets.
L+T: Are majority of the songs already done on the new album?
Joshua: So far we have a lot of songs done, so we’re just trying to finish them all. Then, we’ll figure out what the album is.
Daniel: We have a lot of songs done. We’re trying to finish them all off.
Joshua: That problem makes little sense to you. The way that we work is we write a song together, then we record it, then we tear it apart. We keep on going with it until we feel like the song is right. So, you can sit down with a guitar and play it for someone and once we get it there, then we record it. It’s really a long process. Right now we have a bunch of songs we’ve gotten to the point that we feel like they are songs. Now we are just trying to finish recording them, then if we need more, we’ll just make more.
L+T: So, you guys dissect it separately then get back together and figure out what’s a song.
Daniel: There’s some stuff done separately and some things that can only be done as a team. Like if we’re gonna say this song is finished, we really both need to be talking about it and make sure we both feel good about finishing it. We’re getting to that that part: “Are we good with everything?”
Joshua: I think with this album, if people play the game of ‘whoever is singing it, probably wrote it,’ it’s probably not gonna work. This album is very all over the map in terms of who did what. I can’t even remember.
L+T: Is it the same themes you had in your last album? There were quite a few love songs about relationships.
Joshua: I think it’s really different in terms of the content and theme. I think it’s a little more careful, more carefully thought out. I think it’s a little bit more pointed. I think we have more to specifically say as it were.
Daniel: It’s a more mature statement as opposed to what it was before. I think we had great lyrics, but it was more about the color of the lyric or the feeling. This is something beyond that.
Joshua: I think the lyrics are literal this time around.
L+T: Being that there are so many bands out there trying to make it and enjoy what they do at the same time, how do you guys not allow that spirit of competition to affect your sound and who you are as a band?
Joshua: I think that competition is always good as long as it’s healthy competition. You hear someone do something great and you’re inspired to do something better. I think that’s really a strong force in a lot of musicians’ lives. It would be really tough for me to say what influenced this new record and what it sounds like. I don’t even know. It’s really just us.
Daniel: When Brian Wilson made Pet Sounds, I think he heard [The Beatles'] Sgt. Peppers and he went home to his wife and said, “I want to make something better than that.” He was inspired by that. I think that was partly competition, but it pushed him. It doesn’t sound like The Beatles, but it sounds good. I think you can be pushed by other things, but not copy them or be anything like them.