Layering pop with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.

Boy racers
By LUKE O'NEIL  |  December 14, 2011

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EASY LOVE “I think I’ve always been of the opinion that when you’re performing for people, it’s your job to entertain,” says Joshua Epstein of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.

First impressions are everything, whether you're looking for a job, a date, or coming across a band for the first time — particularly one with a goofy-ass name that's made you ignore them for months. But your idea of Motor City duo Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. (comprising Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott) probably depends mostly on which song of theirs you heard first. You could think they're a soulful groove-hammer rock outfit (from their burgeoning hit, Gil Scott-Heron cover "We Almost Lost Detroit"), or bloopity-blippity-wave soft-electronic-pop breezers ("Husbands"), or throwback '60s fetishizers (their bloggy crossover cover of the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows").

The truth is a little more complicated — they're actually all three. Growing up in a musical town like Detroit, it's hard not to feel the influential push and pull of music in all directions, explains Epstein: "I think everyone wants to contribute to the atmosphere of their hometown, especially musicians. Detroit has such a massive amount of history."

Epstein's introduction to music in general began at an early age; his first concert was a Grateful Dead show with his father, and his parents played a lot of Motown and Beach Boys around the house as well. "I remember asking my father why they sang so high," Epstein says. "He said, 'Because they can.' "

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That appreciation for the Beach Boys would play a pivotal role for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., which released their debut LP, It's a Corporate World (Warner Bros.), earlier this year and the second installment of their My Love Is Easy Remixes EP last month. Dipping into the California pop legends' sunny catalogue brought a lot of early attention. "I think I've always been of the opinion that when you're performing for people it's your job to entertain," says Epstein. "It's not about you, it's about them. As an unknown band, it's nice to go into the lexicon of music that people are all going to be aware of."

"Simple Girl," a track that features heavily in their recent remix releases — with a chilly groove revamping by Tiger & Woods — borrows its feel from another group of '60s titans, the Beatles, with its echoes of "Martha My Dear." It's a change of pace after a few years when the Beatles seemed to have fallen out of favor with the younger indie set.

"I think trends come and go, but good songs are forever," Epstein says. "That's why Beatles songs have lasted so long. I don't pay enough attention to anything to know what people are avoiding. Maybe we're really uncool. I've always been of the opinion that if you're a musician and you're writing, every time you listen to music you're learning tricks from people, learning devices. I don't think it's a conscious thing ever, I think it's all absorbed. If you sit down and consciously do stuff like that you're just a manipulator — if it happens, it's just unconscious. I grew up listening to the Beatles, I'm sure a lot of influences crept in there."

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