FEATURE Daniel Zott & Josh Epstein of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Image Credit: courtesy DEjrjr

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.  On Track To Become Indie Success (And they can even turn left)

by Kathryn Sesser
When your Wikipedia entry consists of three sentences and a two-album discography, chances are few people have heard of you. But if your name is a funny salute to a popular NASCAR driver, it’s automatic that everyone knows your name.

Well … Almost. Just add a Jr.

Sitting down with Daniel Zott and Joshua Epstein, the brains behind the relatively unknown/well-known band, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., it’s plain to see why they do what they do: They simply love making music. Oh, and having a few laughs as well. But with a name such as theirs, it’s easy to expect the odd detractor.

“It’s been the random person that’s been like, ‘Fuck them, they can’t shine Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s shoes,’” Epstein says. “But for the most part everyone understands that we’re not making fun of him.”

“We wanted something that was memorable, kind of laid-back and goofy, because we were just having fun,” Zott interjects.

“We thought it was funny. But now it means so many other things,” adds Epstein.

“Yeah, like don’t judge a band by its name.”

“We love Jr. too. We can relate to that guy.”

And this is how they talk, Epstein and Zott. Together, telling the story that is Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. … Or at least what’s been written so far. They’ve been together only two years now, but have known each other for five years in the “scene,” or so they say.

“We just kept going to each other’s concerts and stuff,” Zott says. “We respected each other in the Detroit music scene.”

Detroit boys, born and raised, and both continue to call the Motor City home, albeit now in the suburbs. Both Zott and Epstein, in their late 20s, are married, and continue to work with their other musical projects in Michigan. Although, right now they are concentrating on Jr. Jr., recently completing their first national tour, and a successful one at that.

“We knew we were going to do well in New York and L.A., but we’d go to cities in Colorado and they would be sold out, and we couldn’t believe it,” Zott says.

It’s been a whirlwind year for Zott and Epstein, as they have tested the waters of indie-music success, thanks to their first full-length album, It’s a Corporate World. Their music is garnering the right kind of attention, and they are gaining fans left and right. Last year, the guys were asked to record for a Daytrotter session at Rock Island studios, something which remains something of an honor.

“I know Sean (Moeller), who started Daytrotter, he’s one of the most special and wonderful people in the music business,” Epstein says.

“He started that website to help bands. If you notice on Daytrotter, he’s never written a bad word about a band. If he doesn’t like you, he doesn’t have you in there,” he continues. “I think that’s the most respectable thing you can do … In a day and age where we’re trashing people for sport.”

But there really is little that you can trash about Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., anyway. The band, signed to Quite Scientific Records, is continuing to tour the U.S. in the upcoming months, including stops in New York, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, before they introduce themselves to Europe. But this year’s biggest stage by far was Lollapalooza in Chicago.

“I think Lollapalooza treats its artists really, really well,” Epstein says. “I don’t know how other festivals treat people, because this is our first one.” In fact, Lollapalooza was the first festival that Zott had ever attended.

  

photos by Bret Grafton

Their set – which saw the guys come in out in NASCAR-inspired jackets, emblazoned with the Cheerios and Lysol logos – was well received by the tens of thousands of fans they drew and critics alike. In a moment of comedy at the beginning, Zott makes removing his jacket sexier than it should be, in a faux attempt to strip down …  Something he fears he may have to do in the future to attain more fans.

“I think that is what most artists come down to … They start taking off their clothes.,” Zott says. “Or we need to write one single. I think no matter how times have changed, if you write one song … If one song catches on, you somehow become relevant.

“Or we can just take off our clothes.”

  

photos by Bret Grafton

Hopefully they will never take the path of Lady Gaga or the Red Hot Chili Peppers. (Even if Epstein did have a poster of the boys in their socks on his wall as a teenager.) But they are both smart enough to know jokes about penises and “dick cleavage” can only take you so far. For Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. it really is about the music, and there is no doubt about that from either of them.

“I think the common ground for both of us is just good songwriting. It’s really about the songs for us,” Zott says. “If it’s a good song, I think many people can appreciate it. We’re the type of band anyone can listen to. We think kids can listen to us … Older people can listen to us. “

“We feel very lucky and grateful,” Epstein adds.

And it shows.

  • Kathryn Sesser has been a designer with The Times of Northwest Indiana for nearly five years, but a writer all her life. A Mississippi girl, this resident of Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood is a Southerner through and through: Good food, good conversation and good music drive the soul. When not dreaming of grits, this lyrical junkie can be found wandering the streets of Chicago or searching for gems on vinyl. If the sun is out – and it’s above freezing – find her at Montrose beach with her dog, Huxley.