by Jeff Milo
One step at a time: Josh Epstein (left) and Daniel Zott (right) of Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr
At least, that's how Daniel Zott describes he and fellow singer/songwriter Josh Epstein, the two main components of the Detroit pop outfit. They're still melding, still shifting, and still growing together as songwriters; still, really, getting to know each other, through music.
But that's a sign of the times, really, Zott says. Bands long ago gave up preoccupying (or fixating) themselves upon sounding a certain way. And, take it from a guy signed to a major label (Warner Bros., that is, ...and oh, how ominous that sounds, in its suggestion of tethering contracts and mandates of sellability), Zott admits that being signed "to a major" isn't anything like he'd anticipated.
He reminds us that their now nationally lauded project Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr's only been a band for about three solid years. And, "that's still a young band..." even if, separately, as individual musicians, the pair have been writing, recording and performing, solo or with other bands, for twenty years.
That they are still growing, means that they can still be whatever they want to be, at any given moment, on any given song, for any given show. That's a big reason their next release, a 2014-follow-up to October's The Speed Of Things will be more hip-hop inclined - a palpable shift away from the post-millennial dance-pop and indie-folk-feathering of Motown-grooves that they've been tagged-for by the bloggoworld. In fact, they're calling the next one a "Mixtape."
Mixtapes, said Zott, usually suggests a no-rules, no boundaries, see-if-it-sticks sort of liberation, for the music creator, so don't expect a sequel to the synth-dazzled pogo parade of "If You Didn't See Me (Then You Weren't On The Dance Floor." No, they've been working with the equally chameleonic genre-defiant Tunde Olaniran.
Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr are performing what Zott considers "a homecoming show..." It's sort of a capping-off of what's been their busiest year: consistent touring, music videos, an EP in the summer, an LP in the early autumn and constant songwriting and experimenting (i.e. "the mixtape") in between. No matter how many shows, wherever they play and to however large a crowd, nothing compares, says Zott, to playing back home in front of your friends and family. And Detroit, at large, always shows a lot of support, he said, for when they do "come home."
DALE EARNHARDT JR. JR. and FLINT EASTWOOD at the Masonic Temple Detroit. SATURDAY NOVEMBER 23 doors at 7pm tickets: $20
Zott says that only now, after three years, are those questions about the band's name starting to dissipate. Akin to material usually featured on mixtapes, the name was something whimsical that just happened to stick... Zott suggests we all recall how stupid "Beatles" sounds, as a name, anyhow. A band's name is no longer a sticking point, says Zott, just as there doesn't seem to be as many sticking points, overall, tied to how a band sounds, who is in the band, what's their "schtick..."
There's less preoccupation with "schticks..."
That coy, tauntingly titled dance anthem might disguise how contemplative, how poignant, how invariably dark, dreamy and woeful and, yes, whimsical both lyricists can get with their writing on Speed Of Things. In our conversation, Zott gets me considering the metaphysical possibilities of a dialogue with an ancient cradles of civilization and comparing your potentially measly existence against the stapled icons of encyclopedias only to realize that measly-ness is all a matter of perspective.
Perspectives... Oh, how they shift. Preconceptions, apprehensions, hang-ups and schticks... those are all shifting.
Just like the songwriters in Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr. "Josh is great at starting things...I'm great at finishing them. We compliment each other in lots of ways but we're very different in ways, as well."
And that dialogue, displayed in leaps from electric guitars to acoustic, from drum machines to analog synthesizers, from marching beats kicked from live drums to more ambient pieces lulling over experimental, ambient trips stripped of percussion. It's how they can ruminate on life, death, love and the unnerving instantaneous expectancy of our new, disconcertingly squirrly twitter-culture, in honest and sometimes ominous lyrics, while still giving you an indelible beat to which you can dance.
If you wanna dance... If you don't have anything against dance music... If you don't have anything against the band's name...