Joshua Epstein (from Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.) on ’The Speed of Things’
Hailing from the Motor City and naming themselves with a playful spin on a notable race car driver, it’s fitting that the musical horsepower of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. allows for both up-tempo and high spirited indie-pop grooves while also allowing for a few more subdued, mellow tracks set for cruise control. With the release of their sophomore album "The Speed of Things," Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. (comprised of Daniel Zott and Joshua Epstein) create a solid musical ride from the start to the finish line.
Zott and Epstein founded the group in 2009 and began recording in Zott’s basement in a Detroit suburb. The band’s name was suggested to them as a joke, but they cleared it with the real Dale Earnhardt Jr., by sending him samples of their music and telling him that they meant no disrespect. In turn, Dale Earnhardt Jr. became a fan of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Epstein recently spoke with EDGE just as their new CD was coming out. (It was released on Oct. 8 on Warner Bros. Records.) He describes some of the new songs, how musical inspiration can be found in the unlikeliest of places and shares a bit of his chemistry with fellow singer and musician Daniel Zott in creating "The Speed of Things."
EDGE: The first thing that struck me are the well-done harmonies from you both opening "Beautiful Dream." Was this part of your initial chemistry when you first got together as a duo?
Joshua Epstein:Yeah, for sure. I think that there is something like the timbre of people’s voices and it’s a natural thing. For some reason, ours sound good together, and that came together... so, definitely.
EDGE: There is such a mellow and lovelorn vibe to "Beautiful Dream." Was there a special significance in reprising this song midway through the album?
Joshua Epstein:Yeah, I think that people were aware that the record is a story and about characters and not necessarily about ourselves. So, bringing the song back in was supposed to sense the power that it brings back to the universe and that we’re kind of in adventure mode here.
EDGE: Nice. Now with the song "Run," it zips right in and the lyrical style and Daniel’s voice reminded me of a Paul Simon song. Please tell me about creating this song?
Joshua Epstein:Yeah, actually... that’s my voice on that song.
That song was a song we were really in to but the vocal performance, I just couldn’t get it right. We were sitting around and just drinking whiskey, and I thought, ’I’m just going go to this way that I feel like doing it.’ Not really think about it too much. I went out there and we set up a microphone real quick and I did it. It was pretty much just one take and that was it.
An unbridled romantic
EDGE: It’s a really fun and strong structure on that. I like it.
Joshua Epstein:Oh, thank you.
EDGE: There are also a couple of nice love songs on this. ’Knock Louder’ in particular, has a softer side to it. Which of the two of you is the most romantic at heart?
Joshua Epstein:I think we’re both romantic but in different ways. Daniel is very romantic in a real old-fashioned way. I’m real romantic in an unbridled and passionate way.
EDGE: How would you describe your songwriting process or sensibility when you both are composing?
Joshua Epstein: It really changes from song to song. Sometimes I bring a song or Daniel will bring a song that is kind of done and bring bits of ideas and finish them. In every scenario, we both really shape it and help refine it. We have a really beautiful collaborative art that we’ve created.
EDGE: Cool. I took away a few musical touches with the guitar sound that reminded me of George Harrison and a singer called Bob Welch [’Sentimental Gentleman’] with some of the vocals. But it’s not dated in any way. Does that make sense?
Joshua Epstein:Yeah! All art is a reflection of art that’s come before it. And also a reflection of the human spirit and condition. We’re very aware of the art and artists who have come before us while also trying to do our own thing. Those are two artists I haven’t heard a reference to before but thank you.
Hiding from ’pop’
EDGE: One of the tracks ’Hiding’ really struck me as unique with the fluctuating beats and the back and forth sway of the lyrics. What is your recollection of writing this song?
Joshua Epstein:The verse happened when I was at a grocery store. I remember singing that first melody into my iPhone and bringing it to Daniel. I think that we really changed it a lot. I remember the initial impulse just kind of happening in the egg aisle! Which is weird, if you think about it? I think it is a little more stream of consciousness in terms of the lyrical fit.
I guess when we made this record that we had this mindset that we weren’t going to hide from what the people would call "pop." We really are fans of it and love it and I think that direction just came through in the chorus.
EDGE: How did the video for ’If You Didn’t See Me (On the Dancefloor)’ come to premiere online at Funny or Die.com and tell me about some of the experience in creating it?
Joshua Epstein:We’d been talking to Funny or Die about doing some collaborative stuff. It just happened that we had made this video and when it was done, Funny or Die was into it and just wanted to debut it. It was an honor for us. The continuity and the film time were immediate and were completed in one day. It was like a fifteen-hour day. I ended up getting food poisoning on the set (laughter). It was a challenge, but it was fun.
EDGE: I bet. You guys close the album with a track called ’War Zone.’ This song has a different vibe to it than the majority of the other songs. It’s got sort of a dance vibe to it.
Joshua Epstein: On ’War Zone’ we got help on the production and reaching out from Paul Simon. It might sound different because of that. He steered us towards some of our mixing decisions or rhythmic choices. So, I could see how it could stick out a little bit. Maybe, it’s a bit of an outline of the direction we’ve been headed in since working on this record. Ultimately I feel like it was still part of that thought.
EDGE: How is your current tour going?
Joshua Epstein:I think anytime you can play shows a couple weeks at a time, you get really good at it. I think we really hit our stride. We’re really in a different place in terms of being in a room in front of people. There is this weird sense of openness between us and the audience. I think the audience is feeling it. I think we’re feeling it. We’re really communicating with people, yeah.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.’s "The Speed of Things" is available at amazon.com. The group is currently on tour. Among the cities Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. will be traveling to this fall are New York City, NY; Philadelphia, PA; Silver Spring, MD; Anaheim, CA; Los Angeles, CA; San Francisco, CA; Portland, OR; Seattle, WA and Detroit, MI. For a complete list of the band’s tour dates, visit the group’s website.
Watch the video for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.’s "If You Didn’t See Me (Then You Weren’t On The Dancefloor)":