Google “Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr” and you will, as you might expect, get loads of results about the professional racecar driver. However, if you dig a little deeper you will find a fair number of mentions of a Detroit-based duo making their way in the indie pop music world. Last year Paste Magazine named “Run” from their album The Speed Of Things one of the “50 Best Songs of 2013.”
Even if their name isn’t optimized for Internet search engines, the guys from Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. are clearly making a name for themselve.
The Royal Oak duo have played at most of the major music festivals, including Lollapalooza in 2011 and Bonnaroo and SXSW in 2012. They made an appearance on TBS’ “Conan” last year. Their sound garners attention from music magazines like Rolling Stone and SPIN while their quirky name makes their pop culture appeal broad enough to be noticed by media outlets like ESPN, Esquire and NPR.
When Josh Epstein decided to join music forces with Daniel Zott and form Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. in 2010, they didn’t have high expectations. That’s not to say that they didn’t want to make it in the music biz, but they certainly didn’t expect to be headlining a nationwide tour four years down the road. But that is exactly what will happen this fall when Epstein and Zott spend October and November crisscrossing the U.S.
When asked why he thought DEJJ was able to build a fan base as quickly as it has, Epstein equated the band’s success to a few rounds of trial and error.
“We both had worked for a long while at music and had at least figured out what not to do,” explained Epstein, referring to his band The Silent Years and Zott’s time with The Great Fiction and The American Secrets (originally known as The Victorious Secrets).
Metro Detroit has cranked out an astounding number of mainstream artists over the last 70 years, but Epstein says that the number one thing that makes the local music scene tick is a willingness to not worry about what critics say. From rap to pop to rock to R&B to electronica, Detroit has been hailed by more than a few critics as the most important city for contemporary music in the world. And while Brooklyn, NY may be gaining notice for its recent pop-inflected music scene, DEJJ’s hook-heavy new wave riffs can stand toe-to-toe with anything the Big Apple has to offer.
“The music scene in Detroit is super diverse,” said Epstein. “There are so many people making music that they want to make, seemingly operating unaffected by outside norms. It’s inspiring.”
Augie Visocchi, lead singer of the Detroit-area group The Hard Lessons, has been a part of the Detroit music scene for nearly a decade and has known Zott since their school days and Epstein since The Silent Years opened for his band years ago. When he heard they were joining forces on a new project back in 2010, he offered them a shot.
“My wife, Korin, and I asked them to open one of our small acoustic shows thinking we would ask them to open for the full Hard Lessons when we booked some more shows, but it was too late.” said Visocchi, explaining that DEJJ began to explode locally almost immediately.
Visocchi says that he recalls how Epstein has always had a knack for knowing how to “mess with the critics and the hipsters.” He says that the quirky band name and the NASCAR costumes that the band used to play shows in was an attempt to take the pressure off the musical expectations. But then something weird happened. People started to like the music. Suddenly, there was no longer a need to temper expectations, and (thank goodness) the NASCAR fire suits went by the way side.
This fall, as their month-long 21-stop nationwide tour comes to a close, DEJJ will spend two nights packing the house at the Crofoot Ballroom in Pontiac. The Crofoot is a favorite spot to play for up-and-coming and experienced Michigan bands alike.
Chad Nicefield, one of the Crofoot’s booking agents, says that the Detroit music scene is a supportive environment where bands help each other out and push each other to grow and learn from others around them. That is why he is sure that the DEJJ shows at the Crofoot in November will be packed with local musicians trying to get a glimpse of a band that caught fire.
“It’s important to look at bands like DEJJ, because at one time they were your typical ‘local act’ here in Detroit,” said Nicefield. “That grind for years, that they as musicians made to get them to where they are now, has paid off in a monumental way.”