They’re the duo with the weird name that makes quirky, yet insanely catchy electronic indie-pop dance music. Collaborating in a basement studio with a single microphone and home recording gear, Daniel Zott and Josh Epstein started Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. in 2009 in Royal Oak, MI, just outside Detroit. The release of their first EP, Horse Power, drew immediate praise and their live shows have become a must-see event. Audiences have grown considerably to see the band perform live, as a result of the pure energy of their music and the band’s penchant for dressing in various costumes, such as matching floral suits and use of stage props that have included a giant orb. Sonically, the band is tight and continue to push the boundaries of making music that is interesting and unique yet very accessible.
The EP Patterns was just released, ahead of the band’s mini tour, as they prepare for a proper full-length release due later this year. B-Sides spoke with Daniel Zott prior to the kick-off of their tour about the band’s music, 8-bit vs 16-bit gaming and their thoughts on the band’s beloved Detroit Tigers.
The recent 8-bit remix of “If You Didn’t See Me (Then You Didn’t See Me)” brings back a ton of memories for old school gamers. The Nintendo MIDI sounds that were used in the version of the song are amazing. It’s been noted that this all came about as an way to relax while rehearsing. Did the process come naturally to you?
DZ: We were rehearsing a lot for our show and it was really stressful because we always are adding a lot of crazy things. It always seems to me that we add foo much and we’re not going to be able to pull it off. For whatever reason, one day, I had some time and I said, “I want to learn something new today”, just so I’m not stale or stagnant. I came across a Japanese website that had a plug-in and it just got me excited that I think I spent 8-10 hours that day to convert the audio into MIDI files and put them into the plug-in. It was something that I’ve been sitting on for a long time and I actually had some time. It felt like a good break from live production, playing live, singing, memorizing lyrics. It was just something goofy and fun. I woke up the next morning thinking, “did I just spend yesterday doing something that was completely pointless?” Hopefully, people get excited about it like I did. It’s just nostalgic to hear those sounds.
Were you much of a gamer growing up? What was your “go-to” game?
DZ: Super Mario Bros. 2 was a big deal to me but to be honest I’m more of a Sega 16-bit kind of guy. We actually bring that on the road and we play Sega on our bus. That’s more my jam! (laughs)
That’s so ironic, considering you just made an 8-bit remix of one of your songs.
DZ: (laughs) It is! After that was done, I wanted to make a Genesis one but I’m having a hard time finding the tools to make a 16-bit one.
DZ: Three of the songs on Patterns will be on the full-length that will be coming later this year. We just wanted to give a little teaser plus there’s B-side that didn’t make the album and it was a way to get that out there. We felt that releasing a full-length in April was going to be too soon but we wanted to get some new things out and do some touring. So, it just kind of worked out.
The new album, The Speed of Things, is said to appeal to a broader audience and perhaps be less of a “lo-fi intimate” experience. What led to that decision and what kind of people do you think have connected to your music, thus far?
DZ: From day one, we’ve always had a very broad spectrum of 12 year-old kids to older adults and of course a majority of people in their 20s and early 30s. We get a lot of people, who like some music, nerd-music-geek people that are really picky yet we also have a lot of people, who don’t have a ton of time to look for new music but dig it. There are all sorts of different sounds on the record, it’s really hard for us to do anything that’s consistently the same. It’s kind of our downfall but it’s one of our strengths. We can do a folk song, a hip-hop song, a long 6 minute dance track or a Gil Scott-Heron cover. I think that’s the beauty of being in a band with a weird name, that we’re not really pigeon-holed so we can do anything. We got some new equipment, worked with Ben West a little more, a buddy of ours in Detroit. I think some of the stuff sounds more mature, sonically better and has more energy but there are some that are what people would expect from us based on the last record. We did the whole thing in my basement like we did on the last record.
We’re based in San Francisco and we have to talk baseball. The Giants and Tigers look good this year. What do you think the chances are of a rematch in the World Series?
DZ: Oh man! I was at Game 4 and watched your team rush the field after winning. The Giants were consistent, they won and then came back to win again and with way less money. The Tigers spent even more money this year and have this ridiculous lineup, so we have to win. I feel confident, we’re looking good right now.
We look forward to the new album and best of luck to the Tigers. We’d love to see a rematch and hope for the same results but hopefully you guys can put up a better fight.
DZ: (laughs) I would love to see that. Can we win at least one game?! That was so embarrassing!
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. Tour Dates
May 10 The Loft Dallas, TX
May 11 The Parish Austin, TX
May 16 El Rey Los Angeles, CA
May 17 The Independent San Francisco, CA
May 24 Lincoln Hall Chicago, IL
Aug 17 Mo Pop Festival Sterling Heights, MI