DETROIT PROUD: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Deciding to shine a Detroit Proud spotlight on Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. was a no-brainer. The duo, comprised of Metro Detroit natives Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott, have achieved national acclaim, yet still stay true to their roots right here in the D. In fact, a recent viral video features Josh and Daniel listing “Reasons Why Detroit Is Awesome” – which WE think is pretty…well…awesome.
We chatted with Josh about everything from Steve Winwood to Red Pop…and here’s what happened:
Tell us a little about yourself! How did you guys get involved in music – and how did you meet?
I grew up in Southfield and then Bloomfield Hills and have had bands since I was 12. I played in a band called The Silent Years and we were really active in Detroit. Daniel was in a band called The Great Fiction and that’s how we met.
Describe DEJJ’s musical style. Ready…go!
It’s like a sound you’ve heard before, but always ends up being distinctly us. We love to blend elements from hip hop with elements of folk and with the melodic sense of the old school pop that we grew up hearing our parents play.
What’s next for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.?
We have a new record coming out this fall, and will be hitting the road both in the US and Europe shortly.
That brings us to our next question…favorite Detroit-area venue to play at?
The Fox Theater is possibly the best sounding room I’ve ever seen a show at, and playing there is incredibly easy.
You recently performed a song by Detroiter Sixto Rodriguez on a California radio station. What’s been your favorite cover to play? (We’re partial to your “God Only Knows” cover…)
I think that we probably get the biggest kick out of covering Stevie Winwood’s “Higher Love” because it means so much to us since both of our Dads are huge Winwood fans.
Most unusual Detroit-area performance of yours?
We did a pop up style DJ set in the parking lot of Ponyride, and it was a really wonderful night.
You fellas have toured through a good number of cities and have surely crossed paths with a pretty vast group of people (and personalities). How are Detroiters different from folks you’ve met on the road?
Detroit people are the proudest of where they come from of anyone we’ve met. You instantly have a bond when someone is from Detroit, and that is always special.
What do you guys like to do in Detroit when you’re not performing?
We are big Pistons fans, so we go to a lot of games. We hang out all over…get pizza at Supino’s, shop in Royal Oak. The usual things.
Lions, Tigers, Red Wings, & Pistons – if you had to pick only one to watch for a full season, which would it be?
Wow…Easily the Pistons. Basketball is just a fun sport, and the Pistons have a young team that’s going to be fun to watch this year.
Faygo or Vernors?
Faygo. Red Pop and Rock n Rye are so classic.
What are your favorite places to hang out in Detroit?
Roast is one of the most consistent restaurants around and the staff is incredible. We also hang out at Anita’s in Ferndale a lot. Daniel lives near there, so we have lunch while we are working there frequently.
Even though DEJJ has received national acclaim, you guys are still very tied to Detroit and the Detroit music scene – we even spotted you at this year’s Metro Times Blowout! What’s your favorite place (or festival) to catch a show around here?
Detroit has a ton of really nice venues, so we try to go and see as much music as we can. Everywhere from St. Andrew’s to the Magic Stick, and The Crofoot to The Loving Touch…
Top 5 favorite Detroit musicians (past or present)?
1. Stevie Wonder 2. Smokey Robinson 3. Martha and the Vandellas 4. Eminem 5. ICP
Is there a Detroit legend that has been an inspiration for you in your music?
Jack White has been really influential in terms of his ability to constantly stay creative and relevant to whatever conversation is going on in the music world. And he’s done it all on his own terms, which is impressive.
Favorite band(s) you’ve shared the stage with?
We’ve been really fortunate to have played with so many great artists, but playing with Dr John was really the most surreal moment. Hs band was so incredible, it was a very special evening.
Favorite (Detroit-area) DEJJ performance of the last few years…and why?
Our most recent show at the Majestic Theatre was a pretty special night for us. Something about playing in your hometown is both extra nerve-racking and extra rewarding.
Describe Detroit’s music scene, from your perspective.
It’s a highly talented group of criminally underrated artists. Musicians from Detroit stack up against artists anywhere else, but for whatever reason, have been a bit unrecognized nationally over the past decade.
If you had to sum up the city of Detroit in one word, what would it be?
Now that you’ve spent so much time on the road experiencing different cities and their cultures, has your perception of Detroit changed at all?
Detroit is the most exciting and alive city in the country these days. There is a tangible energy and a real excitement in the air.
What’s one thing people don’t know about Detroit, but should?
People don’t really realize how alive the city is. Everyone always asks, “What’s it like to be from a dying city?” and we say that it’s the opposite. It’s growing in our estimation, in fact.
[Note: If you haven't seen it, check out Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.'s video for "We Almost Lost Detroit," (an updated take on the Gil Scott Heron song). In the words of DEJJ, "The spirit of the song that always rang out to us was that it didn't seem to be about simply pointing out what had gone wrong. The message seemingly was one of progress. About setting things right. Coming together as people and moving forward...It is an exciting time to be from Detroit--as we believe it's a city that is in the midst of reinventing itself in a huge way."]
And that’s that!
See them live on 8/17 at the first ever MO POP FESTIVAL at Freedom Hill Amphitheatre in Sterling Heights. DEJJ will perform alongside an impressive bill that includes fellow Detroiters Jamaican Queens.
Oh, and keep your eyes (and ears) peeled for the release of their sophomore album, The Speed of Things, out everywhere 10/8.
Trust us. We’ve heard it. You’ll love it.