Can Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. Save Detroit?

The indie-pop duo on their music, ironic namesake and the other side of their hometown.

When one thinks of Detroit, the word "sunny" usually doesn’t come to mind. The city was essentially the headquarters for the recession, known for its crime and deterioration, and is also home to the lowly, downtrodden Lions. The space-pop duo Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. chooses to bring out a different part of their city, however, with sunny folk-pop tunes that trap themselves in your head. Their sound is little like the coarser hard rock, hip-hop and techno that the city is known for. These irresistible pop tunes showcase the city as sunny side up.

For the video for their outstanding cover of spoken-word legend Gil Scott Herron’s “We Almost Lost Detroit”, the Detroit duo—consisting of Josh Epstein and Daniel Zotti—chose to highlight those parts of the city that are alive and booming. “People kind of consider Detroit a burned-out, bummed-out place, but the Detroit that we hang out in is the Detroit that we showed in the video. It’s thriving creative businesses, talented chefs, and interesting people doing interesting things,” Josh Epstein said. “I think that was the intentional message of the video was ‘this is what is actually going on’ and I’m glad that people have been responding well to it.”

The folk pop duo is known perhaps most famous for their cover of the Beach Boys' “God Only Knows”, which the duo started playing before they even knew they were a band. The band released an entire EP for record store day of covers (We Almost Lost DetroitEP) and is even prone to bust out a Whitney Houston cover every now and then.

“Everything is ok. We are playing music. It should be fun. We are encouraging people. We are celebrating with people. That’s all positive stuff.”

The duo is not only known for bringing out a brighter side of Detroit, but they also pack a ton of energy into their playful, positive stage shows, where the band has dressed in authentic NASCAR racing outfits for several of their tours. In fact, racecar driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. himself has written the band, telling them he is a big fan and supporting their use of his namesake. The band has given up the NASCAR suits for now, opting instead for wearing glow-in-the dark outfits like what can be seen on the cover of their EP, but the shows are no less fun. As to the band’s positive side, Epstein blames it on Daniel. “I think Danny is the most positive person that I have ever met in my life. Hands down; he cannot be negative, so that’s inspiring to me as someone who is generally negative.”

Daniel feels their opposite attitudes do cancel out nicely. “We blend really well. It’s good to be skeptical sometimes and sometimes Josh just needs me to be a little cheery others.”

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Zotti continued, “Everything is OK. We are playing music. It should be fun. We are encouraging people. We are celebrating with people. That’s all positive stuff.” While the band has a positive outlook, the two have found themselves pretty against organized religion. Daniel, raised a Catholic, found himself “generally let down by the church” and Joshua who was raised Jewish, has since moved away from the faith. The two do hold belief in God, but more as someone who is moving the little things in life; “In the details”, so to speak, as Epstein describes on “The Fisherman."

The two have concocted a spacy folk pop sound that isn’t too far off the likes of MGMT and the Flaming Lips, but the band finds a larger focus on strong, repeated melodies and electronically growing the song over its length than their more economic counterparts. Though they're only one strong full length, It’s a Corporate World, and a couple EPs in, the duo has shown huge promise. Don't be surprised if we're whistling their songs several years into the future.

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Gladys Talarico


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