April 03, 2014 by Bhavya Sharma
It would be hard to predict what kind of music a band named after a stock car racing driver would play. That, precisely, is the ingenious perplexity that Daniel Zott and Joshua Epstein have employed with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. The ambiguous moniker entitles the band a certain freedom to experiment and, as the band explained, to “explore whatever musical endeavors they [can] think up.” It didn’t come as a surprise when I discovered that their music has a quirky edge to it — it is a little bit of indie, a little bit of dream pop and a lot of “different.” The duo doesn’t appear to abide by any restraining genre rules.
On the night of March 24, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. proved that their distinctive charm never fails to work. Union Transfer was brimming with fans that, much like the band itself, possessed a tranquility alien to most people on a busy Monday night.
The show was opened by Chad Valley (Hugo Manuel), Manuel’s kooky indie electronic beats and soothing vocals setting the mood for Zott and Epstein’s performance. As soon as the peppy duo stepped on stage, the place was transported into an alternate dimension. The band possesses a limpid aura that seems ironic compared to their musical obscurity.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. was formed in 2009 and in just a few short years has managed to gain a respectable position and a huge fan base, which distinguishes it from its contemporaries. The band has released three EPs and two full-length albums. While the bizarre name was suggested to Zott and Epstein in jest, it has stuck. They’ve even added Dale Earnhardt Jr. to their already endless list of fans. For a band that had little intention of reaching the public ear, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. has established itself as an emerging indie-dream pop powerhouse.
The band played songs like “Hiding,” “Run” and “Mesopotamia” from their album “The Speed of Things,” as well as popular tracks like “Skeletons” from their debut album “It’s A Corporate World.” The crowd was mesmerized by their trademark soft vocals, soothing harmonization and dreamy music. The single “Simple Girl” had the crowd crooning along and cheering wildly as Epstein and Zott transformed the place into an indie temple.
In an online interview with Joshua Epstein, I gained insight into the eccentricity that is unique to their music. Epstein acknowledged that the band creates different music that cannot be classified into pre-established categories. But as artists, they attempt to always sound “like themselves.” I believe in “Jr. Jr.” language, this still translates into “unique.” While Motown might have been their biggest influence, their dreamy idealism has encouraged them to remain open to inspiration from “everything around them.” It is this openness and inspirational idealism that has earned the band a loyal fan following.
The band’s cover of “What’s Up,” originally performed by 4 Non Blondes, at Union Transfer was truly laudable. Epstein sustained the crowd’s attention with hilariously saccharine stories about their tour with Chad Valley and uncanny dreams with Kid Rock in them. The contagiously peppy music was accompanied by the perfect set — a mammoth projection ball onstage displaying zany visuals. A bubble machine added to the buoyant atmosphere as the cheerful crowd was surrounded with animated music and floating bubbles.
The band’s distinct musical style makes use of various techniques like “writing about characters,” which was apparent in their album “The Speed of Things.” Epstein shared that the writing process differs across their musical ventures. I could not resist myself from asking them about my personal favorite Jr. Jr. song “Skeletons,” which I often catch myself humming while I procrastinate doing homework. It turns out that the song took only two hours to write and record. But the easygoing melody and the catchy drum loop definitely stick with the listener for much longer. Finally, like any decent cliched journalist, I remembered to ask Epstein if the duo follow car racing. Surprisingly, they never did, but I am convinced that they do now.
As the entire place was overcast by this eclectic musical juggernaut, I, like many others, was left singing along and asking for more. It was a spectacular show that established the band’s showmanship and musical craft. Most of all, it convinced the audience of the incredible cross-genre music and meaningful writing that has become synonymous with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.