Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. drove in to Costa Mesa by way of the Motor City late last year. They had only released an EP, Horse Power, at that time but had already gained some fast acceleration of blogosphere buzz. But the duo are back with a new full-length and a successful tour, which included a pit stop at Lollapalooza, below their seat belt. They're set to play the Detroit Bar next week to promote of their new album, It's A Corporate World. We spoke to singer Danny Zott last Thursday as he and Josh Epstein prepped for their fall tour in Zott's basement (which is, incidentally, where the magic began).
OC Weekly: It seems that you've had a relatively quick rise to success with this project. You played your first headlining show late last year and this summer you're playing "I have arrived" festivals like Lollapalooza and the upcoming Austin City Limits. What are your thoughts on that?
Danny Zott: My thoughts are just to keep at it and stay thankful and grateful for all the opportunity. We're doing the same thing we've always done. Just making music that we love, but I think it's a combination of having a good management team and being very grown up now and knowing not to sign a record deal right away and waiting for the right kind of terms. Having the right name that works in the blogosphere right now. It grabs attention and people check it out because they're curious. It's a combination of all of those things for why it worked so fast.
Some of the business stuff has changed a lot and we're more mature in that way, but we're not doing anything different musically. As long as we keep making music we love, it will help keep the attitude stay the right way. I think it's just the fact that all of these things just aligned at the right time.
And probably because we just didn't care [laughs]. Sometimes life works that way. You work really hard at something- and then we did this for fun. And then life was like, "Cool, I'm going to reward you because you don't actually care about this as much." It's just funny how that works. It's very ironic.
How did you and Josh meet?
He was in a band called the Silent Years and I was in a band called the Great Fiction and those were two main projects and we played around detroit quite a bit. We'd actually go to each other's concerts. I started doing solo things under my own name and he heard the album I made and found out I made it in a basement and kinda did the whole thing myself in my own studio. I think he was intregued someone could do the whole thing themselves and have it sound good. He heard that and called me up and said, "Hey, would you like to do a song with me?" And we knew each other but we had never worked on anything together.
I didn't think of working with him because I'm kind of an insular guy. That's what great about Josh- he has no filter and he's a risk taker and he said, "Let's do this. What are we going to lose?" So he came over and the first song we wrote was "Simple Girl" and that day we recorded it and it hasn't really changed much. The version on the Horse Power EP is pretty much what we did. '
We knew we had something after that so we just kept doing it. It was fun and we thought the music was enjoyable to our ears and then it just kept snowballing from there.
So there's been talk on you guys adding some fun additions to your live shows. Any hints on what those might be?
We've got some different costume changes and some really weird ideas that we don't know if they're going to work or not. That's something that Josh really brings to the table. He's an idea man, so he's always got some sort of trick up his sleeve. We try a bunch out and then once we get on tour, that's when we decide what really works. [There's] a lot of homemade stuff. We like doing the DIY type feel where we make the costumes. There's something endearing about that where you see an artist and it's stuff that they've made or our wives have made, and it's a lot of fun as opposed to just "Oh, we're on a label. Let's just spend all the label's money on buying really expensive stuff." We just try to keep our hands in a lot of all of those elements because it helps. It makes it more us.
We like the production aspect of shows. When you get big, it's not because you have a lot of money, a lot of the times when bands get big it's because you can pull off all of the ideas that are in their heads, or they have someone who that's there job to come up with fun ideas. We try to do that from day one where we don't have any money, but what can we do to pull off some crazy ideas? So we slowly incorporate these different ideas. I think it's fun to go to a smaller show and still see a theatric performance and still feel like your being entertained and getting your money's worth.
That's good. You keep shows fresh that way.
Exactly. We don't want to go back to the same place we went to a few months ago and bring the same entertainment.
What was it like last time you played in Orange County?
We played the Detroit Bar in the fall last year. We're excited to go back there with the album being out and all sorts of different changes in the lineup. [The Detroit Bar] is funny because it's unassuming. It's in a strip mall and you wouldn't think it would be that special but then you walk in and it's like the Wizard of Oz: you're in this black and white and then you walk in this color opens up. It's a different feel than it looks like from the outside.
What was the idea behind your album art?
We wanted to look very astute. One of the ideas is that everything is for sale now. We're making art and we're selling it as a commodity. We were thinking about how wealthy landowners would hire artists to paint their self portraits. That was some of the first times that artists were getting paid to survive. It was either that you were really struggling or getting
money from having someone paying you to paint something. It's funny because, you look at Michelangelo, do you really think he wanted to paint all of the Sistine Chapel the way he did? I think the reality is he did that because it was a paying job, but it's still beautiful, right? No one is going to look at that and say "Oh, he built that and someone just gave him a bunch of money from a corporation." No.
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That was okay. That wasn't a big deal. We look at things so cynically now. It's weird because music is looked at like it's more sacred and maybe it is. But you have a graphic designer and they've designed work for a commertial and he's not going to be looked at as selling out. People will be like, "Good for you to get paid for your great work." But with music, you have to be a musician and just accept a chicken sandwich or else people will think you've sold out. It's a fallacy that we have to be struggling and we can't think business minded and we have to be tortured to make something beautiful.
We just want to have someone paint a portrait of us to reflect that idea of someone paying for our-- because the girl that painted us, we think it's beautiful art and it's kind of funny because we're dressed up in these suits and it looks a little goofy.
Right after playing the Detroit Bar, you guys are going to head down to play the San Diego Music Thing. You guys are playing with a band called Jamuel Saxon. Is there going to be a rivalry or an affinity to another band on the bill with a celebrity pun name?
[Laughs]. I don't know. I think our is more fun but I'm not going to be competitive here. There's room for everybody. That could be fun. That could be the theme. Well, there's a lot of bands who do that like Com Truise or Natalie Portman's Shaved Head. I think they've changed their name though. She didn't like that very much. We're fortunate. Dale Jr. doesn't have a problem with it. We just kinda get to keep rolling with this. We're very lucky. It's funny because a guy in his position, making as much money as he does, and as popular as he is, usually they're not kind people. It's a recipe to be an asshole, but he tends to be pretty down-to-Earth.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. performs at the Detroit Bar, Sept. 8. $5. 9 p.m. 21+.