For our blog’s first (but certainly not last) artist interview, we caught up with folk pop duo Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. after their sets at Bonnaroo this year in Manchester, Tennessee and talked performing live, covers, and Detroit sports.
Daniel Zott: We have glow-in-the-dark jackets that are like the jackets on our EP. We didn’t have the black lights but usually they glow. We are always trying to change it up and do new things. Who knows what we will have the next time we will come out.
LxL: How is Bonnaroo compared to what you expected?
Josh Epstein: Bigger. Flatter too. A Whole Big Flat Mess of Stuff.
DZ: We just came from another festival Sasquatch that was different, beautiful but sectioned off. It’s nice having everything so close here.
LxL: You guys did the little Whitney Houston tribute. Just throwing a little love Whitney’s way or was it more for humor?
JE: It was kind of spur of the moment. There is a section in our set where we can improvise, and we just started playing it. We have done it a couple of times but we don’t do it every time.
DZ: People were dancing so that means it’s working.
LxL: Obviously you guys have a Gil Scott Herron cover. What did his music and the song mean to you guys?
JE: He’s such an icon. There are only a few people who can take themselves that seriously and can be taken seriously for an entire career. He’s an inspiration lyrically.
DZ: He’s very well-respected. He’s a father for a lot of things. We just identified with that song, and I think it still has meaning and its 40 years old. If you can write stuff that can do that, you are doing something right.
LxL: Obviously you guys did the “God Only Knows” cover as well. Can you guys speak on that a bit?
DZ: We didn’t even think we were a band at that point but things just sorta clicked.
LxL: You guys released on record store day an album of all covers. What in your mind makes a good cover?
JE: I always like songs that stick true to the song melodically but take it in a different direction. I don’t like people who reinvent the way a song is sung. It works sometime, but there is a reason the song has stood the test of time. I think you can always present a song in a different way, so we just make it sound like us.
DZ: I think sometimes it’s fun to discover and cover a song you wished more people would hear, or like you want your audience to be exposed to it. That’s why we did the Gil Scott song.
LxL: Our blog did a list of the top ten cover albums all-time. Do you guys have a favorite covers album?
DZ: I used to love Christopher O’Riley’s album of all Radiohead covers which is all on classical piano, but for the most part I listen to covers song by song.
LxL: I’m a big Detroit Sports fan, my parents grew up in Livonia. I’m from Fort Wayne which is nearby.
JE: I’ve spent many a day in Fort Wayne, my roommate in college was from Fort Wayne. It’s a cool city.
LxL: How are you guys dealing with the Tigers season?
DZ: It’s a sore subject. I’ll start cutting my veins to release the pain. It seems like such a rare occurrence that I watch a game that I see them win and that’s so weird to me.
JE: They have a losing record at this point. They played the Rangers and I think that they all just realized we aren’t as good as them.
LxL: Are you guy’s big Lions fans too?
DZ: Absolutely. I think that’s the biggest sport in Detroit, and now that they are doing well and if they ever get passed the first round of the playoffs it will be crazy. It was nuts when they made the playoffs in Detroit. Everything shuts down for the Lions.
JE: It’s a football town really.
LxL: And a hockey town too.
DZ: But the thing is we are always good in hockey so that’s less of a thing. Lions have never been good for most people who are living in Detroit; they haven’t seen a good team. Barry had a couple of years where we were decent but we still lost in the first round.
LxL: You guys obviously rep Detroit hard but I don’t think your sound isn’t Detroit at all?
DZ: To me it’s sort of a blank slate. Our Folky two-vocal strong presence maybe isn’t that Detroit but some of our other sound is. It’s hard to say anything doesn’t sound like Detroit, because anything can exist there.
LxL: You guys shot your video in Detroit, did you guys appreciate showing off your city for what it is?
JE: People kinda 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. 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.
LxL: I think it’s great to show that other side of the city. A lot of people shudder at the mere sound of the word.
DZ: The city is just made up of a bunch of hard-working people and that never gets talked about.
LxL: You guys have a lot of playful positivity in your show. Is that part of your life philosophy?
JE: 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.
DZ: We blend really well. The downfall of me is sometime if you are too positive you miss things. It’s good to be skeptical sometimes. Josh needs me to be a little cheery sometimes.
JE: I need him to cradle me like a baby and tell me everything is ok.
DZ: Everything is ok. We are playing music. It should be fun. The whole approach with this band is being realistic with what we are doing. We are making music for a living. We are entertaining people. We are helping people escape. It’s a fun positive thing. We are encouraging people. We are celebrating with people. That’s all positive stuff.
We can be really real with our lyrics too. Life is positive and negative even in the same day; the same breath. We kind of cover all those grounds. If you come to a live show it’s going to be fun. We aren’t going be staring at our feet the whole time. We understand what we are doing.
P.S. Check out the piece “Can Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. Save Detroit?” I did for RELEVANT Magazine further profiling the band.