June 1 2011 09:52 AM

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. love NASCAR, Motown and good pop music

Joshua Epstein (right) and Daniel Zott dress up in NASCAR suits when they perform.
Photo by Jeff Snow

Celebs and their lawyers love to issue cease-and-desist orders. Not Dale earnhardt Jr. When the NASCAR racing legend found out about a Detroit duo bearing his name—or close to it, anyway; they’re called Dale earnhardt Jr. Jr.—the champ didn’t run them off the road. In fact, he sent the band a friendly letter.

“He’s so cool about it,” says Daniel Zott, one-half of the Detroit duo. “He’s like, ‘Who wouldn’t want a band named after them?’ He’s actually a fan of our music.”

Still, the name is a little ridiculous. And if it’s not gimmicky enough, the band also wears flashy, logo-laden racing suits and helmets on stage and drapes huge American flags as backdrops. But before you start rolling your eyes, know this: These guys are really good.

After storming out of the gate with their four-song debut EP, Horse Power—dreamy indie-pop layered with sun-soaked harmonies, folksy accents and electronic beats—Dale Jr. Jr. are about to release their first full-length, It’s a Corporate World, an album that more than lives up to its preview.

Zott and bandmate Josh Epstein, who both grew up in the Motor City, fronted their own bands—The Great Fiction and The Silent Years, respectively—before joining up to write music together. Horse Power, which includes a minimalist cover of The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” quickly stirred up critical attention.

“We just released the EP so we could get something out there,” Zott says. “We didn’t expect it to be reviewed or that people would like it so much.”

Early accolades usually included an asterisk, though. What’s with all the silly stuff ? The truth is, the fun-loving Dale Jr. Jr. boys take a few things very seriously. Like Detroit.

“Coming from a city where you have Motown as a background, it gives you an extreme sense of pride,” Zott says. “We’re so amazed at how Motown came up with such great songs that people would remember and sing along to for years. They’re still popular.”

Detroit, Zott adds, exports all manner of musical talent, from MC5 to The White Stripes to Eminem (not to mention first-generation techno). “There are all sorts of styles that can exist because it’s such a diverse area, as far as culture is concerned, and it’s just so massive,” he says.

They’ll share a spot with Eminem and Ann Arbor, Mich., band Mayer hawthorne on the lineup at Lollapalooza in Chicago in August. “A Detroit paper wrote an article saying these are the bands representing Detroit,” he says. “Being mentioned next to Eminem is a cool thing.”

What else does Dale Jr. Jr. take seriously? Pop music. When asked about a quote from an earlier interview, in which he describes the “narrowing” of pop, Zott launches into a long and impassioned monologue.

“It’s unfortunate that if you say the words ‘pop music,’ people cringe, or it has to be a guilty pleasure if you listen to it. I’m so sick of that. I think there can be good pop music that everyone can relate to.

“If you look at it musically,” he continues, “it’s definitely more narrow. The chords are more simple, straightforward major and minor chords. There aren’t a lot of time changes or signature changes. A lot of the lyrical content in top-40 songs is about letting loose, partying, going out.

“We’re intrigued by the fact that The Beach Boys could write a song called ‘God Only Knows’ that has jazz chords all over it and weird time signatures, yet everyone in America and worldwide could sing along. Are we dumber as a culture? Can we not digest that anymore?”

This, coming from two dudes in NASCAR racing suits? But hear Zott out on that.

“We just like to be entertaining,” he says. “I don’t think it’s enough for people just to come hear us play music while we stare at our feet. If we’re going to wear outfits, we’re going to do everything that goes along with that. We want people to have a good time. We understand you’re taking three hours out of your day and paying money to come see us play. We’re going to respect that and really put on a show.

Dale earnhardt Jr. Jr. perform with TV Girl and So Many Wizards at The Casbah on Thursday, June 2. daleearnhardtjrjr.com