Somewhere along the East Coast, Josh Epstein of indie band Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. was riding in a van. It was no ordinary trip. On that day, Epstein and bandmate Daniel Zott were on their way to their very first show of their very first headlining tour promoting their very first LP, It's a Corporate World. But no pressure. The band--which rolled through Boise in March to open for Tapes N Tapes--anticipated smooth sailing as headliners. Hopefully.
"I think headlining will be less stressful," Epstein said, optimistically. "Openers have to worry about timing, about getting their equipment out. We can just relax." Then he paused. It's hard to say what was going through his mind at the moment. That day was a big day and Epstein and Zott had gotten to that point very quickly.
Just over a year ago, someone handed Epstein a copy of Atropos, Zott's solo album. Epstein loved it. He called up Zott and asked if he wanted to write some songs together. Though it was hard to tell if Epstein's moment of silence was thoughtful reflection or bad phone reception, it's the stuff of prototypical rock band movies.
"OK, so it's stressful as an headliner," Epstein finally said, still sounding lost in thought. "I guess we do have to sell tickets."
But Epstein shouldn't be too worried. As the name Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. suggests, Epstein and Zott know a thing or two about quirky showmanship, and they have gotten plenty of buzz about their look and their music. Paste Magazine recently named It's a Corporate World one of "five summer debut albums to get excited about."
The duo is known for wearing the uniform of their namesake: racing outfits covered in a slew of corporate sponsors. Spin, in a write-up for the band's new album, wrote, "Clap your hands and say NASCAR." And when DEJJ played Neurolux in March, the stage was noticeably more decor-oriented than the headlining band's stage set up. Two giant "JR JR" light boxes illuminated the stage and framed the band. Epstein and Zott committed to the pageantry, wearing captain's outfits complete with hats. At the end of the show, they waved an enormous American flag over the crowd.
However, their music contrasts their image. While they might don outfits, their sound is the best of indie rock infused with '60s pop psychedelia, which could easily be two irreconcilable styles. DEJJ's music splits the difference between the Beach Boys and Beach House. It's dreamy rock with nostalgic roots. Plenty of the band's songs feature melodic harmonies with keyboard, upbeat drums and a necessary rhythmic guitar--imagine a modern update of "God Only Knows" by the Beach Boys, which the band covers and is a fan favorite. But make no mistake: Their indie sound matched with their Americana-gone-wild getup are two essential pieces of the band.
"There's two different aspects to being in a band, especially in the current climate," Epstein said excitedly. "There's the introspective side: the emotionally cathartic writing and recording aspect. And then it comes time to perform, and some bands can't separate themselves from the writing process. We believe that performing means sharing something positive with a room full of people. Performing, for us, is extroverted."
Not everyone appreciates the juxtaposition of these styles.
"Last time we were in Boise, there was a little altercation." Epstein said hesitantly. "There was a man ... outside of our show. He wanted to talk about our props."
More specifically, the flag the band waved over the crowd while they performed the song "It's a Corporate World" might have been the catalyst.
"All I have to say is, we try to be way more respectful of America now," he said, closing the subject.
The so-called altercation might have them thinking a little differently about their stage presence, and it's clear Epstein took the so-called altercation to heart. He made sure to say "Boy-see" rather than "Boy-zee." He talked about playing at Visual Arts Collective and the Bouquet with his band The Silent Years. For a duo that has been all over the country in the short time they've been together, Epstein remembered Boise--and probably the thousands of other places he's been--with astonishing clarity. It's clear that he loves being in a band.
Maybe that's why Epstein is so cool and collected about DEJJ's first headlining tour: It isn't really anything new. While he misses his dog and being at home in Detroit, the excitement of being on tour is front and center.
"We get to be a part of a different community every night. We get to walk into a town and meet new people by sharing our music," he said.
And that's what the band plans to bring back to Boise when they play Neurolux on Tuesday, June 9. As headliners, DEJJ will have more freedom--and they plan to use it.
"We're mixing it up," Epstein hinted. "Just wait and see."
While Epstein is reluctant to share specifics, rumor has it that the band is not only getting new outfits for themselves but for concertgoers, too. And that same rumor suggests they might be skeleton outfits. If that isn't extroverted, what is?