Maybe nice guys don’t always finish last, because Josh Epstein is a nice guy.
One half of the Detroit duo Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., Epstein couldn’t have been nicer when I recently spoke with him during his lengthy ride across Alabama. Our connection was cut off four or five times, and every time he returned to the call, he seemed even nicer. We talked Motown. We shot the shit about basketball. He complimented my children. And it’s that gracious, laid-back, infectiously easy-breezy energy that makes Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.'s about-to-be-released and highly anticipated debut, It’s a Corporate World, such a good listen. Together with Daniel Zott, whom Epstein cold-called after seeing Zott perform one night, the band is roughing the edges of pop in a lot of nice ways and is already changing the conversation -- thanks to a groovy crop of introductory tunes -- from the name of the band to their music.
And don’t believe for a second that niceness means passionless -- Epstein had plenty to say.
Scott McDonald: So it’s NBA, not NASCAR?
Josh Epstein: We love it. Even as a little kid, I remember The Bad Boys. Those are my first real memories of basketball. I had a Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn poster.
SM: Cool way that you and Daniel got together.
JE: Part of my character -- well, it may be a character flaw, but I like to think of it as a positive -- is that I don’t have a filter. Things like calling someone out of the blue don’t seem weird to me. I think it’s normal to see someone who you think is so great, who you think is more talented than yourself, and want to work with them.
SM: I know each of you had songs already written when you first got together. How did you write the album together?
JE: We started collaborating more as time went on and worked on songs that weren’t just lying around. But there was definitely a theme when we were writing the album. And I think it really comes through in a lot of the songs.
SM: Are you sick of answering questions about your name?
JE: In our minds, this whole thing is such an experiment in pop culture. As a little kid, my mom took me to see Warhol at the Detroit Public Library. I vividly remember hearing him talk about symbols and repetition. He was using common images and trying to reuse them, and pushing the definition of what art is and what constitutes art. And the further we go down the road, the more the name changes to us in so many ways.
SM: What’s next for the band?
JE: We’ll always try to grow and push ourselves into new things. I could never foresee us making the same record over and over. For us, I think it’s about always keeping things different.
SM: Has all of this good fortune sunk in yet?
JE: In Detroit, we were both in bands for a really long time. While we’re a new project to a lot of people, it really just feels like a progression to us. It’s a little harder for us to feel like it’s an out-of-the-blue kind of thing. We’ve done it for so long, though, that we can recognize how crazy and special our situation is. Every day, we’re just so grateful that people are interested.