Thursday, 14 July 2016 09:21

Far From ‘Gone’: How JR JR Keeps Going

Written by  Eric Mitts
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JR JR JR JR Jeaneen Lund

Josh Epstein’s phone is blowin’ up thanks to his band’s summery slice of infectious indie-pop, “Gone.”

The Detroit duo JR JR’s hit single has gone viral since its 2015 release, racking up over 15 million plays on Spotify and landing everywhere from alt-rock radio to the trailer for the upcoming comedy Sausage Party.

“It’s been really cool for us to see that happening more often and get heads turning,” Epstein said about the success of “Gone.” “It’s exciting to see your music spreading, but I guess we’re more excited about the next step of the journey and seeing if we can do it again.”

Epstein, 34, first formed JR JR with co-singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Daniel Zott in 2010. Starting out with the name Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. as a joke, the pair began recording songs in Zott’s basement in Royal Oak. Later that year, the guys caught the attention of major labels with the release of its debut EP, Horsepower, on Ann Arbor label Quite Scientific. By 2011, the band moved up to the big leagues and released its major-label debut: It’s A Corporate World on Warner Bros. Records.

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District Square, 139 S. Edwards St., Kalamazoo
July 21, 6:30 p.m. doors, 7 p.m. show
$20, all ages, (269) 312-7246

With songs like “Simple Girl” and “Morning Thought,” the group received great reviews, where they were compared to rock ‘n’ roll legends like The Beach Boys and The Beatles thanks to their vocal harmonies, clever lyrics and instantly catchy hooks.

“I think the thing that The Beatles and The Beach Boys both do, that Dan and I both strive to do, is make something that sounds easy and memorable, but actually is a little bit more complicated,” Epstein said. 

“Where you can listen to it a million times and there’s something new going on,” he added. “And I think that’s what both those bands did brilliantly. If we could get to a point where we’re doing that at their level — that would be the end goal. It’s a flattering comparison.”

Following the release of their second LP, 2013’s The Speed of Things, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. found their tongue-in-cheek name was causing more confusion than expected. Even though they had contacted the real Dale Earnhardt Jr. — who gave them permission to keep using the name — they found that NASCAR fans were still occasionally showing up at their shows looking for the famous race car driver, or contacting them mistakenly on social media. 

So they shortened their name to just JR JR for their third LP. It proved to be a liberating move in more than one way.  

“You know, it’s interesting, we were asked to play the Bernie Sanders rally in Ann Arbor [earlier this year] and we did it. I think it was one of the most positive experiences that all of us can remember,” Epstein said. “It just felt so great. And we were so glad to be able to lend our voice to what we felt was a worthy cause. It was only afterwards we realized that we probably wouldn’t have been asked to do it if we were still called Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.”

Now Epstein and Zott have started writing songs for their fourth record along with their live band, taking more of the energy of their recent shows and channeling it into new material.

 “I think both us really love the idea of writing a song as a band and just really hashing it out together,” Epstein said. “We realized through touring that the guys that we have playing with us are way more talented than we are at playing music, so writing with them has been so fun. It’s less cerebral and more about just trying to feel everything out.” 

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