The Detroit duo JR JR finished up their 2015 with a sold out show at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles, closing a big year for the band, comprised of Josh Epstein and Daniel Zott. The band dropped the tongue-in-cheek Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. moniker, which they had recorded and toured under for five years, in mid-July last year in favor of the abbreviated JR JR. The band also saw the release of their third studio album, the eponymous indie pop gem JR JR, released in September, which is sure to be on summer playlists throughout the 2016 festival season.
The band that Epstein and Zott formed casually in 2010 with minimal expectations has become a growing sensation with songs that flow between traditional songwriting and the dynamic production of modern dance tracks showcasing their musical versatility and capability. This is apparent in their live shows, which have been compared to musical birthday parties. The pair split frontman duties and are well-known for their impromptu covers in the midst of their own energetic hits.
A cover of 'I Think It’s Going to Rain Today' reached the ears of Randy Newman who, according to Zott, “thought we chose better chords for the bridge.” Newman became a fan of the band and liked an early recording of their latest single 'Gone' so much that he sent them his handwritten notes for the song which Epstein has hanging on his fridge. “Some people have their kid’s kindergarten drawings on their fridge, Epstein has handwritten chord substitutions from Randy Newman for ‘Gone,’” Zott notes.
“It’s cool because we have legends that like our band and want to give us their thoughts which is really awesome. People don’t know that a lot. We also got notes from Paul Simon. That was a really great moment for me,” he adds. Paul Simon, who heard an early demo of the track 'War Zone', offered some production notes to the band. Epstein laughs that “some of it was funny because it was what you would expect Paul Simon to say. One of his suggestions was to add some African percussion on it.” Epstein and Zott explain that one suggestion, which they thought was brilliant and ultimately used in production, was to leave a microphone outside and record the night air. “It really did make the track better. It opened it up and makes the song feel more alive,” Zott shares.
Artistic collaboration seems to be a key element to JR JR’s philosophy who, in addition to being known for their live covers, stay busy remixing songs by other artists and released their first mixtape, the hip-hop influenced Produce, with songs featuring Murs and Chuck Inglish. Zott explains, “It had been a dream of ours for a while. We like making beats and producing other people’s songs. It lets us show people what we can do.”
But perhaps their most interesting collaboration was one outside of music. To kick off their last tour, the band collaborated with the similarly punny-named Yeastie Boys bagel truck where they served up their own creation. Epstein, the foodie in the band, explained, “It was essentially two top halves of an everything bagel with a fried egg, turkey sausage, cheese and avocado.”
For more of JR JR, check out their full article in Rogue's Issue #2
Photography by Jeaneen Lund
Written by Adam Palermo