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Different name, same aim for Detroit's JR JR

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Saturday, September 12, 2015

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The news that Detroit's Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. has changed its name, to JR JR, has just about eclipsed the fact the duo is about to release its third album, a self-titled effort, latter this month.

But Josh Epstein and Daniel Zott hope it's the last time they're eclipsed by the band's moniker.

"It started to feel like there was a complete other personality in the band," Epstein, 34, explains by phone from Los Angeles, where new now resides. "As we got further into it and more confident about ourselves as artists and the music we were making, there just seemed to be less room for this third entity in the band, which was the name."

He adds that the name -- which had the full blessing of the real Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- "was such a big deal to people. It just seemed like it was always the first question that everyone asked us, and they weren't necessarily asking us about the music, ever. We kind of assumed that would go away and it just didn't, so we had to make it go away ourselves."

Now Epstein and Zott plan to blow away the issue with the "JR JR" album, which comes out Sept. 25. Recorded in Los Angeles, in Zott's basement studio in Ferndale and regular cohort Ben West's home studio in Birmingham, it's JR JR's most confident and focused work yet, a melange of timeless pop influences and contemporary sonics.

Epstein and Zott both say they had a better time making this album than 2013's "The Speed of Things," and they partly credit the 2014 "Produce Volume 1" EP -- a hip-hop flavored set sporting several collaborations -- with loosening them up again in the studio.

"I think a lot of that was learning how to write and record better," says Zott, 32, adding that JR JR is also working on another mixtape. "Some of that was writing with other people and learning things from them, We just kind of made (the mixtape) for fun and we didn't think too much about it, and because of that we enjoyed the process more. I think that helped us be a little more real and honest about where we're at, and so for ('JR JR') we got out of the way a little bit and didn't over-think it, which made a big difference."

Epstein adds that, "The most salient thing Daniel and Ben West said to me while making 'JR JR' was that during the second record, they didn't think I seemed happy. I hadn't thought about it until they said that, but then it hit me -- I wasn't enjoying making that album. We were kind of stressed-out and wanted to make an album that was, like, a statement, that was important.

"The mixtape felt like it was just this return to a carefree way of doing things, and we used that approach for 'JR JR,' just making things that made us happy and having fun, which is a lot like when we made our first album."

89X Chill On The Hill

1:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 12-13.

JR JR performs at 5:50 p.m. Sunday.

14900 Metropolitan Parkway, Sterling Heights

Remaining tickets are $70 and $95, with a $339.50 pavilion four-pack.

Call (586) 268-5100 or visit freedomhill.net

Web Site: www.ChillOnTheHillFestival.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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