Q&A: JR JR talks about Motown, James Dean and playing in D.C.

Media Credit: Photo Courtesy of Jeaneen Lund

JR JR, an indie pop band from Detroit, will play in D.C. on Nov. 6 at the 9:30 Club.

JR JR, the Detroit indie-pop band known for their vibrant beats and songs like “Gone” and “James Dean,” are hitting the 9:30 Club on Nov. 6.

We spoke with band member Daniel Zott, who founded the group with Joshua Epstein, to talk about their Motown influences, changing the band’s name and why they love playing in D.C.

Responses were edited for length and clarity.

Q: What has the process of music making been like since you formed in 2010?

A: We formed in Detroit, and Josh and I were in different bands. We kind of knew about each other, but eventually he called me up and we just started writing together. The process of making music is just the process of being in a band. What’s interesting is that when we formed the band, that was the beginning of Josh and me being friends. We didn’t even know each other that well, but we just started making music and learning about each other. Now we have five years of a relationship and we sort of draw from that when we write new songs and when we hang out. We learn all about our strengths and weaknesses and it’s interesting because not a lot of people can say that.

Q: JR JR’s sound is undeniably buoyant and singable with an idiosyncratic sound and beat to every song. Where do you find musical inspiration?

A: A lot of the sounds come from the fact that Josh and I listened to a lot of hip-hop and R&B growing up, and Motown as well. For all of those types of music, the beat is very central for the songs. It’s important that the songs have a good beat. There’s not really a rap song, or a Motown song or R&B song, where the beat isn’t integral into the melody.

Q: What bands and artists did you listen to growing up and did they have any influence on your band’s sound?

A: Boyz II Men, definitely. I listened to them a lot growing up. All of their harmonies really influenced me. Josh listened to rapper Biggie Smalls growing up. Vocal delivery and just having this aura about you is an important thing that you learn from him, and the production. With Motown, it was a lot of Jackson 5 for me, a lot of The Marvelettes. And I really just got into almost every different type of Motown band. When I think about Motown, I think about the writers and the shared writers because back then, with Motown, it was kind of how it is today with pop where all of these pop artist writers will write for every single pop artist.

Q: What specifically made you want to write a song about being “cool like James Dean”?

A: Josh wrote that lyric, but the main reason that song came about was because when you’re in a band, there’s this idea that you need to be cool. We kind of fall short of that, you know. We’re not really the coolest dudes. We make good music, and we’re about the music, but we don’t have this “cool” aura, and it’s sort of fighting with that, and getting over the fact of trying to be “cool” and not caring about that. It’s actually coming to the realization that I’m never going to be cool – however that means, trying to be James Dean, who can do anything and seem cool – and being OK with that and realizing that that’s not what it’s about.

Q: JR JR was once upon a time known as Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., but it was changed because of the confusion it caused, since Dale Earnhardt is a real-life person (a NASCAR driver, in fact). What effect has this name change had on your fan base, if any?

A: It has actually been a smooth transition. People haven’t been confused too much. Part of the reason is because it wasn’t really a name change. We just kind of slimmed it down. It hasn’t been too bad because we’re still having people show up to the shows. I think for most people, they understood it. Also, we’ve gotten a lot of new fans with “Gone,” so some people just know us as JR JR. We knew it wouldn’t be that big of a deal with the switch, especially with a new big song and a lot of new fans.

Q: Since you’ve visited D.C. and performed here in the past, what is your favorite aspect of the city?

A: My brother lives there, so I love that my family is there. The fact that it’s a combination of one of our favorite venues and I get to see some of my family – it’s just always the best. We always sell out, so it always feels good to be in D.C. We don’t usually get to see the city too much, but maybe we’ll get to see more of it this time.

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