RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The last few years have been rough for the city of Detroit, which suffered through it's own orchestra lockout a couple of years ago. But despite all the economic instability, the Motor City has always had a strong music scene. Indy pop band Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.'s members say their hometown has had a strong influence on their music.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. is the duo of Daniel Zott and Joshua Epstein. Their new album, "The Speed of Things" comes out this week. They joined us from just outside Detroit and we started by getting right into the music. This is a track off the new album called Mesopotamia.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MESOPOTAMIA")
DALE EARNHARDT JR. JR.: (Singing) If it's me or if it's you, doesn't matter what we do. We end up a couple lives on Mesopotamia.
MARTIN: I love that keyboard. It does have a throwback feel to this. It feels of a different time.
DANIEL ZOTT: I think that that song really kind of encapsulates a lot of what we are because we were born before computers. We were born when, I mean, when I was in elementary school we had Encyclopedia Britannica.
MARTIN: Oh, yeah.
ZOTT: My family totally had 'em. But we were still young enough that when the Internet came out we were very computer literate. And so I think that we're almost bilingual in that way culturally.
MARTIN: Yeah, the cusp generation.
JOSHUA EPSTEIN: And we get to enjoy both and that's really interesting. We're right on that cusp. It's really fun.
ZOTT: Yeah, but I think that that perspective really informed this record and, you know, allowed us to kind of speak to both segments of the population.
MARTIN: When talking about this album, you guys have said that, and I'm quoting here, "It focuses on the size and speed of the world today," and that yours is a generation full of false starts. What does that mean to you? Have you seen false starts in your own life, in your own careers?
ZOTT: Definitely. And I think that we are so much different than our parents. I mean, our parents at our ages, you know, had full families and were fully engaged in careers. And I look around at some of my friends who have, you know, graduate degrees and are unemployed and I just think that we're in this really weird time where things have gotten so big and so top-heavy that even when you have an idea it's kind of difficult to know where to begin. And by the time you figure it out, you know, there's a chance that some major corporation has kind of absorbed all of the little independent ideas and there's really no place for you to fit in. So it's a strange and interesting time.
MARTIN: Let's play another cut off the album. This is a track called, "If You Didn't See Me."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF YOU DIDN'T SEE ME.")
JR.: (Singing) You're supposed to roll your hips in time, you're supposed to see your age rewind. You're supposed to pull me like the sun pulls the Earth.
MARTIN: So this is a song that's really light and upbeat but it also has a very reflective quality in the lyrics; one lyric in particular: You're supposed to roll your hips in time, you're supposed to see your age rewind. Can I ask you to unpack that one for me?
EPSTEIN: What's interesting about that song is it started off this saying on the road if you didn't see me then you weren't on the dance floor, and it was this kind of sort of goofy thing that we did that we'd say between each other. But the sort of verses come from another song and we sort of combined them all together and I was just sort of making all sorts of different statements. I think that one in particular was just about things that I sort of see that are different about our culture that bother me or are just interesting.
It's just talking about how everyone's trying to be younger all the time and Jay-Z saying, you know, 30s the new 20 and people just being afraid of looking old and getting older and I think that there's something that's lost when you don't want to get older and be sort of the wise person, and that we all just want to be young and crazy and - it has something to do with that. But that can mean a million things You know, that's just one of the thoughts, and there's a million of those you're supposed-to's in that song and I think they're all just kind of reflections of things going on in culture.
MARTIN: We mentioned before you are proudly from the city of Detroit. What's Detroit like right now as a creative place, I mean, in the wake of all the economic hardship that city has faced over the years?
EPSTEIN: I think we're in a stage where we're attracting a lot of people that like cheap living and which will give them more free time to take risks and make things that they couldn't in a busier, more expensive, more competitive scene in a town. And I think we're in a spot right now where, you know, maybe in five or ten years we're going to start to see, you know, all the fruit of all these people that are sort of planting their ideas here.
MARTIN: Let's finish our conversation with a little more music if we could. Let's play the song called, "Hiding."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HIDING")
JR.: (Singing) If I can't have you what am I gonna do, what am I gonna do if I can't have you? Oh tried and true, buried out behind the school, where the mud is thick as glue...
MARTIN: So in the big picture, this is a song about moving on, moving forward and you can see that played out in other parts of this album. Where do you see yourselves moving next? What do you want musically to happen?
ZOTT: I think that we just want to keep on being inspired and, you know, there's no greater feeling than having an idea that you can kind of almost touch and almost envision and then chasing it. And I think that that's our favorite part of doing this, and as long as we have those things I think that we'll always be happy and feel really excited about continuing.
MARTIN: Daniel Zott and Joshua Epstein are Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. Their new album, "The Speed of Things," comes out this week. Hey you guys, thank so much for talking with us.
ZOTT: Thank you.
EPSTEIN: Our pleasure for having us.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HIDING")
JR.: (Singing) No more. I ain't hiding. I ain't hiding.
MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.