Greta Van Fleet: They’re an American Band!
The future of music belongs to a new crop of young bands that are steeped in arena rock’s bombastic and glorious past. While some purists, uptight music critics, and haters are dismissive of the latest crop of young retro heroes, the kids and true music fans don’t care. New acts like the UK’s Struts, Royal Blood, and Texas’ Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown are finding chart success, releasing hit singles, and even landing opening slots for established acts like the Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses, and more. Into the fray, steps Frankenmuth, Michigan’s freshest, bold entry, Greta Van Fleet. This band of brothers—Josh Kiszka (vocals, 21), Jake Kiszka (guitarist, 21), Sam Kiszka (bass, 19) and drummer Danny Wagner (19), create a sound and fury that recalls the heyday of arena rock ala Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, and Grand Funk Railroad. The young, fresh quartet’s 2017 EP Black Smoke Rising immediately caught the ears of classic rock and alternative rock programmers as well as fans of classic and new rock. The precocious quartet’s first single “Highway Tune,” is a full-throttle, full-throated slab of gusto that has the hammer of the gods’ goodness. Michigan’s finest are currently into a month of road work and are debuting materials from their November double EP release, From The Fires, streeting November 10th. I caught up with Greta Van Fleet guitarist, the affable Jake Kiszka, as they were on the road and in route to the next gig.
How’s the road treating you and does the audience know your music?
Fantastic. We’re just about a month into this current tour.
Actually, it’s surprising. The audience seems to know our songs really well. People are singing along and even with songs that haven’t been released yet. I’m assuming that YouTube is responsible for their awareness of our new material.
Are you aware of Michigan’s rich musical tradition and do you feel part of it?
I suppose, yes, in a sense. I think we’re part of the family. Every time we play at home, every show is really packed, and people are elated. Every show at home is like a new homecoming. Everyone in town is there to greet us and the reception is always amazing.
There are so many great bands from Michigan—The MC5, Bob Seeger, Iggy & The Stooges, Motown acts, Grand Funk Railroad, Ted Nugent, etc.? Are you aware of your state’s musical heritage?
It never ceases to amaze me how much great music has come from Michigan. We grew up listening to a lot of those bands and musicians. We even listened to Stevie Wonder and other Motown artists.
I read you come from a musical family. Did your parents encourage you and your brothers’ interest in music? It can’t have been a quiet house.
Yeah, I think it a lot of ways and growing up in a household with an artistically free environment, and it wasn’t just music. It was an artistic environment with film, literature, the arts and it was quite a teapot to pull from. It was nurtured, and it was acceptable to be artistic. I think it’s responsible for the music we grew up with and for us making music ourselves.
Our parents were pretty tolerant of our rehearsals.
How did you finally decide that you and your brothers would form a group and which of you would play which instrument?
I don’t think that decision was ever formally made. It just happened naturally and over a period of time. After we acquired Danny (Wagner), we became serious musically. Based on our material and other factors we realized we might be able to do this for real. I think we had some sort of ambition to play rock n’ roll.
Who do you feel a kinship with from the crop of new bands?
I wouldn’t necessarily say influence wise, but there are a lot of contemporary artists who share some of the same influences. There are a lot of manufactured bands where you feel you’re being lied to. You can’t manufacture emotion. There’s too much of that. There’s a lot of truth in music that isn’t there anymore. We like some of the current bands like Mumford & Sons, Fleet Foxes, Black Keys, and Kalero.
Do you fit into the current music scene or stand outside it?
I think in a lot of ways, and musically, and with a lot of musical elements that we play with it, but I hate to feel like an outsider. I feel like of what we do doesn’t really fit into the current thing, especially from a generational standpoint. Not really part of my generation’s thing
Do any of you plan on going to college at some point?
As far as our lives from this point A to point B, I think we’ll be playing music and making art for a while. At least we hope. We aren’t being pushed right now either way.
Do you get along as brothers, or are you rivals like Ray and Dave Davies or Chris and Rich Robinson?
There’s been a window or two broken due to artistic differences or indifference (laughs). We get along pretty well and we respect each other. We give each other space. I think we’ve always been pretty nice to each other.
How were you discovered and signed to Lava Records?
It was sort of a domino effect. It can be very complicated. The most direct version of that is we went to Rustbelt Studios and were working with Al Sutton (Kid Rock). He took us to a management company. He kind of took us on. We were introduced to our entertainment attorney, Nick Ferraro and Aaron Frank (current manager) introduced us to Jason Flom (Lava/Republic ex-Atlantic Records head), and he had known them for a long time. He listened to us, and we were supposed to play a showcase in NYC, and he said screw it, we don’t need a showcase. We hadn’t even met Jason yet, and he was ready to move.
How do you respond to the inevitable Zeppelin comparisons?
I think we’re all quite honored. Led Zeppelin is one of the best rock bands of all time. It’s natural and because of the same influences we share. I think there are similarities in sound, especially how Josh sings. We’re all honored to be compared to such a great band. It’s difficult to avoid certain musical constructs especially if you listen to the same things.
What was it like being in a band in high school? I bet you were all popular.
No, we were all nerds.
We started playing shows at 16 and at the bars. Dan was like 13. Actually, our first manager, Michael Barbie, we met him at the second show. He assisted us, and it was a bit scary at that age. He was always standing close by, and he gave us the confidence to do our shows. He’s still with us as our tour manager.
What band or guitarist made you want to play?
I think it was the first time a song haunted me was Jimi Hendrix playing the “Star Spangled Banner.” One of our teachers in social studies in ninth grade played that one and I got goosebumps. That was shocking to me that someone could play guitar like that. I had heard some of his songs, but I hadn’t heard that one. I went home and wanted to learn Jimi Hendrix. I was so inspired.
What do you know about St. Louis?
Not too much. We’re really enjoying exploring the country. We do have cousins living in St. Louis.
Are you planning on staying in Michigan or moving away to LA or NYC?
Michigan is our home and I think we’re kind of missing it already.
Do you have a lot of older fans?
Yes, it’s interesting it’s from eight to 80. We’re kind of seeing everyone. Younger crowds in the front and then it gets older as it transitions further away from the stage.
Are you learning how to work a crowd?
I think naturally, through the music, it kind of exudes, and the music allows us to interact with the crowd. Playing every night is definitely making a difference in our performances.
When can we expect a full-length?
We’re looking at a double-EP (From the Fires) coming out next month.
How do you use social media?
We weren’t as active with it in the past, but we’ve been encouraged to use it. We’re using it a lot more now to connect with the fans and it helps spread the word.
What albums do you listen to regularly?
There is a handful– Live at Leeds (The Who), Disraeli Gears (Cream), Beggar Banquet by the Stones. Let It Be (Beatles). American blues records made it across the pond and those bands made it their own thing.
Who would you love to meet or open for?
As far as our admiration for other artists, to open for the (Rolling) Stones would be so great.
Greta Van Fleet’s tour brings them to St. Louis for a sold-out show at Delmar Hall on December 14th.