In the event you’ve been living under a rock or simply have lost interest in the relatively corporatized, sanitized, and benign entropy that pretty much defines the contemporary landscape of rock ‘n roll, leave it to four enterprising and passionately engaged musicians from Frankenmuth, Michigan to shift the gears on a classic model and break into the international consciousness with a fresh sound and talent that within the course of a few short months has catapulted them into that rarified air of rapid success and critical acclaim.
Greta Van Fleet is four young musicians, brothers Josh (vocals), Jake (guitar) and Sam (bass/keys) Kiszka, and best friend Danny Wagner (drums). Josh and Jake have just turned 21, Danny and Sam are 18. All four were raised on their parents’ extensive vinyl collections (shared influences are Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins, The Who, Jimi Hendrix – to name but a few), and were encouraged to be creative, daring and innovative by their parents at a very young age. Ask yourself how many kids that age even know who those artists are and you will get an inkling about one of the many reasons the sound they now create is so exceptional.
Each band member has killer musical chops and Josh has a voice that is simply jaw-dropping. The band is making some of the most exciting, high-energy, sweaty, sexy rock’n’roll heard in a long time, and are bound and determined to bring ‘real’ rock ’n’ roll back to the mainstream.
With their debut single “Highway Tune” spending four weeks as the #1 track at Active and Mainstream Rock radio, more than 2.7-million YouTube views for the companion music video, 5.2-million Spotify plays, their first-ever tour of the U.S. sold out, and spectacular praise from the media, Greta Van Fleet is - in just a few months - as hot a developing band as one can be.
Upon launching their first-ever U.S. headline tour at this moment, all but two dates have completely sold out - 10 of the 15 dates sold out in less than two minutes. Their new 4-song EP just went to #1 on the iTunes Rock Chart, the single is #6 at Active and Mainstream Rock radio nationally, and the companion music video sailed past 1.4-million YouTube views a couple weeks ago.
Reviews from all over the country have been beyond positive. Here are just a few:
“Greta Van Fleet is the best new guitar-rock band I've heard in a LONG time. Great songs and playing, and lead singer Josh Kiszka has one of those high-flying, muscular voices that makes rock 'n' roll great.” -- Cleveland Plain Dealer/Cleveland.com
“Given how mind-blowing, crazy scary unbelievably freaky good the first four songs we’ve heard are, what’s even more awe-inspiring is that this is just the first from Greta Van Fleet.” -- Screamer Magazine
"Greta Van Fleet is ready to take the rock music scene by storm." -- Alternative Press
"These young assholes from Michigan should probably piss you off for being so good so young." – Decibel Geek
Greta Van Fleet is making some of the most authentic, high-energy and passionate rock music heard in a long time. And recently I was fortunate enough to catch up with Josh & Jake to take their temperature, test the trade-winds of the atmospheric pressure they are currently cruising in, and find out what it’s like to be literally living your own Hard Day’s Night.
Review: It’s amazing to believe that only a few years ago you were playing at White’s Bar and making your debut at our annual Review Music Awards and now here you are with over millions of Spotify streams, selling out shows across the country, opening for Bob Seger, and heading over the pond for a sold out European Tour. How fast is your head spinning and how are you acclimating to being in the big-time spotlight like this? I image it’s one of those things you dream about but never can truly prepare yourself for.
Jake: It’s pretty significant and I think we’re handling it fairly well. We were all raised right and are caught right in the middle of it right now, so it’s kind of hard to sort where everything is at and where it’s moving because we’re in the eye of the storm and right in the middle of it. It is something you can never totally prepare for.
Josh: Considering that it took me 20 years to get to this point, everything is happening really quickly and you can’t totally prepare for it – nobody really could. There is no class you can take so you have to ground yourself and rationalize things through, otherwise you could go off the deep end very easily.
Review: The last time we spoke when you guys played at the Hamilton Street Bash a year ago, you were telling me about the new management deal and how you were working with Al Sutton and Marlon Young (from Kid Rock’s Twisted Brown Trucker Band) down at Rust Belt Productions and were going to take a break from performing a lot of live shows so you could study and learn songwriting and recording techniques, which obviously have paid off for you in a major way. What were the lessons and learned and value gained from that experience of taking your time for a couple years before making your next moves?
Jake: I think that’s one thing that’s become ignored by a lot of artists. Everyone getting into the industry with an eye on taking things to the next level wants to make things happen, but it’s important to budget for evolution and growth. We’re glad to be ‘live’ musicians and that is what we will always be. But taking those two years in the studio trained us to be better studio musicians. Working with Kid Rock and others to understand the details and technique of what goes into capturing the sound that you want to create is immensely important.
Josh: Certainly, the past two years matured us as artists and the studio time allowed us to look at things from different perspectives beyond just playing and performing music. It taught us record in a certain way so people experience the music in a way that you intend. It does give us a maturity about our performing and a stronger perspective on our writing. We’re very independent artists. We like to write and record and control what we’re doing with our music. And that experience has given us a lot more control as well through the process.
Review: So what has been the most challenging components involved with moving forward with your vision for the band during this accelerated rocket ride to the top of the charts and public acclaim?
Josh: The pressure. It’s a lot of responsibility to deliver good music with the best quality of sound that I can produce, so it’s a responsibility to a lot of people that are expecting great things from us that creates a lot of pressure for us. It’s been really nice to have family that’s very close and a good team assembled. All of that has helped me in a great way.
Jake: Touring can give you a lot of sleepless nights and be pretty brutal and that’s the most difficult component for me. Our schedule isn’t lessening up much and I don’t think it will change too much for the next couple of years, but it’s what we love to do, so for me it’s not so difficult to accept those things. Usually we will do 3 days of shows with a couple days off for PR work and then have a day or two off.
Review: Tell me about some of the highpoints you guys have gone through on this rollout tour. Any particular memories or experiences or dreams you’ve realized thus far that you would like to share?
Josh: You know, it becomes kind of a blur when you’re working so hard. Sometimes we get to step back and look at it all, but it’s in pockets of space that find where we can sort of look at everything from the outside in. Overall, it’s a sense of pride that I feel in what we’ve created that’s genuine and has a lot of soul and feel to it and is honest. And the fact our work has been so well received and that we can continue to do what we’re doing is so cool. It brings me so much joy and fun creating art like this for people that appreciate it, sometimes I wonder if it’s like some kind of mortal sin. How could it possibly be so good?
Review: That’s something you simply call just rewards for hard work.
Jake: This is all something so new to us. When we do a venue for a headline tour and that whole tour is sold out, walking on to the stage to that many people screaming, it’s a great feeling of mass acceptance. I think we all kind of seek that to some extent, so it’s hard to forget an audience like that.
Review: The album itself is fantastic and I’d like to talk about that with you, because the songwriting is well-thought out and the timing precise and the musical interaction between the band has never been more instinctual. All the reviews I’ve read have been positive and supportive; and I understand that you have a good 20 songs still in the can that have yet to be released. So how has the songwriting progressed and at what point did you feel you truly found your own voice in shaping the collective sound of the band?
Jake: Each member of Greta Van Fleet has one-fourth input into our sound. From a guitarist stance, I figured out my role about five or six years ago, back when I was maybe 12 or 13 years-old, which is when I knew how I wanted to shape the art of my sound and make the direction of my sound move within the group.
Josh: That part came really naturally and is evolving rapidly, not only because of life experiences, but spiritual and artistic growth as well. I think our music is becoming more complex and melodic – all of these things seem to be evolving in our sound. More or less we have a sound that’s a definitive ‘Greta Van Fleet’ sound that we are now able to do a lot with.
I think a lot of that has come to the forefront of the work that’s going into getting the next body of our work out. It comes from all of us. It could be anybody in the group that initially writes the foundation or structure of a song, and everybody else coming into the riff can start grooving on that. We’ve got songwriting in our blood, so we write a song every day or bits of a song or lyric, regardless if it’s a conscious thing, but that’s a good problem to have.
Review: About the only criticism I’ve heard about the band is that you borrow too heavily from Led Zeppelin; but to my mind, that’s a non-sequitur that can easily be dismissed when you look at the legacy of the British R&B bands that came out of England in the 1960s like the Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds. Even The Beatles borrowed heavily from and were influenced by Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Motown. So, what’s your take on that criticism?
Jake: I think that it would be difficult for any artist to be 100 percent purely original to the core. One way or another you are a sum of your influences, so to my mind being proud of them is probably the greatest thing an artist can do with influences. Even Zeppelin and all those groups you mention took from each other as well. They took from the classic bluesmen and they took from each other and that plays a role in musical evolution. Everybody takes more everybody else to some degree, even if they are doing it subconsciously.
Josh: Plus, a lot of us grew up with the same influences. I grew up listening to Taj Mahal, Willie Dixon, and a lot of funk and soul like Wilson Pickett or Sam & Dave and Booker T and the MG’s. So, a lot of our influences were also similar to those Zeppelin had, but we’ve only put four songs out and those songs are fairly old, written five or six years ago.
Initially, while Zeppelin might sound a little more like influential stuff for us, I think with Black Snake Rising it’s the most contemporary song on the album, and you can see how it moves away from of that sound on the rest of the release. We’re just coming out as a band and when you do that you always get comparisons. But we really do love Led Zeppelin and were not the only ones that do.
Review: Are you planning on experimenting with softer and more acoustic-oriented sides to music with the release of your next batch of work?
Jake: We’re stretching ourselves to create new approaches to songs. However, they come about, we always ask what can we do now that we have particular sound, so as not to confine ourselves and expand upon it and test the boundaries with it. I’m throwing slide riffs in and all kinds of stuff.
Josh: With the 20 songs we have recorded, we’re doing more with acoustical and softer types of material. Our concern was to not put out anything like that with the first four songs because people might not respond as strongly. But yeah, we have lots of different characters and dynamics. Our next album is becoming very dynamic and we’re more experimental in some of our technique, but only because it sounds right in an original and stylistic manner.
Review: When will the debut album be released?
Josh: We’re thinking around Christmas time and still kind of debating whether we’ll have a second part to Black Smoke, just because the demand is so high. But as far as we’re aware, the release of the first album will happen right around Christmas.
Review: You just played two big shows in New York City and Los Angeles this summer at The Viper Room. Were you nervous and do you find the crowd reacting stronger in certain areas of the country than others?
Jake: There were defining moments to those shows because we wanted to show those audiences that we were ready. But wherever we go everybody attending our shows is glad to be there to rock and roll. It’s pretty consistent all across the country.
We just finished that show with Bob Seger here in Saginaw and I idolized him, as well all did growing up. To meet him was amazing and I didn’t feel like it was real. We just met and talked about music for a bit.
Josh: People are elated to see us and what exciting with all of our shows is that it seems to be that way in every part of the country, which is a great joy to us. Opening on the East and West coast at those historical venues can be pretty nerve wracking, but the trepidation comes from an expectation that other people might have for you. But once you get past that it’s easier to do those types of shows. Life moves on.
Review: Do you guys ever get any rest?
Jake: Hardly. There’s not been much rest, but we’re looking forward to having a break pretty soon. But we’ve also been enjoying ourselves on the road. It’s one of the most beautiful adventures I’ve ever been on.
I’d love to talk with you, Bob, once we get the new album out. We’re savoring every second of the process right now. We’ll be in the studio up the point we take off to Europe, working on new stuff for a couple weeks. We went once to Sweden and will be in Europe for several weeks. We have three shows scheduled in London alone, which should give us more stuff to write about.