BY: VINNY CECOLINI
Bursting with raw talent, passion and youthful exuberance, Frankenmuth, Michigan’s Greta Van Fleet are having too much fun to worry about coloring within or outside any genre-specific lines.
They are not concerned about who they’re being compared to or with whom they are being lumped in with. They’re just embracing their musical influences, which included ‘70s hard rock, ‘70s folk rock and the blues. Yes, at times, it might seem like the band are not just wearing their influences on their sleeves, but have them tattooed on their arms, but they are no from early Stones or—ahem—Led Zeppelin. It will certainly be exciting following Greta Van Fleet for years to come as they develop into the rock powerhouse they are destined to become.
Formed by twins Jake and Josh Kiszka and kid brother Sam Kiszka, Greta Van Fleet began like many bands, jamming in the family garage and cutting their teeth throughout their local music scene. After original drummer Kyle Hauck—who is partly responsible for naming the band—left in late 2013, they were joined by Danny Wagner and self-released a live EP. The three-song disc attracted attention throughout Michigan, including that of car-maker Chevy, who featured the song “Standing On” in a regional Equinox commercial. Oh, if their current hit, “Highway Tune,” sounds familiar, it’s because it was featured in a January, 2016 episode of Showtime’s Shameless.
Nothing, however, could have prepared these four old souls in young men’s body for what has occurred since the early April release of their Lava Records EP Black Smoke Rising. Within three weeks, they were Apple Music’s New Artist of the Week and deep into rehearsals for their first national tour, opening for The Struts.
Greta Van Fleet’s whirlwind existence has not left guitarist Jake with much time to breathe, let alone relax. As one tour ends, another is looming and on this rare day at home, he is unaware “Highway Tune” has just landed on top of the active and mainstream rock radio charts. Jake is too busy dealing with calls from annoying journalists like me. The guitarist is not only gracious, however, he is excited to talk about the band, their music and their potential to breathe new life into the slowly decaying hard rock genre.
The Symphony of Rock: How much pressure has Greta Van Fleet experienced since the release of Black Smoke Rising? Being touted as the next big thing must be overwhelming?
Jake: It’s difficult to become overwhelmed when you are not given the chance to slow down. We feel like we’re in the eye of the storm. There is so much going on around us that it’s difficult to gauge just what the activities are. We feel like we’re constantly on the move. It’s just ‘go, go, go’.
TSOR: Are you concerned about the band living up to the expectation created by Black Smoke Rising?
Jake: We feel the same pressure creating new music that we’ve felt from the very beginning. We just want to make great, simple, good-time rock music. We have a number of songs we’ve have yet to release, [however;] somewhere around 25 songs.
TSOR: Is the band still planning to release two additional EPs before recording a full-length disc?
Jake: That was the plan. Given the success of Black Smoke Rising, however, we may release our full-length debut in early 2018.
TSOR: How do three musically talented brothers emerge from a family with the ability to collaborate and create great classic rock flavored songs?
Jake: While growing up, we had similar musical influences. I don’t think it is that unusual for three brother who grew up with shared musical influences to eventually come together to play music.
TSOR: Who exposed you and your brothers to classic rock, the blues and other music?
Jake: Our parents let us go through their huge vinyl collection. From an early age, we took advantage of that. Even before we were old enough to go to school, we loved listening to music [from our parents’] collection.
TSOR: While I was growing up, my parents were obsessed with Johnny Mathis and ‘50s music. I was forced to rebel by listening to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Your parents happily introduced your to those hard rock pioneers.
Jake: Yes, we were raised on the music you used to rebel. When we would get on the school bus and hear the pop music our classmates were listening to we’d say [to ourselves], “This is just shit!”
TSOR: Unlike kids your age, you had the advantage of discovering more complicated forms of music.
Jake: Absolutely! I felt there was a lack of depth in their pop music.
TSOR: What are your musical influences?
Jake: Blues artists such as Elmore James, Muddy Watters, Howlin’ Wolf, Lightning Hopkins, and Lead Belly. We were also influenced by folk artists such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and Simon & Garfunkel. And classic rock, of course. [Bassist] Sam also has a lot of jazz influences.
TSOR: At what point did you and you brothers start playing instruments?
Jake: Coming from such a musical family, I cannot remember a time when we were not playing instruments. Our father is a musician, so learning music was mandatory in our household. I might have been two or three years old when I started play guitar. I’ve been playing guitar for so long that it has become a second language.
TSOR: When did your family realize your twin brother Josh had such a powerful voice?
Jake: We grew up singing together in our family car. Josh’s voice just developed. [Laughs]
TSOR: For a young band, Greta Van Fleet’s music is well constructed, dexterous and mature. Many veteran artists released multiple albums before accomplishing that level of songwriting. How long have you and your band been composing original music?
Jake: I started writing songs on the guitar when I was 10 or 11 years old. Josh and I were 16 and Sam was 13 when we started writing music for this band.
TSOR: Who plays keyboards on Black Smoke Rising?
Jake: That was Sam. The three of us are multi-instrumentalists, which helps when we’re collaborating on new songs.
TSOR: Who produced the EP?
Jake: Rust Belt Studio’s Al Sutton. He’s based in Detroit, so he brought in Kid Rock’s guitarist Marlon Young to work with us. It was great to both work with and learn from a veteran musician.
TSOR: Each day, more and more people are discovering Greta Van Fleet by viewing the “Highway Tune” music video on YouTube.
Jake: It has certainly introduced us to the rest of the world.
TSOR: And I love how it begins with band’s logo set in the “Pulp Fiction” font.
Jake [laughing]: That is the first time that’s been pointed out. I never thought about that. Yes, our logo does a cinematic look. It has to do with Josh’s fascination with movies and visuals.
TSOR: So fans can expect a lot of multidimensional media in the future?
Jake: Absolutely. It’s what we’re aiming to do.
TSOR: Do you believe the members of Greta Van Fleet were born late? Do you wish the band were around when the music video revolution was at its peak?
Jake: Yes, I wish music video [was more prominent], but there is YouTube and social media to get [the music videos] out there.
TSOR: What is the story behind the band’s unusual name?
Jake: It was unintentional. Early on, we had a show coming up and we were proposing band names. Josh was against any type of name that would restrict what a band could sound like; put them in a musical corner; lock them into a genre. Our drummer at the time was talking about his day and said his grandfather was cutting wood for Gretna Van Fleet. Josh looked around and said, ‘That is a good name. We should take the ‘n’ out of Gretna so it has more of a ring to it.’
Gretna Van Fleet is sort of a town elder where we live; a matriarchal figure. It works that we get to take a piece of home with us wherever we go.
TSOR: It won’t be a Lynyrd Skynyrd situation where the band’s former high school gym teacher Leonard Skinner sues over the name?
Jake [laughing]: Not at all. She has given her blessing.
TSOR: Greta Van Fleet have been compared to Led Zeppelin. When The Stones began, they emulated their blues idols. When Radiohead began, they sounded like U2. Muse began life as a Radiohead clone. Now each of these bands have a signature, identifiable sound. Greta Van Fleet has already started developing a sound and it will be exciting following the band to see where it is headed.
Jake: It would be terrible to become stagnant songwriters and a musicians. There has to be a constant evolution. It will be interesting to listen to the listeners’ perceptions as our sound continues to grow and change. “Highway Tune” is one of our earliest songs. “Black Smoke Rising,” on the other hand, is one of our newer, more modern songs.
TSOR: When experiencing this band live will we get to hear new songs?
Jake: Absolutely! We will be incorporating a lot of new songs into the set, many of which will be on our eventual full-length disc.
TSOR: For outsiders, what is really going on in Detroit and its outlying areas?
Jake: It’s a difficult time, but the people of Michigan have been very supportive of each other and that is beautiful; a beautiful show of unity. It’s what gives everyone throughout Michigan hope.
In addition to a number of upcoming sold-out headline shows, Greta Van Fleet will be appearing at a series of fall music festivals including Camden, N.J.’s Rock Allegiance at the BB&T Pavilion on October 7th Houston’s Open Air; Sacramento’s Aftershock, Detroit’s Riff Fest, Madison, Wisconsin’s Sonic Boom and Dallas’s Freakers’ Ball.
For more information about Greta Van Fleet, including tour dates and future releases, check out: