Let’s get this out of the way – there’s no denying that Greta Van Fleet’s sound pays homage to ’60s and ’70s rock, particularly Led Zeppelin. It makes sense when you learn that the Kiszka brothers (Josh – vocals, Jake – guitars, Sam – bass/keyboards) grew up listening to their parents’ classic rock and blues albums. Joined by drummer Danny Wagner, Greta Van Fleet’s the type of band that many are hoping will save rock and roll and considering the fact that the guys range in age from 18 to 21, there’s a bright future ahead.
After a run of dates with The Struts in May, Greta Van Fleet is getting ready to kick off a headlining tour with the very first date being a sold-out show at The Basement on Tuesday night. It would be safe to assume that once the band’s debut full-length album is released (hopefully later this year), they’ll make their way back to Columbus and play a bigger venue. Something tells me those who did manage to get tickets for The Basement show will be talking about this one for a long time.
I recently had the chance to do a phone interview with 18-year-old Sam Kiszka, just a few months after he graduated high school!
I read an interview you did with The Young Folks in Baltimore with an interviewer that was your age. Have you found, in doing all this press, that most of the interviewers are old enough to be your parents?
That was the interesting thing about that interview is that the interviewers were not that much older than us. In fact, I think they were younger than Josh and Jake. I think they were 18. That was really cool because it was from a different perspective and we got a lot different questions. For most of the interviews, it’s all over the spectrum. On average, the interviewer’s age is between 30 and 50.
I’m a child of the ‘80s, maybe close in age to your parents, and grew up on MTV. For my friends who still listen to music, there’s not a lot of new guitar-rock bands out there which I think that is why people are gravitating to Greta Van Fleet. Does it ever feel like people are expecting a lot out of you, like, to save rock and roll?
Yes. I’m not scared for the album because I know it’s going to be awesome but I do know that we have to live up to a certain standard at this point. We came out of the gate with all the heavy hitting rock and roll. That’s an interesting question. I do feel some weight on my shoulders but it’s good weight. We won’t let you down.
I have kids and I try to listen to the music that they listen to and I don’t hear a lot of guitars and energy that bands like yours have.
Don’t even get me started. I could go for hours.
My oldest daughter will be a junior in high school this year. She grew up with ready access to all my music – CDs and, in the last few years, vinyl – and yet she never took much interest in physical media or the bands that I listen to. How much influence did your parents and their music collection have on where you are today?
They never pushed music on us but when we were in the car or just around the house, they were playing Sam & Dave, Joe Cocker, the old blues guys like Elmore James, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf. They were playing things that we’d consider classic rock now and they were playing the Stones, the Beatles, the Allman Brothers.
They were never like, “Here, you’re going to like this” and make us listen to it. That’s what we wanted to listen to because it was on around the house and it’s great music and we loved it. We’d put all these songs on a disc and we’d play it out back when we were playing. Or we’d sit in the garage and go through dad’s vinyl collection and probably scratch a lot of records by accident.
We really gravitated to that music because we’d be listening to it since before we were born.I think it’s instilled in our souls and that’s what we’re attracted to.
Now we listen to pop on the radio – even back then, when we were in first grade, we’d get on the school bus and the school bus was always on the pop station. We were like, “What is this? Who would want to listen to this?” We were little innocent kids, we were genuinely concerned as to why somebody would want to listen to that.
Did you start, like every other kids, by standing in front of your mirror and playing air guitar?
I don’t think I ever did that. I wasn’t so outgoing like that.
The thing about how I came into this was Jake and Josh and a buddy were already playing music and my mom kept saying that I looked like a bass player. I’m like, “What the hell does that mean?” She kept saying it because I was tall and lanky and I started listening to Motown music and that’s where I started to hear bass.
The first song I learned was “I Heard it Through the Grape Vine.” The driving force behind me picking up the bass was the band already playing out here and my mom telling me I looked like a bass player. And, I was listening to the Essential Bob Dylan album. I was listening to that for like two months and the music was so powerful and the music made me feel something.
As young as I was, like 12 or 13 years old, it made me feel like real emotions. I wanted to do that, I wanted to make other people feel those emotions. I wanted to make people feel happy. That’s how I got into it. It was subtle but it happened very quickly.
That’s why we gravitated to that music because I remember sitting on the school bus when I was 8 or 9 years old listening to “Let it Be” on my little iPod Shuffle and I was looking out the window and I felt sad. What do you have to feel sad about when you’re 8 or 9 years old? It’s because that song is so powerful it can make somebody who is ignorant to pain and sadness and make them feel that way. That’s the amazing thing about music, it has a very profound effect on people. Sometimes we don’t really realize how powerful music is. That’s why I’m in it.
You grew up listening to vinyl but you’re from the digital music era. Do you have dreams of putting out your music on vinyl?
I didn’t start thinking about it until the vinyl thing really came out of the closet about 3 years ago.The sonic direction when you listen to vinyl over any digital platform, it has a third dimension. It takes it from this flat image – nothing is wrong with flat images, like paintings, of course – and gives it a whole other dimension.
I absolutely love vinyl albums and I love the whole concept behind them – how you have to play them all the way through. The biggest problem is that – I won’t say the biggest problem – but, a big problem is that people find that one good song or the one song they like and they just play that one. There goes the artists creativity identity. When an artist makes an album, it goes from song 1 to song 10 or however long the album is and it moves. It’s a whole piece of art work, it’s like watching a movie. I love the fact that you have to play it through like that. I think we’re going to get our album pressed on vinyl, I would absolutely love that.
As it seems that you’re influenced by bands from the vinyl era, how much time have you spent pouring over gatefold sleeves? Do you study liner notes the way I did when I was your age?
One of my favorites is Stephen Stills, his first album, in the liner notes it says it’s dedicated to Jimi Hendrix who actually plays on one song on the album. He died before the album was released. That’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.
One of things I always used to look at, whether it be CDs or vinyl, was who the band thanked. Most of the time it was friends, family, label people, bands they had toured with. I always had this fascination with digging into Thank You lists.
It’s weird. I kind of gathered that the music industry is kind of small. Every time I meet someone, I realize they know somebody else I know. It’s crazy. But, a lot of the times it’s probably going to be a musician that they aspire to in their personal life. To me, there’s lots of people who inspired me to play music. We have a lot to be thankful about with the people that we’re in this with. Our tour manger, who was our first manager. Our management team. Our record label. Our booking agency. Our publicist. Our lawyer. Our producer. The list goes on and on. Musicians that we’ve learned from.
If/when you release something physically, will you have a Thank You credits and, if so, a little spoiler alert, is there somebody you’d include on that list that might not be expecting it?
His name is Brandon Ward. He is the best keyboard player that I know. He really inspired me to pick up keyboards because we go to, it’s like south of Grand Rapids, it’s this place with all these cabins. We’d rent it out every year – all our friends and family – and we would always just play music all day and all night. He would sit behind the keyboard and he would sing and play his ass off. He still does it. We just have a great time. It really inspired me with how much fun he has with music and how much he enjoys playing it and how much everybody else loves getting up and dancing and singing along. It’s one of the most beautiful things in the world.
I don’t remember where I first heard about you and, to be honest, I didn’t know what to make of the band name so I was probably a little slower to give your stuff a listen than I should have been. Is there an interview or some opportunity that you feel really pushed you from a local Michigan band to a band that people around the world knew about?
I feel like it wasn’t particularly immediate like that. The way I kind of saw it was things very gradually snowballed and it’s still snowballing. Loudwire kept doing stuff on us, Huffington Post, MLive but other than that, it’s just felt very gradual. That’s the way this whole thing has felt for the last four years. We’re moving into this thing and we’re picking up people, we’re learning new things and we’re going here, we’re going there. It just keeps growing and gets faster. It’s like a train that is picking up speed.
I know some young bands in Columbus that have gotten some management or label interest. One in particular was told, “Finish high school, stop playing shows, go into your basement and write as many songs as you can just to get the practice in. Perfect what you’re doing and in a year or two, we’ll release an EP, introduce you to the world. At your age, you shouldn’t rush things.” Did you get similar advice?
It’s interesting. I’m not sure if that’s good advice or bad advice. We always had this natural inclination to write songs so it wasn’t a problem especially when we started writing more and more. We started moving around with formats and doing different things but we were always playing. Every weekend, instead of hanging out with buddies or going to football games, we went and played in bars. That’s what we absolutely loved doing. We never realized that just jamming in a garage could lead to something else where people could watch us.
Once we got in contact with Michael Barbee, our past manager, he really got us hitting all the local scenes and we moved into Detroit and then we got to play out in Temecula, California and then finally we got to this point where we were in the studio with Al Sutton. That’s when we learned a lot. You should always be playing, why not do both [write songs and play live]?
How did you wind up getting the opening slot on The Struts tour?
I’m not sure if we applied for it. I know the band picked us but I’m not sure if we were in an assortment of bands for them to choice form. They handpicked us because they heard us and dug the sound. That tour was a hell of a lot of fun.
With a string of headlining dates, such as the one that will bring you to Columbus, and a not-so-deep catalog of songs, what type of set should we expect? How long will you play, how many songs, that type of thing?
We’re going to do an hour headlining set. We’re going to be able to bring keyboards and we’re going to bring acoustics. It’s a great opportunity to finally incorporate the stuff back into the set. It adds another dimension to the set. We kind of bring it down, play some acoustic stuff, even though it’s not that acoustic. There’s a lot of great songs that we haven’t released that I think people are really going to like.