Enjoying the ride with Greta Van Fleet

Down-to-earth Michiganders on band goals, perks of being rock stars and jamming with Paul McCartney

BLANK Newspaper’s John Flannagan (right) talks with two Kiszka brothers, Sam (left) and Jake (center). • Photo by Patty Flannagan

Greta Van Fleet are more than meets the eye – and the ear, for that matter.

While the young group’s brash sound and live swagger have drawn inevitable comparisons to Led Zeppelin from older generations, it has been the band members’ peers that have been the most boisterous supporters of their music, the stylings of which are timeless yet unique to younger ears perhaps unused to the straightforward presentation of passionate rock ‘n’ roll.

Before Greta Van Fleet’s highly anticipated late-night show at this year’s FloydFest on Friday, July 27, BLANK caught up with Jake (guitar) and Sam Kiszka (bass, keyboards), two-thirds of the brothers in the group and half of its total members. After engaging in a spirited conversation with them about a variety of topics, it immediately became clear why the band has been taking the musical world by storm as of late.

Hearing them wax poetic about their influences and how they relate to their contemporaries, we came to understand that these young bucks are in fact old souls who have an appreciation for everything from The Flying Burrito Brothers to Johann Sebastian Bach. After watching them perform for a second time this year to a packed festival audience, it’s also evident that the hype surrounding the band is warranted. And from all indications, Greta Van Fleet are just getting started.

BLANK: There are a lot of fledgling retro-sounding bands at the moment with a ‘70s throwback sound. It’s something we really first noticed at this year’s Shaky Knees where you, along with others, performed huge afternoon sets. What do you think is jumpstarting this trend in rock? 

Jake Kiszka: You know, I think a lot of the progression of music – and the way that things can be cyclical and … evolve – is to sometimes revert back to go forward, and I think that a lot of this music that’s been left behind is now considered highly influential. And it influenced us, and I think it’s influenced bands like The Struts and bands like Rival Sons and Hozier and Goodbye June, and there’s so many others that have sort of grown up in that environment or have studied a lot of that stuff, and I think that it’s kind of now a new generation of rock ‘n’ roll and a reinterpretation. So I think studying and listening to the old stuff gives us the ability to create new things and move into the future.

Sam Kiszka: I hate to be cynical about the music industry, but I think the truth is that for a very long time it’s been very monetarily based. I think people are really trying to just make money off of music, and I think it’s gotten to the point where people are tired of turning on the radio and hearing bull****.

As you continue to gain popularity and stardom during this rapid rise, we’ve seen unmentionables and whatnot being tossed onstage during your sets. So what’s the craziest gift or item that’s been given to you or thrown onstage?  

Jake: John, that was you wasn’t it? [smiles] A lot of jewelry, a lot of bras. Nothing’s hit Danny [Wagner, the band’s drummer] yet, but as soon as that happens, I’m running offstage.

Sam: No food yet, no spoiled fruit, but sometimes I can go for a mid-show snack – a whole other depiction of starving artists. We’re hungry up there!

What’s been the coolest perk or excess you have experienced or are beginning to experience?

Jake: We were in Chicago, and the promoter of a show knew one of the building managers [of the Willis Tower, the city’s tallest building] and asked if we wanted check it out. So we thought we’d be in line, but they took us to this back entrance, cut the line off, took us up the elevator and we were the only ones up there at the viewing deck, and that was an interesting experience.

Sam: The VIP treatment is kind of cool.

So you guys have recorded a lot of the new album in Nashville, and it seems like everyone is in Music City these days. Have you guys relocated there? Where are you guys calling your home base these days?

Jake: That’s an interesting question because we don’t really necessarily have a home base at this point. We’ve been traveling for so long now that it’s interesting to go home [to Frankenmuth, Michigan] because a lot of everything stays exactly the same, but we’ve changed. We go home and everything’s exactly as it was, but it’s good to see family and friends. We’ve been in and out [of Nashville] quite a bit, and we’ve been traveling so long now, somewhere like Los Angeles or especially Nashville feels like home when we come back from Europe.

So you guys are nomads right now?

Jake: Troubadours!

So in terms of future success coming your way, you just played “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” last night [July 26]. What would you say are some bucket-list items or something Greta Van Fleet really want to accomplish, whether it’s recording with someone, recording somewhere in particular or something else?

Sam: I didn’t know last night was [a bucket-list item], but it was. Wrote it down and crossed it off.

Jake: Yeah, and in that sense there’s a lot of things we’re not entirely determined to do but [that] continue to happen and become a part of “the list.” We’ve always wanted to have an affiliation with Rolling Stone, and I suppose that’s been checked off, but a cover would be nice. That’s something that everyone sort of wants.

Sam: It’s one of the most prestigious things in rock ‘n’ roll.

Jake: If we’re being entirely ridiculous and setting the standard to the full notch, playing with Paul McCartney would be … I mean, if this is a world of limitless possibilities, then that’s something that Greta Van Fleet would set its sights on.

You guys have a very organic sound and an appreciation for so many genres and artists both past and present – whether it be country or classical. Is that something your old man instilled in you?

Sam: [smiling at Jake] Actually, yeah. Dad always said that country died in 1980 … but Willie [Nelson] continued to have some good stuff.

Jake: It’s kind of like everything else; it’s like what you said earlier about everything kind of transitioning. Even like Chris Stapleton, there’s something going on there that we’ve reverted back to some sort of roots.

Sam: And our tour manager just showed us Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, and it was just incredible, so there’s some great country out there. But for the most part, it’s just watered-down nonsense.

Is that something you’d like to do: make a country album in the future as you get more time and toys to play with in the studio? Like do a Flying Burrito Brothers record?

Jake: [laughs] Yeah, absolutely.

Sam: I would really like to; I like that sort of stuff. Dillard & Clark … that style is just brilliant. We have a lot of country and folk inspirations, and we’ve written some country songs. We’re waiting to put them on the right record, but there’s a lot of different genres we’re going to be covering in the future.

As most dates on their current world tour are sold out, it might prove difficult, but catch Greta Van Fleet if you can. Tickets and info can be found here.

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