In late summer, while doing my research one of our SMC Spotlight Artists progress through the music festival summer circuit, a video of Frankenmuth, Michigan-born and based powerhouse Rock band Greta Van Fleet caught my eye. It wasn’t just the fact that the bands stage moves were the only enthralling thing to watch, it was that they were clearly enjoying every second of their live performance before thousands of fans. I have seen many live performances and for me, a live performance should be super-charged, engaging, and compelling. This can only be accomplished when you visually see the artists so engrossed in having a great time, they forget they actually are in front of thousands of eyes watching, singing, and fist-pumping to every one of their songs. With Greta Van Fleet, that’s exactly what you can expect.
In researching the bands discography, I was blown away with how ‘on-point’ they were with absolutely every song that I listened to with everything from production quality to instrumentation, strong lyrics, and heart-pounding vocals. There wasn’t one song on their new double EP ‘From The Fires’ (released November 10th, 2017) where I was left feeling iffy, and I think after listening to it in its entirety, I had to pick my jaw up off the ground. For a band so new to the music scene to release a double EP of this quality and magnitude where they hit the mark in every aspect I mention previously, it can only result on one thing: fast-track to fame. This is exactly where the band is headed too – they have been given a serious nod from Rolling Stone Magazine touted as one of ‘ten new artists you need to know’ and have back to back tour dates and interviews that began snowballing faster and faster from this past summer well into 2018. We were very fortunate to have been able to secure this interview with the band and are proud to add them to our Starlight Music Chronicles (SMC) music family and Spotlight roster of greats!
If I had to sum up Greta Van Fleet it would go something like this: You will play their album once, and then once more, and once more after that. In fact, you may even play it for a whole day on repeat just to completely take in its euphoric, acid-trip, dreamy excellence. If you are a child from the 1970’s (like I am), then you will be brought back to a very special era where music was making massive changes in both style and composition. This band is taking that era, adding their own flair and dynamic and owning it. Greta Van Fleet is the cure for anyone wanting to sink themselves into a two-hour bliss. ‘From The Fires’, get it, listen on repeat (as I did), and get lost in its beauty.
You can hear the band on my radio show #Viral with Candice Anne Marshall on Limehead Radio in the UK, and they have been in heavy rotation on the radio station since!
*See the press release for ‘From The Fires’ at the end of this interview*
About Greta Van Fleet
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. They’re all from the tiny Michigan hamlet of Frankenmuth known for its family-style chicken dinners and the world’s largest Christmas store. All four were raised on their parents’ extensive vinyl collections (shared influences are Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins, The Who, Jimi Hendrix), and were encouraged to be creative, daring and innovative. 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 five weeks as the #1 track at Mainstream Rock radio, more than 5.7-million YouTube views for the companion music video, 8.8 million Spotify plays, their first-ever tour of the U.S. completely 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.
SMC Spotlight Exclusive Interview | Greta Van Fleet
SMC – Hello gentlemen! We are thrilled to have you featured on our Starlight Music Chronicles (SMC) Spotlight! I first discovered you when I happened to be checking up on our SMC Spotlight Artists’ Palaye Royale. I believe you played the same music festival. I saw some photos of you all and I quite liked your ‘look’. Then, upon researching some more, had a listen to your music. I became an instant fan! What has been the reaction from most people who hear you for the first time?
Sam: It’s been overwhelmingly positive which has been a truly humbling experience. I think the type of music we’re creating is recognizably different than most sounds in the current musical climate of the rock genre.
SMC – What has been the media feedback so far on the new music?
Sam: We haven’t heard anything too bad about it yet (laughs). Most of the feedback has been positive and we’re glad that everyone’s in enjoying the music we’ve put out there.
SMC – You new album ‘From The Fires’ literally just launched. What song is your personal favorite on it and why?
Sam: My personal favorite is ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’. The song is so well written that it would be difficult to mess up. It has as much pertinence today as it did almost 60 years ago. It also harkens to the roots of the music that inspired us to start making some of our own.
SMC – I will include my review with this interview for ‘From The Fires’ – what I would like to ask is what the songwriting process is like for you? What instrument do you create your songs with?
Sam: There is no real song writing template. A song can spark from anything between a guitar riff and a simple melody. Whenever we bring something to the table we like to have it in as primitive a form as possible so we can all shape the attitude of the song.
SMC – I know that three of you are brothers – which is really cool! How long have you been this creative together musically?
Jake: Josh and I, early in life, were performing as a duo for our family. We would always sing in the car together, as far back as my memory will lend me. We’ve all grown up in the same household and shared the same influences, we were listening to the same music and on the same musical page. As we got older, we’d split off to find out own voices as musicians and that is where the alternative influences made our way into our music. Once Sam learned to play the bass around age 13, we finally found all three of us performing together.
SMC – Your music video for ‘Highway Tune’ (see below) is gritty and very theatrical. Who is the creative team behind this video?
Sam: Thank you. The team behind the music video for ‘Highway Tune‘ is a company based in Nashville called FoCo Creative. We wanted the first video to be relatively simple with the appropriate amount of attitude. I think they got the job done.
SMC – What is your signature move on stage – better yet, what makes you all mesh together well when performing live?
Sam: I like to feel the bass vibrating through the stage, so that’s the reason behind not wearing any shoes. The one time I’ve worn shoes on stage in the recent past, I fell. I slipped on stage and landed on the end on my butt. All the photographers started taking pictures of me so I played it off as part of the show.
SMC – What has been the best live performance experience you have had to date and why?
Sam: The best live performance experience has been opening for Bob Seger. Growing up in Michigan, if we were ever listening to the radio we were listening to classic rock radio. And on Michigan stations, Bob Seger is played every other song. So, having the opportunity to open for Seger, someone that we listened to, probably before we were even born, was surreal.
SMC – In terms of summer festivals this year, which on was most memorable and why?
Jake: Not so much performance wise, but in shock factor value, Shinedown at NCF (National Cherry festival) in Traverse City was the most memorable summer festival. We were shocked at the sheer volume of people in attendance. Not only the volume but the amount of people singing along to our songs. It was sort of memorizing to see people participate like that.
SMC – What radio stations have been spinning your new album – who would you like to give a ‘shout out’ to?
Jake: 95.5 KLOS FM Radio has been spinning Highway Tune. We visited the station and played a few songs on Jonesy’s Jukebox over the Summer and visited again not too long ago. It’s been a fascinating experience seeing ‘Highway Tune’ hit # 1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Chart and watch our new single, Safari Song climbing the chart.
SMC – Which media platforms have you been featured on to date? Also, have there been any sites or magazines that stand out for you as one of your favorite reviews of your music?
Jake: The Rolling Stone feature was incredible. To have a magazine of that caliber praise our music was just tremendous.
SMC – Where are you most popular internationally?
Jake: We’ve been receiving a lot of attention from Canada, the United Kingdom, and Poland. Playing in the UK was extraordinary because we had the opportunity to see how our music has transcended continents. We’re looking forward to being able to play in countries all over the world.
SMC – What is the general age range of your fanbase?
Jake: As far as we’ve seen, there is always a large variation in age group. We like to say 8 to 80, people of all ages and backgrounds. For the older portion of the group, it’s something familiar and similar they’ve heard before. In regard to the younger people in attendance, it’s a brand new sound.
SMC – What social media platform are you most active on and why?
Jake: Probably Instagram. We feel like it’s the easiest platform to reach our fans and communicate with them. We love the simplicity of sharing photos and videos with our fans.
SMC – I saw that next year you are heading to Europe for tour. Is it a headline tour?
Jake: Yes, the European tour will be a headlining tour. We’re definitely looking forward to playing in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, France, and back to the UK.
SMC – I also saw that you have been touring already throughout the USA as well and will be right up until just before Christmas. Which city is your favorite to perform in and why?
Jake: It’s so hard to choose your favorite city. There have been so many incredible places and the fans have been phenomenal in every venue. There are a lot of elements that go into each show…location, fans, experiences in the city. It’s like picking your favorite song of all time.
SMC – Will there be any Canadian tours planned? We would love to see you boys perform live!
Jake: Yes, we’re looking forward to the dates in next years schedule. We’ve been wanting to go to Canada and are aware there’s a large demand for our music and there is a large fanbase. We’re looking forward to being able to play for you some time next year.
SMC – I noticed on your Facebook page last week (November 15th, 2017) that you posted about ‘Leading off the Breaking Rock playlist on Apple Music’. What a rush! You are a fairly young band to accomplish something like this – have you always had the confidence that you ‘could bring it’ as far as your success goes?
Jake: We didn’t really anticipate the amount of attention we’re received but it’s truly been a humbling experience.
SMC – Our readers have been excited for this interview to launch – some have been bugging us DAILY to see when it will launch actually. What has the demands for interviews been like for the band? Is your schedule packed?
Jake: That’s awesome! Well, we have been receiving quite a few interview requests. We’re honored to have the privilege to play music as a career, so having the opportunity to talk about what we love is a pleasure!
SMC – I was quite happy to see you were featured on the Spotify Canada billboard on Toronto’s Yonge-Dudas Square recently. When you found out that you were, what was your reaction?
Jake: We’d just gotten back from the last leg of a run and were home. In hearing the news, we were all very shocked and grateful. It’s an overwhelming feeling to see something like that. If that’s any ode to how they feel about us in Canada, then we’re on our way!
SMC – What is the one thing that you feel music is missing today and needs resurrecting in terms of production, sound, or even branding?
Jake: The element of soul and human nature is what’s missing from today’s music. Emotion and truthfulness is what music is supposed to communicate. Although there are a lot of groups out there that are accomplishing this, they’re not as well known as they probably should be.
SMC – What would you say your signature fashion ‘style’ is – which trends do you all naturally gravitate toward?
Jake: We don’t particularly follow any fashion trends. Most of our clothes have come from thrift stores or vintage shops. I’d say our style is just wearing what we like.
SMC – Are there any charities or organizations that are close to your heart which you support?
Jake: We haven’t specifically chosen any charities or organizations to donate to yet but we definitely plan to.
SMC – Which instruments are you all proficient in besides the ones you currently play?
Jake: We all dabble in each other’s instruments, but things people would guess like mandolin, ukulele, banjo, harp, autoharp, sax, French horn, flute, trumpet, clarinet. Actually, that’s more instruments than we thought!
SMC – What is a cool tid-bit of music history behind the band that not many people know about?
Sam: Not many people know we come from a musical family. Our grandfather is actually in the Polka Music Hall of Fame and our father is in two bands.
SMC – Okay, final question: are there any projects that any of you are involved in currently besides music? If so, what are they?
Jake: Josh is really interested in film making. He’s written, directed, filmed and produced quite a few movies of his own. Other than that, we’re mostly dedicated to playing music. It’s where our hearts truly lie.
SMC – Thank-you Gentlemen!
Greta Van Fleet Bio
Jake Kiszka – guitars
Josh Kiszka – vocals
Sam Kiszka – bass/keyboards
Danny Wagner – drums
Frankenmuth, Michigan – Michigan’s “Little Bavaria” – is known for its scenic farmland. Crispy chicken dinners. The State’s best indoor water parks. Picturesque wine and chocolate boat cruises. The world’s largest Christmas store.
These days it’s also home to one of the most exciting rock ‘n’ roll acts to come from the heartland, or anywhere, in many a year.
Greta Van Fleet – which took its name from one of the close-knit community’s town elders – is a hard-rocking quartet whose creative ambitions and achievements reach far beyond the ages of the four band members, not all of them old enough to have voted in last November’s election. On its debut EP Black Smoke Rising, the group deftly straddles the line between timeless and future, sounding at once like many things you’ve heard before and also something you’ve never heard before. The three brothers – twins Josh (vocals) and Jake (guitar) Kiszka, younger brother Sam Kiszka (bass, keyboards) and drummer Danny Wagner – have turned their rich and varied musical background into an arresting mélange of rock ‘n’ roll with flavors of metal, pop, blues and grunge, the result of years of practice, study and familial good times.
“When we were not even born yet my father played us blues music and R&B, soul music – all the good stuff,” says Sam. Dad Kiszka was a musician himself, playing guitar and harmonica. “Our parents had a lot of vinyl laying around,” recalls Josh, so we grew up listening to that and really liked playing with the vinyl albums – putting them on the turntable and speeding them up and slowing them down. But, yeah, I really liked the blues and the soul and the funk – Wilson Pickett is the big one, and Joe Cocker, those kinds of things.”
The Kiszka kids furthered their music education during winter ski trips to Michigan’s Yankee Springs, where a plethora of family and friends would gather with instruments. Someone was playing something nearly every minute of the day, and Josh, Jake and Sam soaked it up with relish. “Every year was better than Christmas,” Josh recalls. “In the evenings or during the day, there was always music being made there, everybody getting together and experimenting with sounds, having lots of fun, making music.” For Jake, meanwhile, it was “really awe-inspiring when you see this completely surrealistic environment, to see all these people from all over the place come together, and what brought them together was music. That was mind-blowing.”
It was Jake who turned that inspiration into Greta Van Fleet, drawing the idea from the likes of Cream, the Yardbirds, The Who and other 60s British Invasion favorites. “We liked to see how the English bands had reinterpreted the blues, and we wanted to interpret it again – Y’know, wouldn’t it be interesting if an American band came right back and reinterpreted the reinterpretation that the English did?” the guitarist explains. “I thought there was something there that needed to be created.”
Jake gradually assembled his brothers into a band. Sam was caught up when Jake began jamming at the family home with a drummer friend from school. “It dawned on me that I needed to play bass for them,” Sam says. “Plus,” he joked, “my mom always said I looked like a bass player.” Josh, meanwhile, was studying theater, film and painting at school, with acting giving him an ease on stage, as well as a voice, that made him a no-brainer to be Greta Van Fleet’s frontman. “It wasn’t something I set out to particularly do. But it felt pretty natural,” he says now.
Danny Wagner, a friend of Sam’s since kindergarten, became the last piece of the Greta Van Fleet puzzle, joining a year after the group started, after being a regular at the Kiszka house for jams and rehearsals. “We all have similar taste in music and that helps a lot,” Wagner notes. “But at the same time, we have these little differences in what we like, and when it comes together it produces this sound. It’s got that classic kind of vibe, but it has a lot of soul, a lot of energy, and that’s a huge part of it.”
You won’t find a better description of the four songs on Greta Van Fleet’s EP, recorded at Rust Belt Studios in suburban Detroit with producers Al Sutton (Kid Rock, Hank Williams Jr.) and Marlon Young from Kid Rock’s Twisted Brown Trucker Band. The introduction runs a gamut from the dusty grind of “Highway Tune” to the sinewy punch of “Safari Song” and the muscular crunch of “Black Smoke Rising.” “Flower Power,” meanwhile, is a trippy sonic tapestry that weaves psychedelic and folk textures into the mix. “No limits, no barriers, no boundaries,” Jake declares. “It was like that when we were growing up, and it’s like that when we’re making our own music.”
Listen closely and you’ll also hear the flavor of a small, tight-knit community seeping into the group’s songs. “I think it has a huge presence in the music,” Josh says. “It’s this romantic, simple, Americana kind of thing, like Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn growing up outside of town in the country.”
The good news is there’s more where these four songs came from. The group has been in the studio for about two years now, with nearly 20 tracks down and more coming every day. “We’ve been writing since Josh and I were 16 and Sam and Danny were 13,” Jake says. “We have so many songs we’re working on it’s ridiculous. We’re just trying to develop and get better. That’s very important to us.” So is playing live, where Greta Van Fleet has been slaying audiences with an electrifying show that sounds more like a band that’s been around for decades rather than just a few years. The group can’t wait to take it around the country, and around the world in support of the EP, showing off the big sound this band from a little town can make whenever it hits the stage.
“It’s really happened so quickly. It’s definitely overwhelming and exciting – and it’s awesome,” says Wagner. “All these things are happening – the record deal, management, William Morris (booking agency). It’s slowly starting to build up, and we’re starting to get that fever. We’re itching to show everybody who we are and what we can do.”
‘From The Fires’ Official Press Release
LOS ANGELES, CA — Friday, November 10, 2017 — Credited as the breakout rock band of 2017, today Greta Van Fleet – Josh Kiszka/vocals, Jake Kiszka/guitars, Sam Kiszka/bass & keys, Danny Wagner/drums – celebrates the release of its double EP From The Fires (Lava/Republic Records), available digitally and as a physical disc. For a taste, check out the brand new “A Change Is Gonna Come” here. Use this link to access the entire release via outlets like iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, more.
The eight-track From The Fires combines four new tracks recorded in September at Rust Belt Studios in Detroit – two GVF original songs, “Talk on the Street” and “Edge of Darkness,” and two covers, Sam Cooke’s emotional “A Change Is Gonna Come” and “Meet On The Ledge” by the late 60’s folk rock band Fairport Convention – with the four songs from the band’s debut EP, Black Smoke Rising, released earlier this year. From The Fires was produced by the same duo that helmed Black Smoke Rising, Al Sutton and Marlon Young. As Greta Van Fleet vocalist Josh Kiszka said, “These eight songs belong together as they share a theme of basic humanity.”
The From The Fires track listing is as follows:
1. Safari Song
2. Edge of Darkness
3. Flower Power
4. A Change Is Gonna Come
5. Highway Tune
6. Meet On The Ledge
7. Talk On the Street
8. Black Smoke Rising
The four new recordings shine a light on some of the band members’ earliest musical influences, the blues, soul and funk of artists like Muddy Waters, Joe Cocker, Sam & Dave, Howlin’ Wolf and Wilson Pickett. As Screamer magazine said in its From The Fires review, “These new tunes show how much Greta Van Fleet is really capable of and how deep the talent runs.”
According to Josh, “Edge of Darkness” is about “the bravery behind the compassion that we feel for each other. One of the lyrics is ‘I’ve got love in my heart,’ and I think, as a global community, it’s a spiritual thing to share all that we have together. Giving love is giving power.”
Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” is one that has special meaning for the band. When Josh and twin brother/guitarist Jake first heard it, they thought it was a song they’d like to cover, but never did. Fast forward a few years and ironically, co-producer Marlon Young suggested they cover it for this release. “All of us are very affected by oppression of any type,” said Josh, “cultural, racial, sexual. I’ve never experienced what Sam Cooke did so I have to admit, it was a little difficult for me, getting behind the mic, but I did it because singing this song meant a lot to me.” As Icon vs Icon wrote about this track, “This is where the group truly shows they are like no other. This isn’t simply a rock song, or even blues, it’s a gospel ballad that will move even the toughest soul.”
Josh has always connected with folk songs, with their beautiful melodies and harmonies and is a big fan of late ‘60s folk-rock groups like Spyro Gyra, Pentangle and Fairport Convention. “Meet On The Ledge” was composed by Fairport Convention’s Richard Thompson. “I was on a train going to New York,” he recalls, “and on the way, I listened to an entire decade of Fairport Convention’s music. ‘Meet On The Ledge’ was the fourth or fifth track I heard and it caught me by surprise. I was absolutely entranced, the verse and chorus blew my mind.”
About “Talk On The Street,” Josh describes it as “a fun song, full of catchy riffs and dynamic drums, kind of an ambiguous wild ride, a real rock’n’roll song.”
Greta Van Fleet Social Media Links (click to view)