It only takes a few seconds of listening to Greta Van Fleet's debut EP, Black Smoke Rising to realize that they're making some of the most unique and exciting rock music today. Once you find out that two of these four young men are barely eighteen while the other two are only in their early twenties, it's just icing on the cake. These young musicians will easily transport you back in time with their gritty, classic rock 'n' roll sounds, but keep things interesting with a youthful energy that will thrust them into the spotlight within no time.
Made up of three siblings and a longtime childhood friend, Greta Van Fleet are a close-knit group influenced heavily by 60's and 70's blues and rock 'n' roll and currently, they're gearing up for a busy year of touring and playing music. If you're still not sold, learn a little bit more about the band and listen to some of their tunes below - they're sure to change the game this year, and you're going to want to know their name.
Interview by Dom Vigil
Can you tell us a little bit about Greta Van Fleet for any readers who might not be familiar?
Danny Wagner [drums]: We are a rock band from Frankenmuth, MI. There are four of us – Josh Kiszka on vocals, Jake Kiszka on guitar, Sam Kiszka plays bass and keyboards, and I play drums. Josh and Jake are twins and Sam's their younger brother. I've known Sam since kindergarten, but we became friends in late middle school – that's when we started playing music together. At the time, I played guitar. I’d started playing when I was six with a guitar that my grandparents bought me. I would go over to Sam’s house and jam, that’s where I met Josh and Jake. This was my first experience collaborating with other musicians, and it was pretty life-changing for me. I felt very comfortable and I remember thinking that this was something I could definitely do for the rest of my life. I wasn’t in the band yet, but after awhile of jamming together, we just knew that the four of us worked.
The band’s first drummer decided to leave the band, I think that playing music just wasn’t a priority for him. Jake knew that I also played drums so he texted me and asked if I’d be interested in joining the band. I remember it was a school night, I was at home in my room when I got that text. It was another life-changing moment for me.
You guys have been writing music together for quite a while now and just released your debut EP, Black Smoke Rising. What are some important things you’ve learned from one another that you feel have helped make this EP the best debut possible?
When I first joined the band, it still wasn’t set in stone for me mentally. It was hard for me to grasp that I actually was a part of this band that I had wanted to be a part of for a long time. I think just getting to know Josh and Jake was one of the biggest things that helped me. I’m the only one who’s not a brother, so I needed to learn their individual personalities. Jake and Josh have opposite personalities, so Sam and I are the ones who can see things from both sides, and therefore help everyone understand one another a little better. When we went into the studio to record the EP, I had zero experience and the brothers had minimal. We all learned so much from our producer Al Sutton who helped us tremendously. We learned how recording works, the best ways to approach an idea, and how to get certain sounds.
I think one of the coolest things about the EP is that classic vibe it has going on. You don’t really hear that a lot in modern music. Where do you guys draw your musical influences from?
Before I really got to know the brothers, I thought I was the only one who loved classic rock. Finding out that they shared the same musical interests was so cool. We all have our own influences, and it’s an eclectic mix, but the core influences we all share are blues, rock and roll, classic 60s and 70s teenage hippie angst. That’s where our style comes from. Nowadays, there aren’t a lot of songs that have real drums in them, so we learned our instruments from the legends of that classic era.
Was there anything you really wanted to accomplish with the songs on Black Smoke Rising?
Three of the four songs on the EP were written two and half to three years ago – ‘Highway Tune’ was the first song we wrote and recorded. I look at those songs as ‘our youthful stage.’ The song ‘Black Smoke Rising’ was written in the last year. So I’d like people to be able to see our development. For me, there is such a huge difference energetically and spiritually, between ‘Highway Tune’ and ‘Black Smoke Rising.’
You guys have kind of grown up while writing these songs. How do you feel you’ve grown or evolved as musicians since first forming the band to now?
Our vocals and style of writing has changed, we’ve matured. Our tastes in music and literature and our collective influences have expanded. Change is good, we’re learning more about the world and the people around us. Our lyrics sound like what’s going on in the world today.
With Black Smoke Rising out now, you guys are currently on the road with The Struts! What are you most excited about on these upcoming tour dates?
The Struts have been so nice to us. They introduced themselves to us on the first night of the tour and have been just great. Everything about this tour is exciting. I’ve always wanted to travel the world and I want to play music for the rest of my life, so to be able to put both of those together really is a dream come true. I never thought I’d see Niagara Falls and play a show on the same night! Every one of our shows has gotten better and better, and we’re learning a lot. We set up and tear down our own equipment so we’ve found that organization is the key – everything from labeling every piece of equipment to the way we pack the van, it’s all about persistence and organization. Also, you’ve got to know your body really well; we’re all traveling together in a tiny van, there’s not much oxygen room, we sleep when we can to make sure we’re rested so we can do it all again the next day.
Do you have any other big plans for the rest of the summer or the rest of the year?
We’ll still be touring. We’ve got a lot of festivals coming up this summer and we’ll be doing more recording for our first album. Just more traveling and more music.