GRETA VAN FLEET – Like Everything (And Nothing) You’ve Heard Before

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There is an expression “an old man’s soul in a young man’s body.” With a keen sense of both music and the music business, as well as being unfailingly polite and articulate in conversation, Sam Kiszka exhibits a maturity far beyond his 18 years. Sam, who doubles on bass and keyboards, along with older twin brothers Jake (guitar) and Josh (vocals) plus drummer Danny Wagner comprise , a band out of rural Frankenmuth, Michigan who have recently released the astonishing four song EP Black Smoke Rising. In a mere four songs, these young adults have managed to channel the excitement and revolutionary spirit of music that was happening in the late 60’s, a full four decades before they were born.

Much of the credit has to go with being raised in a close family within a tight-knit community of just under 5,000 people. There was always music in the air. Their father was a musician, and at family gatherings there were frequent impromptu jam sessions. The Kiszka boys eagerly absorbed everything they heard, and over time molded those influences into their own unique sound.

When listening to the album, one is struck by the undeniable resemblance to Led Zeppelin. Given an unmarked CD, one could easily think it was collection of newly released Zeppelin tracks. Sam is well aware of that, but at the same time tries to distance himself from the comparison. “You know what? That’s been a big thing ever since we started. There were early inspirations that definitely correspond, but we tried to not take too much away. We really don’t want to be associated with…it’s like being a cover band or some kind of imitation.
We want to be musicians on our own merit. So yeah, that’s definitely been a big thing. People always say that. But we try not to grab that too hard.”

Musical groups containing siblings are not uncommon, but three brothers which include a set of twins…that’s definitely rare territory. The day the interview with Sam took place was National Siblings Day (yeah, there’s a holiday for everything) and he was asked if it’s difficult to be in a band structured in that manner, given that siblings don’t always see eye-to-eye.

Sam Kiszka

Sam Kiszka

“You know what? It’s really not. There used to be some fighting because we’re all very passionate about the music and we’re all very, let’s say, stubborn about our own ways. In the past couple years it’s definitely evened out and we’re able to communicate a lot better with each other, try each other’s stuff. But definitely in the early years, there were some problems. And sometimes we still get mad at each other, but the music’s always strong enough to bring us back together. And we live in the same house, three of us, so it makes it easy for practice because Danny just comes over and we play, we’re all here.”

Now about that band name…it’s definitely unusual, unique, and says very little about their music. For example, slip in a CD by Cannibal Corpse, and you pretty much know what type of music is going to come blasting out of your speakers. But the moniker is pretty cryptic. “That’s an interesting story,” says Sam. “It was four or five years ago. We were playing Auto Fest, which is a big festival in Frankenmuth. For Auto Fest, there’s thousands and thousands of people [who] come into town, this little 5,000 capacity town and it’s wild, it’s great. But we were gonna play there for the first time, that was our first real gig, and we didn’t have a band name or anything because we were just playing. We’d play at our buddy’s houses and for the grad parties or whatever.”

“So we’re all trying to think of a name and our drummer at the time was out at…I believe it was breakfast with his grandpa, it was the morning of the gig. And his grandpa was like…he said, “I have to go chop wood for Gretna Van Fleet after breakfast.” And Kyle’s like, ‘Oh, that’s tasty. Gretna Van Fleet.’ So he brought it to us and we took out the ‘N’ in Gretna, and then it just came out . And we haven’t really thought about it since, except maybe Josh. Josh doesn’t think that bands should have names because they’re all awkward,” laughs Sam.

For any band poised on the edge of success, that success comes with a price. It’s definitely rewarding when countless hours of practicing and gigging translate into increasing visibility and adulation. On the other hand, the demands on one’s time become more and more. There’s meetings with management, lawyers and record label personnel, interviews with the media to promote the music, more time away from home as tours are booked. Also, fans who have been following the band since the days of playing backyard parties can grow frustrated as “their” band grows in prominence and access becomes limited. All of the above can be a lot to handle for any musician, but a musician who’s still in high school? 

“Well honestly, it’s funny because one of my buddies actually said something about how sometimes I won’t get up for school, but if I have anything music related, I’m up and ready. So it’s definitely hard with the school, but we all are very dedicated to the band, we’re all dedicated to the music, getting the music out there and we’re all very aware that it’s our occupation. So we have no problem getting in there, getting everything ready on time. It has been a lot really fast, but you know what? It hasn’t seemed fast enough because it’s only three weeks in between the single and the EP.”

greta-van-fleet-black-smoke-rising-300px“And I am just so ready for it. I wanted the EP to come out the next day. But we were very, very fortunate with the people who are on board with us, and I can’t say that enough. All our mentors who’ve brought us this far, starting with our original manager and our new manager, our lawyer, all our PR, the label, they’re all so supportive and they watch out for us, and they make it so easy for us to get where we need to go with everything we need. And with the road maps they set out, it’s fabulous. It makes our job really great because we can just focus on the music.”

Of course, long before the professional support there was family support. Midwesterners are famous for their strong tradition of family values, and Sam says “I can’t be thankful enough. Our family has been so supportive. The Kiskas and the Wagners, they all come to the shows all the time. Until recently, our parents had been taking us everywhere. The support from our family is just…I can’t thank anybody enough for that.”

Being a four-piece band, playing live has its limitations. In the recording studio, anything is possible with countless overdubs but live, with only one guitarist there’s choices that have to be made with the arrangements. Some bands use touring musicians to supplement their sound, but GVF have chosen not to go that route. Sam’s keyboard playing helps, but as he explains, “Well, you have to think about them as two different things because a lot of the time, a band wants to completely duplicate what they sound like in a studio. And if they don’t do it right, then it’s really disappointing.”

L-R: Jake Kiszka, Danny Wagner, Josh Kiszka, Sam Kiszka

L-R: Jake Kiszka, Danny Wagner, Josh Kiszka, Sam Kiszka

“There’s a lot of bands like Lewis Del Mar, they have these crazy studio recordings. And you know what? They live up to it live because they have the right production on there and they make it its own, but it still stays true to what people are expecting. And for us, we have a hell of a lot of guitar overdubs that can’t be there because we stick with the four piece. So we just change some parts around, kind of cut some fat and we give it the energy that it needs to push past the recording thing, because after all, the songs were written with the arrangement. And it’s a little different for acoustic songs. I’m really a big fan of playing the acoustic songs, because most of the time I’m on keyboard for that.”

For the mere mortal musician who struggles to master just one instrument, musicians who can use all four limbs to simultaneously play rhythm and melody lines are definitely awe-inspiring. “Yeah, that always wowed me. I’m like, ‘Damn, yeah, I want to do that.’ I see these guys playing rhythm with their left hand and playing lead with their right hand and then swelling the volume with their right foot and then bass playing these ridiculous lines with their left foot, it’s insane. But yeah, I always loved that, so I kind of picked that up. I was a big fan of Ray Manzarek of the Doors, his bass lines.” Sam also cites James Oscar “Jimmy” Smith as an inspiration. Smith was a jazz musician who revolutionized the use of the keyboard in jazz, particularly in his use of both the keys and bass pedals. “Jimmy Smith was my inspiration, James Oscar Smith, he’s my man. I have a Hammond K2, which is a double tier, and I have a shitload of voices. And I play the bass with my feet, so I have a whole lot of headroom to shape that sound more, rather than just sitting more in the back with bass. So it’s a nice change up.”

Greta Van Fleet may be influenced by the music of the late ‘60’s, but their approach to distributing said music is strictly 2017. Rather than doing an LP, they will be releasing a series of EP’s, with Black Smoke Rising being the first. Also, there was no physical disc of Black Smoke Rising—it’s all digital. “You know what, man? I’m a big fan of the vinyl, the big foot by foot and you get this nice image. It’s a great piece, because what people love are physical things. But right now, the way I listen to music is I just stream it on Apple Music and it’s just so easy. And a lot of the time, people don’t bother to go out and buy that vinyl, that CD. But down the road, personally, I would absolutely love to do a vinyl release.”

L-R: Sam Kiszka, Josh Kiszka, Danny Wagner, Jake Kiszka

L-R: Sam Kiszka, Josh Kiszka, Danny Wagner, Jake Kiszka

Despite (or perhaps because of) their young age, the band has a ton of material in the can, so to speak. “For this cycle right now, we’re gonna do three EPs of four songs each and that’s gonna make an album. And I suppose after we’re done touring for the summer, we can get back in the studio and look at all of what we have, which is a shitload, because of the weird way that this all came together. We were in the studio for two years before we released Highway Tune. So we have a lot of material. We have a lot of demos of songs that we probably don’t even remember, and we have a lot of final stuff too. So yeah, we have two more albums worth of material ready right now.”

Given how mind-blowing, crazy scary unbelievably freaky good the first four songs we’ve heard are, what’s even more awe-inspiring is that this is just the first from Greta Van Fleet. It might be a good thing that Black Smoke Rising wasn’t released on vinyl, because you’d be wearing out those grooves pretty damn quickly by now.

CLICK HERE to read the latest interview with Greta Van Fleet.

http://gretavanfleet.com/
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29 thoughts on “GRETA VAN FLEET – Like Everything (And Nothing) You’ve Heard Before

    • Greta Van Fleet: Who cares what the name is which btw is the hardest thing any band ever has to do but just “Wow!” I am a 63 years young Rocker and my heart soars hearing these four songs except that…….I long to hear MUCH MORE!
      ROCK ON GUYS – LOVE IT!
      SEND MORE SONGS!

  1. The very First time I heard these 4 young men play I KNEW they were Blessed and Destined for Greatness !!! They are as humble, respectful and World Class Gentlemen !! I had the pleasure as well to have met their parents and are some of the nicest people you can ever meet, they all welcomed me like I was Family, I’ve been a DJ for a very long time and I have that “Ear” to know when that blend and certain sound comes from the Heavens and your ALL IN !!! and that’s Exactly how I felt when hearing GVF for the First time !! All my Best Wishes moving forward which I have no doubt that Josh, Jake, Sam and Danny are going to make Music that will be heard around the World !!! Respectfully, Dj Tony Rome

  2. I just heard of these guys yesterday on Sirius XM’s Octane channel while driving to a meeting for work…after the first 20 seconds or so I had cranked the volume waaaay up, I actually got chills…it was like something I had been waiting for but didn’t know it until I heard it. Just bought the first EP and have been playing it in my office and so far I’ve had four people stop by to comment how good the songs are, or ask what Zepplin song I was listening to…I typically play stuff like Dream Theater, Periphery, Tesseract and Animals as Leaders, and my colleagues just think I listen to weird music…but this morning has been quite different. Seriously looking forward to this band’s future!

  3. Their name is a strange coincidence. My mother’s name is actually Greta Van Fleet. She is 85 years of age and lives in a memory care facility in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Even though she will not remember, I cannot wait to show her the photos and tell her she has a rock band named after her. It will brighten her day.

  4. I can not express how excited I truly am to see these guys come out and kick ass in the music industry like I know they will. I never really get too excited over new bands, I’m always skeptical or only like a song or two..not everything (even though it’s only a few songs so far). GVF, the first time I heard these guys i couldn’t stop smiling and screaming along in the car with highway tune. Reading interviews and articles about them..they may not “love” the fact that they are undeniably similar to Zeppelin but the fact is that I, like so many others love Zeppelin and we find it refreshing to hear new music now that reminds us of back then, that kicks ass and that sticks out from everything else being produced today that’s so main stream. I actually get phiscially amped up when I hear these guys and can’t wait to see them live this summer. Wish them the best and as always; they’re welcome through my radio any and everyday.

    • Jamie, LOVE your enthusiasm and passion for music. GVF are truly a rare find, watch for their first Screamer Magazine cover at the end of this month. Thanks for reading Screamer we appreciate your support.

  5. Just saw them at Summerfest in Milwaukee on Saturday July 1st and I was totally impressed. Opening with Highway Tune and rocking that freakin’ stage.

  6. This is an Amazing band! I’m pumped about their future success. I’m still stupified and numbed that these guys are so talented at such a young age. They will pave the road for a new generation of rock! I haven’t been this blown away since Nirvana! I paid many times over the price of admission to see these guys in Nashville’s sold out show.
    I will be awaiting for this hammer of the gods rock band to grace our presence! Sincerely, Jason Hart

  7. Thought Highway Tune was some sort of newly discovered “lost” Zeppelin tune! I’m roadtripping to Sconi to catch these guys on the bar scene before they go huge.

  8. I “discovered” these guys when they opened for The Struts in Libertyville, IL. I knew nothing about them, and in my 32 years of seeing live music, I’ve never been blown away as much before by an opening band. What an incredible night of live music that was: 2 young bands on the rise, shortly before their stock would catch fire (GVF’s now headlining and The Struts are opening for Foo Fighters). I’m a lucky SOB to have seen that show.

  9. I just heard them for the first time today and can’t wait to find a show to catch them live. I am from Chicago so it’s nice to see some Midwestern guys out there!! There are plenty of places to play in the Windy City so please visit us again here! But your groove is so unique it would be cool to see you somewhere else too. You can rock out anywhere right?! And lastly, I love that 3 of you are brothers! I have two musician sons ages 13 (guitar) and 12 (drums). They’ve been playing together since they were 9 and 10. I can only hope they stick with it and take it to the next level like you guys have done! Wishing you much success and thank you for being original. People always have to compare you to something so being that it’s Zeppelin they are comparing you to isn’t too shabby!! I really liked what I heard and didn’t feel it was overly Zeppelin but you share that raw rock n roll vibe that is unmistakable and much needed in today’s music scene. Much love guys!!!

  10. I heard these guys music on the Howard Stern Show 3 days ago and can’t stop listening. As a long time Led Zeppelin fan, I appreciate their sound.

  11. First time I heard them I knew something was happening in music.
    Second time I heard them my skins was covered in chills.
    And now the voice just sings into my soul like the birds do in the wind.

  12. I drive for Uber and the first time I heard them, I jumped out of my seat and just cranked it!!. These guys are already great!!! I can’t get enough of reading about and rocking out to them. I’m in Denver and look forward to GVF rocking this wild growing (like crazy) city! Please get here soon.

  13. I absolutely love the music. So very cool I just simply dig it the most. And I’m 52 years old fn love it guys, keep on keeping on. It’s all about the music

  14. I, like many others, first heard Greta Van Fleet on XM Sirius radio and immediately reached for the volume control and CRANKED it! Yes, they do have a sound similar to Zep…but that is a good thing! I am a vocalist/guitarist who almost made it big in my heyday but let the party and the girls become more important than the music. I am now 60 years old and haven’t been in a band in years, but do record my own songs now and then. I say to these young and upcoming very talented guys, always put the music first. People will want to hang with you and be a part of your lives…be very careful of whom you let into your circle…do not let the party become more important than the music and your band of brothers! From one who’s been there…good luck to GVF and I’m very anxiously awaiting more great music from you guys. I am a fan for life!!

  15. I love them, I was a little man/confused because I thought they were Led Zeppelin when I heard them on the radio, but I just listened to the EP and I love it. Sam, your vocals are amazing, and I really think the world needs a band like yall right now. Keep it up guys, I need to hear some more songs!

  16. I am a purveyor of many genres of Music from my early years with a solid base in the Classic Rock slice….All I can say is ‘Holy Jesus!!!’ I immediately posted this band in my Music profile (Public) on G+ for others to hear!! From the country /rock rambling chords of Flower Power to the howling Safari Song…….F’ing Bravo, boys!!! I almost sprouted my own angel wings and flew over the hills and far away. Packing my bags brothers! Heading for your Mountain ♫♪

  17. I’d like to say WOW! I’ve listened to your music this year on Octane and you guys kick ass! I’m going to be 49 in October and as you might expect I’m a huge fan of Zepplin; but you move and sing in your own beat which is a great thing. I’m a fan and will be watching you at Aftershock in Sac!

  18. I just had the pleasure of hearing GVF for the first time today on the radio, and at first thought it was that other band I love that everyone else has already mentioned, except the music has a more modern sound. I live in Ontario Canada and would love the opportunity to see these guys live. GVF is a much needed refreshing take on the classic rock sound that I, and I’m sure many others, have been longing for. Keep crushin’ the competition 🙂

    • Also in Ontario. Heard them for the first time on Y108, I believe. Immediately blown away and had to look them up the second I got back to the office. Huge fan ever since and I push them on anyone that will listen to me rant about how amazing they are.

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