Interview and Show Review
***Re-edited and posted from an interview of August 2017.
Blood is thicker than water and talent is greater than trend. I arrived in time to hear some of the warm-up and was immediately immersed into the nu-retro sounds, though they weren’t quite happy with the technical aspects just yet. It was clear that the live show was going to be a real experience. So, this is Greta Van Fleet. Touted as the next big name in rock music and (more recently) even familiar to the likes of Robert Plant and Tom Hanks, I see a stage of talented youth who might know what they want more than they know who they are, but with the world willing to wait and see, they have it all the the palm of their blistered hands.
The instrumentalists left the stage, while Josh stays behind to finalize some details, and I get my first face-to-face with the band members.
Danny and Sam, these neo-flower children, with a peace sign necklace on the former and hippie-long locks all around, are the first that I meet. A couple of handshakes later, we’re immersed in a conversation about Abbey Road, which is a just delightful conversational topic at any time, but it’s especially nice with musicians. They apologize for the warm-up running late and I assure them that it’s all fine, glad to see their meteoric shoot to rock stardom have left them still as polite as you’d expect some guys from the Polka capital of Michigan to be.
Jake, guitar in hand, walks over, “This was all Sam’s fault. I don’t know how yet, but it was.” He also apologizes for running late, because we’re working with gentlemen here. Long-haired freaky people need not worry about applying themselves; we’re a lot more accepting these days. Picking up on the Beatles conversation, he begins to strum a bit of Blackbird, stylized. We joke about how I’m going to title the article “It Was All Sam’s Fault” [Editor’s Note: We’re not doing that.] and we get back into our love and respect of the Beatles and other musicians. There’s a greenness to this experience. They still have that enthusiasm of the newness of being interviewed as band members that makes the excitement infectious, even though we’re just shooting the breeze at this point.
Midconversation with the instrumentalists and I hear someone try to introduce themselves to me with my own name. The lead singer, Josh, joined our little cohort. My sarcastometer was not ready for this. I quickly learned that while every member of Greta Van Fleet has a personality that could fill a room, Josh has something to say about everything and he usually does it in an unexpected way.
After failing to complete the joke and introduce myself as him, we had a laugh, then were told that we would need to relocate for the interview.
We chit-chat in an over-full elevator to the basement. There are worse ways to break the ice as we already establish a humor to the situation at hand. Soon enough, seated in a rough circle, we are ready to begin.
“It’s like a Breakfast Club,” begins Josh. If you had any doubts about the authenticity of the retro feel this band exudes, you lose it within 10-seconds of being around them. References to years far past are commonplace among them, especially outspoken Josh. At one point, he even refers to me as “Baba Wawa” in a Gilda Radner throwback voice. They come as close to having an understanding of the era that made the music theirs echoes popular as they can for people born years after it ended, but there’s still an edge that reminds you that they are in or barely out of their teenage years in this modern era as the time passes. This edge gives a hope for their future music, it says they will grow into themselves and their sound, even more than how well they own it now.
The pre-show energy is evident, as they tend to answer questions as a unit. This interview has been edited and condensed in an attempt to provide some sense of order and because there aren’t enough letters in the Latin alphabet for all of the sounds and noises they made.
As a background, if you are unaware, Greta Van Fleet is made up of twins Jake (lead guitar, 21) & Josh (lead vocals, 21), their brother, Sam (bass & keyboard, 18), and their friend Danny (drums, 18). They’ve all been playing most of their lives. That, along with some natural talent and creativity, accounts for the amazing skill they have at a remarkable age. Their sound is often compared to Led Zeppelin, particularly due to the lead singer’s wailing vocals and penchant for hitting high pitches, so that’s what I start with in…
Interviewer (to Josh): So how do you feel about the Robert Plant comparisons?
Josh: I’m alright with that, you know? He’s probably one of the better singers.
Interviewer: It didn’t get old yet?
Josh: No, no. I mean, anything can get old, but I get it, because it sounds a lot alike. Probably because when I was listening to Led Zeppelin, I was like, “There’s a lot of power behind that, how does he do that?” and a lot of those soul singers do that, where they can just belt that stuff. So it was like that is the best way to sing to get that power behind it. He’s one of my favorite singers, too, one of my heroes.
Interviewer (to all): How has your experience been with fans so far?
They all answered in a jumble of grateful comments, so I asked a more direct question.
Interviewer: You already have a decent following, is there anything you’d like your fans to know about how to interact at signings or meet-and-greets?
Jake: I like when they’re not as, you know, overbearing, because it’s easier to connect.
Josh: Ultimately, it’s like, they love what we do and it’s the appreciation of our art and our work, so it’s kind of a huge compliment- the fact that they appreciate that, so I think that we’re all super grateful for it, we like to talk to them.
Interviewer: You’ve talked about having a very organic song-writing process. How would things change if a member of the band took over as a dictator of the creative lead?
Josh: Well, it wouldn’t be art anymore. It would be SHIT!
Interviewer: How do you balance shows and being on the road with life and sleep?
Jake: We don’t. We arrived at our hotel at 4 in the morning. It’s good that we’re young. We have to do all of this while we’re young, when we can kind of bounce back from it.
Josh: Just get as much sleep as you can and just deal with it.
Danny: It was hard at first, but it’s so fun. It’s so overwhelming and fun, you don’t even think about the sleep. Until after the tour, that’s when you crash, but during it all, it’s just *clap, clap* you get a momentum going. It’s fun. It’s not as hard as you think.
Josh: Not when you’re in it. I mean, if you’re thinking about it, the process itself, then it becomes intimidating, or it can be, but then when you’re surrounded by it all the time and it becomes your world, you accept it. If you fought it, you’d burn yourself out.
Interviewer (to Danny): I’ve read in other interviews that the Kiszca’s father was in the music scene and “gets” the band lifestyle. How have your parents taken to you being on the road?
Danny: Rather well.
Josh: Your mother plays the guitar
Danny: My mom plays the guitar. That’s kind of how I started. I started playing the guitar. She had an old 12-stringer she had since the ‘70s and she took lessons as a kid. Her dad, my grandfather, he got her into lessons. I feel like the music part of me comes from my mom’s side of the family.
Sam: His dad actually told me one time, he said, “I always thought it would be so cool if Daniel was in a band.”
S: Yeah, and he was like, “and not only a band now, but now it’s really going somewhere.” He always thought that, I always thought that that was funny.
Danny: I never heard that; that’s cool.
Interviewer: That’s awesome. Okay, guys, this one is important. Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck or one hundred duck-sized horses?
Danny: One horse sized duck. Definitely. Then you’d only have one thing to worry about.
Jake: I’d feel bad. Horses are beautiful. Ducks aren’t as beautiful.
Jake: Well, what’s our weapon?
Interviewer: What weapon would you like?
Jake: If I was fighting a duck the size of a horse, I would want a 12-gauge.
Danny: How about a fencing sword. I would fence the duck.
Josh: *funny voice* It would bite your leg off.
Jake: It would swallow you whole.
Danny: It could try.
Josh: *focusing again* That’s the answer we’ve got for ya.
Interviewer: Do any of you have any secret talents?
[I can not account for how much of the following is accurate and how much was sarcastic or joking. You have been warned.]
Sam: I can play the fiddle… with my feet.
Interviewer: Can you really?
Jake: I’m accurate with a bottle cap.
Interviewer: Why don’t you use that to take out the horse-sized duck?
Danny: I was just thinking about the horse sized duck.
Josh: Yeah, flaming bottle caps! *machine gun noises*
Jake: I’m the tortilla tossing champion of Michigan.
Interviewer: Of all of Michigan?
Josh: Yeah. Digest that!
Danny: Sam plays the swinette.
Sam: I do play the swinette. I can also eat 12 hot dogs in a minute.
Danny: Are you kidding?
Sam: No. I’m dead serious.
Josh: I won the first place for the dugout shelter of Michigan … championship. Basically, if there was a fallout, I’d be the one you’d want to go to.
Interviewer: Does Michigan just have a bunch of random championships as a state?
Jake: Yeah, I guess. There’s not much… I mean, you can just chop wood up there. You’ve got that.
They begin talking faster and over each other.
Danny: Sam can tie the most knots in a minute.
Sam: That’s true. (pause) I was a boy scout. I know my knots.
Josh: Danny, were you a boy scout?
Jake: We were all boy scouts.
Josh: And I was the dugout shelter champion.
Danny: You guys were cub scouts.
Josh: The, uh, tri-city regional champion.
The conversation begins to get weird, which can be fun, but I attempt to get us back on track, due to time constraints.
Interviewer: What about Weird habits.
Sam: I bit my toenails.
Interviewer: That means you can reach your foot to your face.
Sam: (pause) Yeah.
Jake: So, that’s a good one.
Josh: Weird habits, weird habits. Not any strange ones. Like I think too much, that’s a habit, right?
Interviewer: I think that counts. That’s pretty common among musicians.
Jake: We all do that. I have a habit of sleepwalking at night, so whoever’s room I’m in, I’ll be standing above them with a bow and arrow stretched out. *laughing* Actually, as a real one, when I’ve been asleep before, I have a habit of playing.
Josh: Actually, yeah, I’ve seen that, like maybe once or twice, I’ve seen him doing this *air guitar*. He’s playing the guitar in his sleep.
Dan: Josh, you’ll hum melodies in your sleep.
Josh: Really? We all make music in our sleep!
Danny: Remember that one time you walked in and you said I was drumming?
Josh: Your foot was moving, too. Sam’s the only one I don’t think I ever saw doing it.
Sam: ‘Cause I’m too focused when I sleep.
Josh: Sam’s the only one out of all of us that can just lay down on a pillow and be out.
Interviewer: That is definitely a talent to me.
Danny: I just fall asleep randomly. *laughs*
Interviewer: That’s called narcolepsy.
Josh: You should probably get that checked out.
Danny: Yeah, before I just fall asleep onstage. *laughs*
Interviewer (to Sam): What about the not wearing shoes, is that a habit?
Sam: It’s not really a habit, it just kind of happens.
Danny: We probably have 50 pictures of him like that.
Sam: My feet were really hot.
Jake: We would have mentioned it earlier, but it’s just so… we’re immune to it. We don’t really notice it.
S: My feet were really hot, so I just took my shoes off. That’s how that really happens.
Interviewer: Do you think that learning to play in a more organic setting affected your technique?
Sam: When you’re taught something by a music teacher, they’re teaching you, basically, how to play, and I think that when you’re given the ability to try to learn something on your own that you basically have a moredirect connection to some of your influences.
Josh: I think a good analogy is when Orson Welles was asked, “How is it you could make Citizen Kane?” something like that, and he said “Ignorance, sheer ignorance.” Not knowing how to make a movie is the reason he made those choices he made.
Jake: I think when you learn things by ear, they’re more instilled in your soul, rather than just knowing it in your brain, when somebody shows you how to do something. It wasn’t really a choice, that we said, “Oh, I’m going to learn to play bass, you know, on my own.” My dad had one sitting around and I started playing with it a little bit.
Sam: Then Daniel started to play drums last week.
Interviewer: Which is weird, because the tour was longer than that.
Daniel: Yeah, it’s a weird thing where I just tend to forget and relearn all of it.
Interviewer: If you had an unlimited budget and resources, what would your dream video be for any of your songs?
Josh: Anywhere that we would be able to travel outside of the United States.
Jake: I think going through a Safari in Africa. Thick jungle.
Josh Maybe shooting with some of the ancient tribes.
Danny: Maybe South America, in the rainforest.
Josh: Discovering ancient societies. Could be f***in’ dangerous.
Jake: *Nods to me.* We’ll take her, too, she’s a journalist. She knows what she’s doing.
Interviewer: I’m game. Let’s go, haha.
Jake: That’s all you need.
Josh: You just need a journalist and a film crew.
Jake: I’d like to film a video in space.
Danny: No one’s ever done that.
Interviewer: That would be fantastic.
We get the 5 minute signal, so I move on to my last question.
Interviewer: What message or advice would you give to young musicians working towards making a career out of music?
Josh: Don’t do it. Don’t do it! Nah, I think persistence, really. I think if you have great passion and great truth in what you’re doing, if it means that much to you, then persistence and never stopping is probably the most important thing that you can do.
Danny: Don’t ever let anyone tell you how to do what you do good.
Jake: Play, play, play, play, and never stop playing.
Josh: If it feels right, follow it, and never stop. If you do, the whole universe will conspire to your advantage.
With that hopeful end and overhearing that this was “definitely the most entertaining interview we’ve ever gotten” (*pats self on the back*), we parted ways and I went back upstairs to wait for the show to begin.
Catch some bonus facts at the end of the article that were discussed apart from the main interview questions.
The opening bands were far from what you’d expect to open for a band that is being touted as the next Led Zeppelin. The first opener, Rahway, was like late nineties garage metal trickled into the present.
The second opener was another complete change in direction. Goodbye June is another band that, while undeniably now, have that heavy, classic, Southern rock sound. I later found out that the lead singer and guitarists are cousins, so they have more in common with GVF than just having a lot of talent and energy playing a throwback sound.
The Headliner: Greta Van Fleet
Then our headliner took to the stage. In vintage-style outfits that they looked surprisingly natural in, the four of them were ready to play.
They began with the energetic “Talk on the Street”, showing off a barrage of guitar and drum beats that almost fight with the vocals for attention. Though the song is not on the EP and not as well known, it got everyone’s attention and set the mood for the rest of the performance. Their EP’s namesake, “Black Smoke Rising”, rose out of that energy. The crowd really got into it then, singing along with every word.
The subsequent songs, “Edge of Darkness”, where Jake skillfully plays his guitar behind his head, and “When the Cold Wind Blows” kept the energy up, even though being lesser known. The thing is, these songs speak for themselves. You don’t need to know the words, you don’t need to know the melody, you don’t need to have heard them before. They are infectious. They are what live music is supposed to be- youthful, classic, rock. Could they be more refined? Sure. Should they be? No. Not yet. Let these kids be young and play music that possesses the energy of their predecessors. The room to grow is one of the most exciting parts for a new band, but even if this is to be all the music they ever release (knock on wood), it’s amazing for what it is. Skillful, raw rock and roll. I don’t need anything more than that.
Another EP hit, “Flower Power”, induced a total light and airy feeling in the room. A love ballad may seem premature for such a young band, but you have to remember that they have been playing together for four years (the Kiszca brothers, even longer than that) and grew up on the classics- literally using the classics to learn and hone their craft. Besides, the phrase “out of sight” is used effortlessly and you can not find fault in that. I’ll be openly biased here. I’m a huge proponent for bringing back certain phrases to common vernacular and “outta sight” is fairly high on that list, but Flower Power is amazing even aside from those words.
They played another lovey song, “You’re the One”, before a rendition of Willie Dixon’s’ “Evil”. The Dixon song choice, considering that he was also a known inspiration of Led Zeppelin, was nicely meta. As Josh’s vocals are far from the only comparable quality to Zep, the next song, Mountain of the Sun, played on some of those classic, transcendental lyrics that they were so known for, which was followed by dreamy “Watching Over”, which has a stop/start quality that goes right through your whole being.
They played another one of my favorites, Lover Leaver Taker Believer, before ending with the final two songs from their EP, “Highway Tune” and “Safari Song”. “Safari Song” may not have the deepest or most original song, but the way Josh enunciates “your heart” while shrieking the chorus is one of the most head-bangable parts of any song in their line up.
These guys are born performers.
Josh, who demands control of the stage, has an innate character quality that he is sure of himself in. Almost snarling between verses and smiling in what must be an almost unconscious reverie at times, exposing enviably nice teeth, he clearly enjoys what he does. His twin, Jake, has an obvious comfort in his practiced playing and has an equally powerful, if not quite as overt, stage presence. He chooses his moments to shine to meld with the music naturally. Their little brother, Sam, has a quiet quality that reminded me of a young George Harrison, which is no minor quality in my book. Watch out for this one, especially if he ever takes a spiritual journey. He might take his effortless exchange from bass to keys (and swinette?) over to the sitar next and I’ll look forward to hearing all of the music that comes out of it. Finally, Danny, their band-brother. This kid makes a drum solo worth paying attention to. His energy adds to the energy that penetrates the performance and is definitely not one to follow the drummer stereotype of just sitting in the background. I can’t speak for the entire room of fans, but the girls next to me were very vocal about their adoration for the drummer.
Led Zeppelin is the obvious comparison, but there are notes of many other bands here, as well as their own style. You have a replacement drummer, the potential for more complex songwriting skills, and a fabulous number of band members, which is very Beatles.
At the end of the day, you have to remember that this is GVF’s first foray into rock stardom. So the melodies and lyrics are very reminiscent of bands that could feature easily in Woodstock with a heavier, almost metal, aspect mixed in, but that gives them room to grow from their roots. There has been a lot of noise surrounding these dudes and it is worthwhile, but as we could really use a good rock music renaissance, let’s not let this one burn out. I, for one, am going to keep my eye out for what comes next and I more than hope, I expect that their music and performances will get more intense, more unique, and more themselves as time goes on. They have their whole future ahead of them and they really have every opportunity to grab hold of it and take it for all that it’s worth. It would be easy for them to rest on their laurels and comparisons to an idyllic time past, but if they want to make it or grow as musicians, they wouldn’t do that and I don’t see it happening. That’s exciting. Anything could be coming next.
Let’s all give them the support and hope that they will take it and run, because we will all be better off for it.
Rock on, my dreamers, and give these kittens another listen.
You’ll be glad you did. I am.
- Josh is the older twin, beating Jake out by about 5 minutes.
- The band has a goal to sell out Madison Square Garden.
- Jake rewired some of his wrist muscles by continuing to play guitar after a wrestling-related injury Despite the protest of his mother, it ended up being pretty therapeutic.
- Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin knows who they are and talked about them in a recent Rolling Stones article.
- Their song writing style is organic and usually happens quickly.
- Danny is the only band member who isn’t related by blood, but he is essentially a brother to the rest at this point.
- They have many inspirations for lyrics, including some “nerdy” ones, such as Nietzsche.
- Sam is most comfortable playing without shoes on. A true hero.
Since the initial writing of this article, the band’s music has been featured on Spotify, in various TV shows, from Shameless to Lucifer and even The Tonight Show, played dozens of sold out shows and festivals, including Coachella, where they won the approval of Tom Hanks (what more do you really need in life?), and released their second EP, From the Fires.
Their highly anticipated first album comes out tomorrow!
Go and listen.