Greta Van Fleet’s Jake Kiszka Talks ‘Black Smoke Rising’ EP, British Invasion Influence + More
There's a new name that you should know in rock and they're just starting to turn some heads. Greta Van Fleet is not a person, but rather a four-piece band hailing from Frankenmuth, Mich. The group features a trio of brothers -- singer Josh, guitarist Jake and bassist Sam Kiszka -- and their friend from school -- Danny Wagner -- on drums. The band has garnered comparisons to Led Zeppelin with Josh's Robert Plant-esque voice and their blues-infused rock style, but their influences run even deeper into the British Invasion era.
The group has started making waves with the single "Highway Tune" off their Black Smoke Rising EP and we had a chance to dig a little deeper while speaking with guitarist Jake Kiszka (pictured above far right) about the band. We discuss the growing buzz surrounding the group, the evolution of the band during their teen years, working with some vets from Kid Rock's Twisted Brown Trucker band on their new disc and what it was like hitting the road for their first major tour. Check out the chat below:
We had a chance to premiere your "Highway Tune" video here at Loudwire and we're digging what we're hearing from the EP. It's great to see the band blowing up and wanted to get your reaction to seeing all the positive response so far.
Well, the reaction, it's so overwhelming. It's surely, like I don't think that any of us truly particularly expected something like this. This certain reaction to the music that we're making, yeah it's quite elating. We're all very excited seeing the reactions.
Getting into a little bit of the history of the band. It's you and your brothers and one of your friends from school. Can you talk about the formation of the band? How far along were you before you realized we should really start up a band.
Well, it started off my sophomore year of high school. I had an idea of what I wanted do and to to put together and what I wanted it to sound like. So I was in jazz band at that time, and I got my friend Kyle and I asked him if he wanted to ... play drums with me. It was just the two of us in the garage around that time and Josh just started coming out singing and Sam started coming out playing bass and then eventually that would have been about a year with the four of us playing shows. Eventually it came to this turning point where over the course of time, the original drummer wasn't capable of keeping up to a certain level.
So, we had to move him out and Daniel came right and it was like it's a very obvious choice. It was great because Danny would come over to jam and he just knew ... he showed up and played all of my riffs that I written and I had no idea how he'd do that if he hadn't gone to all the shows. But he knew all the material, so at that point we brought Danny in, so from right off the bat, as soon as the four of us were together, we thought that it was time to do something more serious with our music.
The first time I heard your music, it's like, "This guy sounds like Robert Plant, this is awesome," and then I see that it's this kid, your brother. How wild was it the first time you heard your brother sing and that voice comes out?
That was quite something, you know! We grew up just singing all the time, we were just always singing the car. It's very natural. We grew up in a very creatively free environment, so we were surrounded by a lot of artists and encouraged to do so. We'd sing all the time and it was that I had just never really heard him belt. I'd heard him humming or singing around and so when we finally had everything together and we basically electrified everything, he came in and we were playing some covers and he came in with that with that belt and we looked at each other and thinking, like holy s--t man! You didn't know that he had that inside him. That's just how he sounds, so yeah, that was a shocking moment. It was very, very cool.
I'm guessing Led Zeppelin's an influence, but after reading up on the band, I see you also love stuff like Wilson Pickett, Joe Cocker and a lot of those late 60s/early 70s influences. Where does your musical background come from?
Oh that’s totally for sure where Josh's influence comes -- from a very soul and funk influence so yeah a lot of those are Josh's influences. The one common ground that we all share as far as our influences goes is the blues. We're all equally inspired by the blues. That's what we've all listened to together. Coming from that I was always fascinated by Muddy Waters, Elmore James you know, the heavy, heavy guys, those great blues acts and then another thing I was quite fascinated by, and I think we all were, was the British Invasion and the British interpretation of the blues. That was really cool to see them take it to that point. So being the influence that it is, for us its the blues and the British Invasion. And I think it's great because we've kind of come up with the idea of reinterpreting the material from that era, which I think is great.
In your own research of the music and the players of the British Invasion, what did you pick up that you can apply to what you're doing musically?
Yeah, I mean there's so many different techniques. I mean I don't think that music today or the last 30 years has there been such creativity in technicality you know,. So as far as my vantage point and playing guitars a lot of those guys like Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix you know, Jimmy Page and and a lot of the brilliant -- Keith Richards, definitely Keith Richards and Eric Clapton there's another great one. Even though Hendrix wasn't British ... but like say Clapton, he took a lot of what was being done traditionally original blues or roots blues which is the stuff we were listening to, before we even knew over the British Invasion was.
So listening to all those tunes of things, and basically at 15, I'm getting into electric guitar and seeing them speeding it all up. I wanted to hear Buddy Guy licks and riffs, so it's all of those reinterpreted things. They're taking what was their premise, what was original, and now you consider it blues, but you kind of have to listen to the original stuff to be able to really reinterpret it. So listening to that, for me personally taking riffs and taking the licks and just flipping it upside and doing everything I can to decide the poetry of it, treading on new water I suppose would be the best answer for that question.
I see Al Sutton and Marlon Young from Kid Rock's Twisted Brown Trucker Band came in and worked with you guys on this record -- more Michigan guys. Can you tell me about what it meant to have those guys with that background and that input helping you out on this record?
Yeah, it was really phenomenal. We'd been to a couple of studios and with the idea of maintaining our own thing. You see people getting that and people always yelling at the producers or yelling at the engineers, "Let's keep it this way or something," But Al, we worked with him for about a year and then Marlon steps in and he also brought in Herschel, who also works with Marlon and Kid Rock's band. Herschel came in and helped Josh with vocals.
But it was phenomenal because basically up until a half ago we had zero ... I mean we had very little knowledge of how the studio works. It was very steep learning curve so I would like to say that now we're all bit more seasoned and I think we can attribute that to Marlon and Al and Herschel and those guys. I mean there's so much insight that they've brought to the table with a lot of the songs and really fearless ability to have a more open mind about changing things. So yeah, they've brought a lot of maturity to the to the work.
Given your young age, it's hard to fathom that "Highway Tune" is a song that you guys have had around for actually had quite a while. Can you talk about the origins of that song and finally seeing it come through to its finished form?
Yeah, that had been recorded before previously in Metro 37, which was the name of the studio, and I'd written that riff maybe six or seven years ago. I had just started writing songs and music and started building how I would structure songs. That was one of the first riffs that I'd ever written. I took one of my dad's harmonica amps and plugged in a Gibson SG to it and I sat down and work that out. After five minutes, it came and I was like "Okay, well that's a riff then." (laughs). That's going to be the base of the song. So I'd written that riff about seven years ago approximately and then I've brought it to the table five years ago with that first lineup and then with Danny in the band we formatted it, we recorded it and we've demoed it and we demoed it again at Rust Belt Studios and recorded it there and then that would be the final product. So it's gone through a journey, that song.
You just came off the road playing some dates with the Struts. I would think that would be a great bill. Can you talk a little bit about the experience?
That was a phenomenal tour. I think the pairing was perfect ... I mean it was fantastic because The Struts are such nice guys you know, very humble -- they weren't a--holes (laughs), which is nice, and we haven't encountered any of those yet. It's always weird when you set out on your tour and then the first few days you're looking around a bit weary like looking for that one a--hole because there always seems to be one, but that didn't happen in this case. Everyone was fantastic.
Yeah, I really didn't expect to have the kind of reaction that we did so far, being the East Coast, but even in America having the crowd response we've had, the audience would just explode after every song. And then at the end of the set it'd explode and then we'd go load our equipment out five minutes later and they're still screaming, so we went out cause, you know, as an opener you don't get an encore of course but we go out there and throw some sticks, picks and whatever. But that was just fantastic.
Can you talk a little bit about what's on the horizon for the band at this point? More tour dates? Might we see a full album coming?
We can't talk too much about any of the music here but it's good to say up to 25 songs are already done. They're all equally solid you know. We wouldn't record something if it sounded like s--t. The material is there and there's quite a bit.
As far is summer is concerned, there is so much stuff going on ... We've got tons of festivals that are you know, being booked through summer. In Michigan, the National Cherry Fest, and we've got many festivals coming up. We’re all over the country which is great and by the end of the summer, throughout fall is the European tour that has been scheduled, as well. So, yeah, lots going on!
Our thanks to guitarist Jake Kiszka of Greta Van Fleet for the interview. As stated, the band's 'Black Smoke Rising' EP is available now at this location. Be sure to catch these rising rockers if they come to an area near you. Their tour dates can be found here.
Greta Van Fleet, "Highway Tune"