You know when a friend excitedly encourages you to check out their new favorite band and you do, and you’re not the least bit impressed? Doing the same thing with Greta Van Fleet brings about the complete opposite outcome. Vocalist Josh Kiszka, guitarist Jake Kiszka, bassist Sam Kiszka and drummer Danny Wagner, although only in their 20s, have created their own modern-day classic rock ‘n’ roll music, which routinely gives chills to anyone who listens. From climbing the charts to breaking records to being praised by the iconic musicians they grew up listening to, Greta Van Fleet is one band that should be on everybody’s radar — with good reason. And if you’re one of the critics who take issue with their style or resounding message of “love and peace,” do everyone a favor and just get out of the way. Their music speaks for itself.
I was lucky enough to speak with Jake ahead of Greta Van Fleet’s three sold-out shows at Terminal 5 in New York City.
“When The Curtain Falls” is No. 1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart — what do you think it is about that song that resonates with people?
I think it’s the essence of the song. The intention of that is [a] very, very, purely rock ‘n’ roll sensibility in a song. You know, ultimately, certainly not taking yourselves too seriously. It’s fun but also the elements are serious. It talks about old Hollywood and ‘Valley doll’ and all of that stuff. I think it’s purely in its essence rock ‘n’ roll. I think that [there has] been such a lack in the musical world that people are, I think, responding to it for that reason.
What was the process like creating “Agent Man”?
That was a song that we put together. We went to Chattanooga, into the mountain area, and we got a cabin out there and we wrote for about a week. That was one of a few songs that we kind of came up with there and started writing. A lot of that nature seemed to have an influence in some of the arrangement of that song, in the kind of actualization. It was such a pretty thing.
We had the idea that we wanted to do something that started very intimately, which is some keys and vocals, like a string arrangement, and that you could carry someone along with and you could really entice them and hear all at once. Literally that’s what we wanted to achieve with that arrangement, but I think that really encapsulates the message of the whole album as well as “Anthem” does. But that really talks about the evolution of man … the cycle goes on. So a lot of that are other elements and characters of the evolution of mankind. That was something we wanted to achieve: something beautiful and something very aggressive. And that kind of ended up being it.
What would you say are the three most prominent songs on Anthem of the Peaceful Army?
Hmm. That’s tough to say. I’ve really been curious as well because I’ve asked quite a few people and the answer seems to pretty really radically vary. In my opinion … my personal favorites are “Agent Man,” “Brave New World,” and “Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer).”
What inspired the title of Anthem of the Peaceful Army? Current events?
Yeah, I suppose. It was a poem that Josh wrote called “Anthem of the Peaceful Army.” It’s on the inside sleeve of the vinyl and the inside sleeve of the CD. Once we started to identify what “Anthem of the Peaceful Army” kind of meant to us, to that, it started becoming us and it started becoming the audience.
The poem, it really gives us identification, sort of what’s going on and what’s been going on and yeah, the current events that surround us. It kind of took on the essence of the album and it kind of is like a chapter or a stamp in time of where we’re at. We started resonating with it and decided to call the album Anthem of the Peaceful Army.
Many rock legends have praised you, like Elton John and Dave Grohl. What do you take away that? You have members of Led Zeppelin talking about you. How incredible is that?
It’s a wild thing. Especially when you grow up hearing these guys on the radio and all of these guys were influences of ours. People who inspired us and taught us many things through their music. So, to have the response of Dave Grohl and members of Zeppelin and Elton John, it’s the most humbling thing in the entire world. You start to be hypercritical and certainly question whether you’re doing everything properly or right, but then when you start hearing adulations of people like that, it’s reassuring. It keeps us going. It’s like, well, we must be doing something right.
When you google Greta Van Fleet, the first thing that pops up is a negative review from Pitchfork and following are articles announcing “When The Curtain Falls” is breaking records. How do you face criticism and what would you say to your critics, if given the chance?
I think that in a lot of sense, the Pitchfork review may have been sort of an insight into the politics of the way the world seems to weigh in these days. It’s a reflection of certain bits of hatred, but you never return that with hate back. You can’t fight hate with hate. So it is what is. If someone’s not pissed off, it’s not really art, as well as, it has to…bleed as it blooms.
But yeah, I don’t really particularly have an opinion on that because it hasn’t really affected us too much. You take things with a grain of salt. And I suppose the more prevalent you become or the more successful in any way, the more of a tyrant you are to, I don’t know, certain people. So, I think that given the opportunity to say anything, I’d just say everybody is entitled to their opinion. If you don’t like it, don’t listen.
I saw your show in New Jersey and I overheard a guy say to his friend, “Greta Van Fleet is going to be BIG and we get to say we saw them play at Starland Ballroom.” To me, that was such a significant statement. What do you think about the fact that your fans have such confidence in your work?
You know, it’s interesting because I think we have some of the most truly dedicated fans in the world. I suppose that’s what rock ‘n’ roll does. And those people especially, in the realms of rock and roll fans, they are the most dedicated fan base there is. But it’s also interesting as well because as much as we’ve been influenced by bands in the past and that cultural revolution and the explosion of music in the ‘60s and ‘70s, as much as that’s been influential, we are very much influenced by a lot of things musically that are contemporary. And we kind of see ourselves as a product of our generation, as a product of our environment and what socially goes on. What politically goes on influences our music, lyrically and musically. I think they’re looking at it from a certain perspective, going, “As long as there’s one of the rock and roll bands from our generation that may rise up and do something.” It’s really inspiring to see the reaction and hear something like that, for sure.
You guys will be playing three sold out shows at Terminal 5. How do you feel the band is received over here on the East Coast? Do you find that New York City has a livelier approach to taking in your music?
Absolutely. New York seems to be one of the most lively audiences in the United States so far that we’ve seen there. They’re wild and I think they have a way of getting into the music that not a lot of, I suppose, other audiences seem to as much. Especially the attentiveness in New York is a different thing. It’s a different social way of reacting and in New York, people start dancing around and singing. It seems to be one of the most interactive, yeah.
How has fame treated you? Do people notice you guys on the streets? Do you have a bunch of girls throwing their bras at you or can you just go about your day unbothered?
[Laughs] A little bit of all of that. I find that it’s really interesting because I suppose the message that we put out, that we portray, that we’ve become, people respond in that way. So, if someone recognizes me, eating breakfast or something, they’ll have the most polite, kind, approach to it. Like, ‘”Do you mind if I take a photo with you?” It seems to always be that way. There doesn’t seem, yet, that there is that aggressive thing. I think that people, you know, if we’re putting out the message of love and peace and unity, which is so important to us and in our music as well, that people seem to be using that to respond in that same way. It’s not overly aggressive or intrusive at all, so far, so that’s nice.
Your overlying theme does seem to be about peace and love, and I don’t know many 20-year-old guys who have the same mind state. Most guys your age are playing video games but your music is featured in them. Do you guys get to experience any normal 20-year-old stuff or is it basically all about living your dream out on the road?
Yeah, no, not really. [Laughs] It’s pretty abnormal, the life that we lead now, but I suppose it’s been a series of chapters growing up. When you learn a certain amount of things, you can read biblical teachings or any philosophy, it seems to be that in the current state of the world and the world past, in any sense that if we’re still here and we’re still living amongst each other, love always seems to trump hate. … It’s very much, and not entirely from what was again, more notable for the message of love and peace, which was the hippie movement, which was probably destroyed by drug culture. That still resides today as it ever once was of that strong message. I think the world needs it now as much as it ever did as well.
I hope with your music, you’re influencing the next generation to be as enlightened as you and the band, because then we’ll be in good shape.
Yeah, I think as long as everybody seems to be more conscious of those things…that things can get better. There are a lot of people fighting for that and I think that people are responding to it.
What is life on the road with your brothers like?
It’s interesting because before as brothers … earlier on, we used to fight quite a bit. Especially when it came to creative differences, there would be a door destroyed or a window broken. It could get violent. But I think that I’m glad that that is something that happened early on because we kind of got it all out of the way. Now, we’re almost forced and confined to each other and we really respect each other. I think we’ve learned to give each other space and be kind to each other. And same with Danny, it’s the same thing: growing up with him, it’s the same circumstance. But we’re each other’s close guardians and I think that we have come a long way, in that sense. It’s better now than it once was.
Going to all of these difference countries, being with family kind of keeps you rooted.
Absolutely. There’s a grounding thing about it, yeah.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5, 10, 20 years — personally and as a band?
As a band, as long as we can continue to write what we want to write and continue to play bigger venues, larger festivals and more countries, we can speak to more people and play to more people and spread a message to more people. I think that will, creatively, please us. And I think as a band standpoint, that’s the objective. And personally, still growing as an individual or even as an independent musician, as a guitar player. The creative soul, the fuel to satisfy that, to be continually playing and to be there with full purpose is a very fulfilling thing. And so I think as an individual, even spiritually but musically as well, expanding and growing. I think that would personally make me very happy.
If you could share the stage with any musician, living or dead, who would it be and why?
I’d want to probably share the stage personally with Eric Clapton. … I remember being 6 or 7 and I was watching a Cream documentary with my dad in the living room. And it’s like one of the earliest memories of looking at Clapton doing what he’s doing and going, “I want to be that, I want to do that.” He’s probably one of my first idols, someone that I’ve really studied and been influenced by. I think that I would be more than honored to share the stage with Eric Clapton.
What’s your favorite Clapton song?
Probably “Crossroads.” The pure energy and guitar work on that was and is very appealing to me.
Is that how you guys got into rock music, from your parents?
Yeah, that’s what was lying around and we didn’t really watch TV or anything. We were mainly nature kids, playing outside all the time and kind of exploring. But our parents had a record collection, so that was something that really young, it was almost a toy at first. You know, you’d take the vinyl and put it on the record player and you drop the needle and that was like a thing that you would do very, very young. And then you started to listen to what was on the vinyls after a period time.
So I think, yeah, early on that was very influential because it wasn’t traditional rock ‘n’ roll music — it was really early roots, blues and folk and soul, and jazz and R&B. And later, I think it was around in high school, really, that we started to really catch the British invasion, stuff like that. And then you could hear all of what we listened to as far as the roots music, how that was influential to the heavier stuff of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. I think that’s when it became really certainly appealing but yeah, it was definitely influential what our parents had lying around as far as music goes. You know, you’d ride the bus to school and whatever was on the radio you’d be like, “What the hell is this?”
Some music nowadays is kind of terrible compared to what we grew up listening to.
Yeah I think we’ve lost, not completely, but certainly across the board, an element of truth in music. And you know very instinctually within the first ten seconds of a song, if it’s lying to you or not. You know?
Catch Greta Van Fleet in New York City at Terminal 5 on Nov. 27, Nov. 29 and Nov. 30.