When he penned the line “Rock is dead they say, long live rock,” Pete Townshend was either pretentious or prescient, depending on how jaded you were in 1971. But, rock never died. Rather, it went dormant, waiting for the day it would be resurrected.
That day has arrived, as four young men from the small Michigan town (population 5,000) of Frankenmuth have aroused rock from the depths of its nadir. Greta Van Fleet have brought back the positive vibe and euphotic feel of rock-and-roll with a vengeance.
While their sound is reminiscent of the past, they are firmly rooted in the here and now. They are kicking off their first national headlining tour with a sold out show in Columbus at The Basement on August 15.
With influences discovered in their parent’s vinyl LP collections, encompassing Jimi Hendrix, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, John Lee Hooker, The Who, and the Yardbirds (to name a few), it’s no surprise they have taken that classic sound and melded it into something that resonates in the present day.
Comprised of brothers Josh Kiszka (vocals), Jake Kiszka (guitar), Sam Kiszka (bass) and their best friend Danny Wagner (drums), the band is indeed a young one, with twins Josh and Jake having just turned 21-years old, while Sam and Danny are 18-years old.
“Honestly,” Wagner said via phone, “the biggest thing for me personally are the little things happening out in the music realm of where our music is going. For example, Highway Tune, our first single and the first track on the EP is showing some phenomenal results.”
Highway Tune is sitting at number 7 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs chart and number 24 on the Billboard Rock Airplay chart. The song is currently number 7 on the Active Rock Radio chart (mediabase.com), and the Youtube video for the single has over 1.1 million views.
“It’s been a huge adjustment,” Wagner said of transitioning from small town to playing big cities, “and we’re still adjusting to it every day. We’ve been experiencing these larger cities, something we had never really done before. Playing in New York, L.A. and Chicago were huge adjustments for us.
“I believe that we all have a tendency to keep a steady head, no matter what. I have no concerns regarding whatever happens in the next few years, because I believe one hundred percent that they’re just going to maintain being steady.”
From the opening notes of Highway Tune, you can feel that grandiose 1970’s rock vibe shining through loud and clear. But, it’s when Josh’s vocals kick-in that the inevitable comparison to Led Zeppelin hits you full-force. The irony of this is that Led Zeppelin is not cited as an influence on the band’s Facebook page.
Did the straight-forward, tube amplifier, rock-and-roll sound heard on the EP “Black Smoke Rising” happen organically? Or, was this the sound the band wanted from the start?
“It really just happened organically, to be frank with you,” Wagner continued. “When we first jammed, we each had our own style of playing. Josh’s voice, there’s nothing you could really do about it. It happens to share some similar registers as some of the upper-octave vocalists.
“We just kind of took all of our individual influences that gave us our ability, we put it together and it just kind of happened to be that sound. We write songs based on that sound now.”
Wagner said he has known Sam Kiszka for a long time, going back to when they started school.
“Basically, I’ve known him since kindergarten. We became closer in middle school, which was when we both started picking up instruments. I was a guitarist then, and he was a bass player. I didn’t start playing drums until the end of middle school.
“Sam invited me over one time to play some music with him and his brothers, just as they were starting to get into the music scene. So, it’s been about five years that I’ve really got to know Josh and Jake.”
Wagner’s influences, both in music and literature/film are varied, allowing him a depth to draw from that paints a relatively complete picture of the 18-year old. Namedropping some of the greats to ever beat out a rhythm on the drums, his style comes more clearly into focus.
“Well, I guess I’ll get the main one out of the way,” he said with a laugh. “John Bonham’s a huge influence because he’s just such an animal. Sometimes, I sit him back on the shelf because it’s too overwhelming to take in some of his style. A few others are Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix Experience), because he has some much energy in each song. Keith Moon (The Who) is another one, but I don’t think I’ll ever get that crazy.
“Buddy Rich (an astounding jazz drummer) is great and pretty incredible, too. I was getting into jazz drumming when I first started playing. I figured that was a solid way to start. My music teacher had a jazz band, and he turned me on to jazz styles of learning guitar, drums and bass, because it’s a good foundation to have.”
You could easily believe that these four young men are old souls, based solely on what they listen to, read and watch. In addition to their stated musical influences, they also cite Tchaikovsky, Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, “The Lord of The Rings” and “Apocalypse Now” as having an impact them, as well.
“That’s something that all of us share,” said Wagner. “Josh and Sam are mainly into literature and film, while Jake and I are not quite into it as deeply. Growing up, I read a lot of Robert Frost’s poems. And, that really got me into the art of writing. “The Lord of The Rings,” including “The Hobbit,” books were read to us before bed every night as kids. It really helps to spark a lot of the creativeness of the band.”
Old souls, indeed. The depth and breadth of what shaped them growing up comes through in their music. Like a whisper of fresh air, they are taking what was once considered old, adding their unique style to it and giving us faith that rock-and-roll is back.
“We have a vision as artists,” Wagner continued, “encompassing both long and short-term goals. In the long term, we want to bring this type of music back by giving this positive love/peace vibe and bringing people in.”
Pete Townshend had it wrong. Rock is not dead, and Greta Van Fleet are proving that with each new fan that bathes in the sonic waves washing over them.
The denizens of Columbus that managed to secure a ticket for the August 15 show better prepare themselves for an aural journey through the weaving cascade of time.
“I would probably say that it’s a classic rock-and-roll concert,” concluded Wagner. “The vibe that we’re aspiring to put out there is not something that’s really been seen in a long time.
“It’s going to be a kickass time, so prepare yourself for some real rock-and-roll.”
Greta Van Fleet – Highway Tune