Greta Van Fleet, an up-and-coming rock and roll band from Frankenmuth, Michigan, is on the road to a bright future. Two of its members just turned 21, and the other two are just finishing up their senior year of high school, but together, they have a larger-than-life stage presence and sound. In April, they released their debut EP, the Zeppelin-esque Black Smoke Rising. After that, they embarked on a tour with The Struts, making crowds cheer at every stop along the way. Their catchy single, “Highway Tune,” is a perfect representation of their no-holds-barred approach, which evokes the spirit of the ‘60s and ‘70s and shows off their instrumental talents while maintaining a spirit of fun.
We were lucky enough to chat with Jake Kiszka (guitar), his younger brother Sam Kiszka (bass), and Danny Wagner (drums) before Greta Van Fleet played Rams Head Live with Nightly and The Struts in Baltimore. (The band member not present was Josh Kiszka, Jake’s twin brother and the lead vocalist.) Read on to find out about their favorite rock albums, their writing process, the songs they blast when they’re “cruising down the highway,” their hometown’s many tourist attractions, and their Senior Memory Books. (You’ll also learn which band member all the other members want to switch places with, which band member once spilled water onstage, which band member loves old poetry, and which band member is the biggest mooch.)
TYF: First of all, is this your first tour?
Jake: It is, yeah.
TYF: So which parts of touring are like what you guys expected, and which ones are a little different?
Sam: The no sleep is what I was expecting, and I haven’t been disappointed by that, ‘cause I’m exhausted. (Laughs) And the driving. Lots of driving. And obviously, we knew that since we can’t take a plane because of all our equipment, it was inevitable. But you know, it’s not that bad.
Danny: It’s fun.
Jake: Something that we didn’t expect though, probably, is how much, I think, we’re learning. I didn’t think that there’d be that much knowledge that we didn’t possess, I suppose.
Sam: Right. It’s like stepping into the recording studio for the first time. And you just have no idea.
Jake: Steep learning curve. (Laughs)
Sam: Lots of hard lessons to be learned. Lots of easy lessons, too.
Jake (to Sam): Spilling water.
TYF: So far, what are some of your favorite memories from touring with The Struts?
Sam: I would have to say when I spilled water onstage. And got yelled at.
Jake: It was fun.
Sam: It was fun. I enjoyed it.
Jake: Learning experience.
Sam: Mostly hanging out with the guys. For me, the memorable moments were, like, after a show, when we’re done, they’re done, and we hang out a little bit after.
Danny: Niagara Falls was pretty cool to visit, too.
Jake: Scintillating views!
Danny: It was a good memory.
TYF: That’s awesome. What do you guys do when you’re just hanging out?
Jake: Well, on this tour specifically, sleeping.
Sam: We brought an acoustic guitar, even though it’s not in our set. Just because.
Jake: We just play. Play and sleep.
TYF: How is opening for a band like The Struts different from playing smaller shows, like in your hometown?
Jake: Well, the crowds are a lot smaller. No, I’m just kidding.
Danny: The crowds are great, though.
Sam: The crowds are great. They’re energetic. Nightly’s doing a great job of warming ‘em up.
Danny: And I think it’s a good pairing, so the crowd actually has a sense of respect for what we’re doing.
Sam: Yeah. We opened for Shinedown in Grand Rapids in 20 Monroe. It’s like, I think, a 2,500 capacity room. So that was a hell of a lot of fun. That was lots of people. It was the first time I ever really felt nervous. But we went out there, and we had played the set a thousand times already, so…
Jake: I think it has to do with, the size and the response of the audience will be very different from what we get in certain venues back home.
TYF: Now, let’s talk about your new EP, Black Smoke Rising. How did you get inspiration for the songs?
Sam: It all starts with a feeling, you know. It all starts with a riff. It could start with, like, a vocal melody… whatever. But then it starts building from there. (Jake steals Sam’s coffee) This guy’s a mooch.
Jake: It’s true.
Sam: He’ll mooch everything you own.
Jake: I’m stealing Sam’s coffee right now.
Danny (pointing to Jake’s shirt): That’s Sam’s shirt.
Sam: That’s my shirt.
Jake: I’m stealing his shirt. It’s a hand-me-down. Usually, that works the other way around.
Sam: You like that hole? (Points to hole in shirt and laughs) It’s ‘cause he’s so ripped. It’s ‘cause he’s muscular.
Jake (in comically dramatic voice): Watch out, ladies!
Sam: What was the question again?
Jake: Inspiration behind the songs.
Sam: It starts with somebody doing something. And the way our band works, and the reason our writing style works so well, is because everybody has their input, and we’re all assholes when it comes to inputting our opinion. And sometimes it gets pretty heated, and sometimes somebody walks off, but in the end…
Jake: Sometimes windows get broken.
Sam: Sometimes windows get broken, but in the end, the music’s strong enough to bring us all back together. Of course, the three of us are brothers.
Jake: Yeah. We can’t really get away from each other, unfortunately.
Sam: Danny can go.
Danny: Yeah, I can leave.
Danny: “Black Smoke Rising,” the title track itself, was written in the studio.
Sam: It was one of the last ones.
Danny: That’s a good example of how we all just kind of come together at different times.
Jake: A lot of the lyrics are written into the demos, and a lot of them are just scatting. So a lot of what Josh is saying doesn’t make any sense at all. But when you piece it together, there are little lines that make sense, and you go, “Wow, there’s a lot of personality of the song in this.”
Sam: Yeah. True. But a lot of the time, Josh says, “I’m gonna change this lyric. I don’t like this.” And I say, “Josh, I know what it means. Leave it. It means something to everyone in different ways.”
TYF: That’s cool. You talked about “Black Smoke Rising,” the title track. In that song, you talk about “the fate of man… in the hands of he who stands and heeds the call.” What is “the call” to you? Can you guys elaborate a little?
Sam: I guess in the broad spectrum, you would have to interpret it yourself, but I would say…
Jake (in comically pretentious voice): It’s subject to interpretation.
Sam: True, but…
Jake: What do you girls expect it to be about?
Sam: It’s about the person who will take responsibility and take initiative for the human race.
Jake: That’s a good way to put it.
Danny: Millennials, man.
Sam: Fuckin’ millennials.
TYF: And of course, you have the single “Highway Tune.” In that song, you talk about “cruising down the highway.” What are your favorite songs to listen to when you’re “cruising down the highway”?
Jake: A little bit of Mungo Jerry in there! “In the Summertime”!
Sam: That’s a good question! Depends on where you’re driving and how long you’re driving. “Life in the Fast Lane”…. Classic rock is always…
Danny: The Eagles are great driving music.
Jake: How about you, Brittany? What do you like to listen to?
Sam: Yeah, what do you listen to on the highway?
TYF: What do I like to listen to?
TYF: When we were driving here on the highway, we were listening to you guys. We listened to “Highway Tune.”
TYF: We were like, “We’re cruising down the highway. We have to play this.”
Sam: Honestly, I think “Highway Tune” is probably one of my favorites for cruising down the highway. Oh! Oh! What’s that Paul McCartney song? “Back Seat of My Car.”
Jake (singing): “Speed along the highway…”
Sam: Oh, that’s a good one.
Jake: There are many good “highway tunes” out there.
Sam: What’s that Golden Earring song?
Jake: “Tainted Love”?
Sam: No. Shut up, dude.
Jake imitates the bassline of “Radar Love” by Golden Earring. After a few seconds, Sam energetically joins in.
Jake and Sam (singing): “I’ve been drivin’ all night, my hands are wet on the wheel.” (Together, they imitate guitar noises)
Sam: That’s Greta Van Fleet a cappella.
Danny: “Radar Love.”
Sam: “Radar Love”! That’s a good one. That’s fun. It’s not a particularly amazing song, but it’s fun.
TYF: And you guys have mentioned that you’ve found influences in all kinds of different art. What are some of the non-musical influences on this album?
Jake: Literature. There’s a lot of that. Josh is quite an avid reader.
Danny: Old poets.
Sam: I’m not sure there’s a lot of other things that come through. I’m not sure there’s a whole lot that comes into the music, because I guess the reason for expressing yourself in different mediums is to kind of get away from doing the music. Because after you’re doing it for so long sometimes, you run into something. You get frustrated with it. You get stale, and you just get pissed off. So you’ve got to find other ways to occupy your time.
Sam: Yeah, different outlets.
TYF: Now some fun questions. If you could switch places with anyone in the band, who would you switch places with?
Jake: Definitely Danny. His job’s the easiest.
Sam: (mimes drum playing, making drum noises)
At this point, a man walks into the room and asks Danny if he can talk to him about his drum kit. Danny agrees and stands up to go.
Sam: And Danny’s out.
Danny: Yeah, that’s why they wish they were me.
Sam (in funny voice): Daniel signing out.
Danny leaves the room.
TYF: Should we keep going, or should we just hang?
Sam: We can keep going. Let’s keep going.
TYF: So you guys would switch places with Danny?
Jake: Yeah, we definitely would.
Sam: ‘Cause drums are so fuckin’ fun.
Jake: And fuckin’ easy. He has the easiest job.
Sam: Eh, he probably has the hardest job.
Jake: Most physically taxing.
Sam: ‘Cause obviously, the drums… He has, like, a 1-2-3-4-5 piece set, including cymbals. So he has to assemble all that stuff.
Jake: It would be fun playing the drums.
Sam: It would be fun playing the drums, but not, like, setting them up and shit.
TYF: Another question: Imagine you guys could time travel to any era. Which era would you pick and what would you do there?
Sam: Probably the ‘50s. I’d buy an American muscle car.
Jake: The times of Lewis and Clark, baby.
Sam: Oh! That’s true!
Jake: The time of adventure, man!
Sam: Unexplored America.
Jake: Unexplored America. That would be sweet.
TYF: “Lewis and Clark.” That’s a good answer. I’ve never heard anyone say “Lewis and Clark.”
Jake: Wouldn’t that be fun, though? Like, be an explorer? That’d be so sweet. Or a sailor. Or the Vikings!
Sam: Or Robin Hood!
Jake: You could just eat as much as you want and then vomit.
Jake and Sam (in perfect unison): And then eat more!
Sam: Till you fucking die!
TYF: You guys have a very rock and roll sound. What are some of the rock and roll albums that have made an impact on you the most?
Jake: There’s a lot of Beatles.
Sam: Yeah, definitely the Beatles. I know it’s a generic answer, but I would definitely say Abbey Road is one of the best albums ever produced.
Jake: Beggar’s Banquet. The Stones.
TYF: Oh, that’s a good one.
Jake: They’ve got some great albums. Oh, man.
Sam: I guess it’s not a whole lot of rock and roll, now that I think about it.
Sam: It’s a lot of blues. One of my other favorite albums is Crosby, Stills & Nash, the title album.
Jake: Disraeli Gears by Cream.
Sam: That early Cream stuff’s magic, man. And I guess it’s a lot more than just the rock and roll. We have our reggae influences that don’t really shine into the music, but we kinda grab some instrumentation from that. Lots of jazz for me, personally. And I guess lots of folk. Lots of folk all around. So honestly, Jake’s probably the biggest rock and roll guy in the band.
At this point, Danny returns.
Sam (to Danny): Best rock and roll albums.
Danny: Uh, Zeppelin 2. Man, this is on the spot.
Sam: We said, like, Disraeli Gears by Cream, and Beggar’s Banquet, and…
Danny: Yeah, definitely.
Sam: I said Abbey Road.
Danny: I love Abbey Road.
Sam: That pretty much covers everything.
Danny: There’s gotta be a Dylan album…
Sam: Dylan? That plays into the folk thing. One of my favorite albums… Man, this is tough.
Jake: I think those albums are probably a collective of some of the most influentials for us.
Sam: John Wesley Harding is probably my favorite Dylan album. That thing’s fuckin’ magic.
TYF (to Danny): The question that you missed was, “If you could time travel to any era, which one would you go to and what would you do?”
Danny: Any time at all? I’d probably go from ‘65 to ‘75.
TYF: That’s probably what I would pick, too. That’s a good time.
Danny: Honestly. That’s when it all…
Jake: “Which one, the ’60s or the ’70s?” “’65 to ’75, man!”
Danny: That’s when it got good and had the best of both decades. It would end right before it turned around.
Sam: Yeah, ‘cuz the early ‘60s stuff is a lot more pop-y…Wait. Any time at all?
TYF: Any time at all. You’re gonna change your answer?
Jake: You’re gonna change your answer?
TYF: You can do that. There are no rules.
Sam: This is just another idea. I’m not sure I’d wanna do it… but I would wanna just check out what the year 2500 looks like. A big ol’ shithole of trash.
Jake: No kidding. The earth’s on fire.
Jake: And we’ll stand up in the cold.
TYF: That’d be a pretty crazy time.
Sam: Not crazier than my finger, though. You wanna see it? Look at that.
TYF: What happened to your finger?
Sam: I got it stuck in a rotating door! (Laughs)
Danny: No. This is what happens when you play bass. On tour, like…
Sam: Right now, there’s superglue. There’s a layer of superglue. You wanna feel it? That’s superglue on there.
TYF: (Laughs) Sure. Why is there superglue?
Sam: It’s ‘cause I lost, like, a whole layer of skin on there. It was in Flint. The bass blisters are really deep, so they don’t come up, but eventually there was, like, this tag of skin… I hope you guys can handle this.
TYF: (Laughs) Okay.
Sam: I started playing and, like, second song, there was, like, a skin tag hanging out here. It was like, (makes ripping noise)
Danny: I haven’t even heard this story.
Sam: It’s pretty gross.
TYF: Is this off the record, or do you want to let everyone know about the finger?
Sam: Oh, no. You can put it in there.
TYF: You’re gonna tell everybody?
Danny (to Sam): Let’s not tell everybody.
Jake (dramatically): “The Finger.” (switches to British accent) “I’ve got blisters on my fingers. I’ve got blisters!”
TYF: And I heard that you guys were named after a town elder, Gretna Van Fleet. How has the real Gretna Van Fleet reacted to all of this?
Jake: I think she’s quite receptive to it.
Sam: She condoned the use of the name.
Danny: Because she was a musician herself, so she has the respect.
Sam: Accordion player, choir singer, drummer. She was a lot better than Daniel.
Jake: The first time we played Fischer Hall in our town of Frankenmuth, and up on the marquee, it said, “Greta Van Fleet,” people were calling her. They were like, “You have a show tonight?”
Danny: And she was like, “No,” given she’s in her 80s.
Sam: (Laughs) We’ve been telling people she was dead ‘cause we thought she was dead, but…
TYF: (Laughs) Oh my gosh!
Danny: But she’s not. She’s not dead.
TYF: She’s alive and well.
Danny: Yes, she is.
Sam (leaning close to the microphone and shouting): She’s not dead!… (Resuming normal volume) Yeah, we just did this story on the news, and the guy did a little digging, and he actually visited her.
Jake: Without telling her. He just went to her house, knocked on the door, and was like, “Hey.”
Sam: She was on the news for that. We were looking at her like, “Wow, what?”
TYF: How did Gretna Van Fleet like being on the news?
Sam: I have no idea.
Danny: We’re gonna buy her a bouquet of flowers when we get back.
TYF: Aw, that’s so nice.
Danny: So we’re gonna find out.
TYF: That’s cool. Did you guys ever talk to Gretna Van Fleet before this whole thing?
TYF: No? You just all knew about her?
Danny, Jake, and Sam: Yeah.
Danny: Well, actually, the old drummer’s grandfather knew her.
Sam: He said he was gonna chop wood for her, which is a Michigan thing. Whenever people hear that, like our publicists in L.A., they’re like, “Whoa!” They’re like, “Chop wood? This is bullshit!” We’re like, “Yeah, we’re going to the lumber yard, then picking up some smoothies.”
Jake: Go to the backyard, take a hike real quick.
Sam: Our childhood was basically The Little Rascals mixed with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Danny: I was just about to say that.
Jake: And Lord of the Rings!
TYF: Sounds pretty exciting.
Sam: Lots of screwing around.
TYF: And speaking of Frankenmuth, I read somewhere that Frankenmuth has really good indoor water parks. Is that true?
Sam: Splash Village! All my buddies work there! Is it the biggest indoor water park in Michigan?
Jake: No, it’s not the biggest. It’s one of the largest attractions.
Sam: Yeah, it makes a hell of a lot of money in Frankenmuth.
TYF: Splash Village.
Jake: Yeah, you’ve got Splash, and then you’ve got the biggest Christmas store in the world…
Danny: Bavarian Inn Lodge just added a bunch of slides and stuff to theirs.
Sam: Oh, really? Wow. Frankenmuth… They’re progressive when it comes to making money. It’s a great town, though. What’s the population of the town like? Five thousand?
Jake: It’s like, four, five thousand, and there are, like, eight hotels in Frankenmuth.
Sam: Yeah, because we have these big festivals.
Jake: All these tours from all around the world come there.
Sam: We get like, 20, 30 thousand people.
Jake: “A city of modern explorers!”
Sam: There was this open lot in downtown Frankenmuth and they were like, “Man, they don’t need a Taco Bell! They don’t need a movie theater!” They just put another hotel there. But it’s a great town. I love living there. Very clean. Very supportive community.
TYF: Sounds like a nice place.
Jake: It is.
Sam: You should definitely visit sometime.
Danny: You should.
TYF: I should. (To Danny and Jake) You guys are seniors in high school; what is it like being in school and on the road and at the same time?
Sam: It fuckin’ sucks.
Danny: So you know what senioritis is, right?
Danny: So you take that, and you multiply that by, like, 30 thousand.
Sam: I would say 30 trillion.
Danny: 30 trillion. That’s a better number.
Sam: It’s tough because we still have our schoolwork to do.
Danny: And I have golf season right now.
Sam: It’s a lot.
Danny: We’re kind of doing homework on the road.
TYF: You still have homework right now?
Sam: Oh, yeah. We have our Senior Memory Book.
Danny: Which we haven’t really done yet.
Sam: 20 writings. It’s a good assignment to have rather than some other bullshit because on the road, you can just type it out on your phone or whatever.
TYF: 20 writings? What are the writings?
Sam: They can be pretty much whatever.
Danny: They can be anything from literature pieces that you’ve written to pictures to memories…
Sam: Lists. Or letters.
Danny: Letters that people write. You don’t have to write all of them.
TYF: That’s a pretty cool assignment.
Danny: It is fun.
Sam: It’s kinda a pain in the… If we had started in September…
Danny: …when it was assigned, we’d probably have a pretty kick-ass memory book.
Jake: I don’t know, guys. Mine was pretty badass.
Danny: You weren’t touring during yours!
Sam: I’ve never seen yours. “Seniors.”
TYF: When do you finish school?
Sam: The 24th.
Danny: We’ll get back right in time for exams, and then two days of school left.
TYF: I read that you’re missing your senior prom.
Danny: We already missed it. That was last weekend.
Sam: We were really bummed. I’m just kidding! We don’t really care. It sounds kind of heartless to say, but I’m not too heartbroken. I’ve gone to school dances, and I’ve been like, “What the fuck is this?”
Danny: We come from a really small school, so it’s not like a theatrical, huge event.
TYF: Yeah. Our school is small, too. We have, like, 500 people.
Danny: Ours is somewhere… I think our grade has, like, 120-something in it, so it’s not that large. I could probably name every single person in it—
Danny: —And tell you something about them.
Sam: And a lot of the people from the grade below us. So, yeah, it’s a tight-knit community.
TYF: And that’s… good?
Danny and Sam: Yeah…
Sam: Well, if you say something, the person in the next town will know it in about thirty seconds. Which… We like attention, so we don’t really care.
Danny: Frankenmuth doesn’t need any more attention, bro.
TYF: Okay, that’s all the questions I have, so…
Danny: All right, cool. (Stands up and pretends to leave, then sits back down, laughing)
Sam: No! Ask us another one.
TYF: Ask us another one?
Jake: On the spot.
TYF: Have you ever been to Baltimore before?
Sam: No. First time.
TYF: Have you explored at all?
Danny: Yeah, the first 45 minutes have been great. (Laughs) The drive down… I think it was down. From Niagara Falls… It was pretty cool.
Jake: The scenic drive was awesome.
Danny: Kind of reminds me a bit of Wisconsin.
Jake: I heard there’s a Chick-fil-a down the road. I have to check that out… Then there’s that strip with all of the strip clubs.
Sam: Yeah, the strip club strip. Right up the road. It’s a nice strip.
Jake: And then there’s a Subway right there at the end of it. All right! Have strippers and eat Subway, too.
TYF: Did you come directly to the venue, or did you have time to look around?
Sam: Yeah. We were pretty pressed for time.
Danny: We had an interview at 4:30 that we had to be here by.
At this point, the band is told that they have soundcheck in a few minutes.
Sam (to manager): All right. Sweet. They already finished, but we made them ask us another question.
TYF: Real quick, is there anything else you guys want to say to our readers before the end of the interview?
Jake: Well, we’re all excited to see you. We’d like to play a show for you.
Sam: So watch out and make sure…
Danny: Wear your helmet.
Sam: Make sure you know where we’re goin’ next.
Danny: God bless you.
Jake: God bless you.
Sam: God bless everyone.
Jake: And we love you.