Band On Fire: A Conversation with Jake Kiszka of Greta Van Fleet

Let’s cut right to the chase: Yes, the newest rock sensation on the block — a four-piece from Frankenmuth, Michigan (pop. 5131) named Greta Van Fleet — has a distinct “Led Zeppelin-esque” ring to some of their songs.

The tiny vocal minority crying foul are claiming the similarities are too close to their beloved Zep, especially the vocal stylings of the group’s golden-throated, 21-year-old singer Josh Kiszka. The Houses of the Holy have been robbed.

On the other side of the fence, however, is a huge and rapidly growing legion of Fleet fans who have embraced the quartet at face value. Zep or not, they say, it doesn’t matter. This is about the music being created by Kiszka and his twin brother Jake (guitar), 18-year-old younger brother Sam (bass), and 18-year-old and longtime family friend Danny Wagner (drums). Simply put, the music touches and moves them, and they like it.

It’s been a long time since they’ve rock and rolled (like this).

The band’s rapid ascent to national prominence began with the release of their EP “Black Smoke Rising,” which struck a nerve upon its release, eventually working its way into the Billboard 200. Lead-off single “Highway Tune” topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock and Active Rock rock stations in September 2017. Not content to rest on its laurels, the band gave its fans an early Christmas present in the form of more recorded material recently, this time a double EP, “From the Fires,” released on Nov. 10.

As the band prepared to embark on a tour in support of the album, guitarist Jake Kiszka spent some time with ListenIowa to talk about how Greta Van Fleet came to be, the band’s cornucopia of artistic influences and lessons learned on the road.

L-R: Sam Kiszka, Josh Kiszka, Danny Wagner, Jake Kiszka

How does it feel be to a part of one of the hottest young rock acts out there right now?
It’s very humbling. We’re all very excited. I don’t think that any of us had really expected to garnish that kind of immediate attention.

What do you think it is, then, that has set you guys apart and brought listeners to you so quickly?
I suppose that what we’re doing in our spectrum and what’s going on there musically, I would say it’s quite opposed to the music now. I think there’s a lot of truth and honesty in the music we’re writing, and I think people hear that I think it’s special to them, you know?

It sounds like what you’re telling me is that you’re not a fan of pop or top 40 music.
If you’re saying it, then yes. (laughs)

As a guitar player, how did you develop your style to where it is at this point?
Growing up listening to a lot of fundamental music, and a lot of roots stuff in blues, folk, jazz and soul, there were a lot of things that I was taken by. Guitar players like Elmore James, John Lee Hooker and Lead Belly and things like that. I bought my first 12-string because I wanted to emulate what Lead Belly (Huddie William Ledbetter) was doing. I learned slide from Elmore James and Duane Allman, who were big influences of mine, and a lot of the guys from the British invasion — Eric Clapton, Pete Townsend, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page — and of course, Hendrix. Woody Guthrie was a big folk influence of mine from an acoustic perspective.

You sound like an “old soul,” so to speak, and your age belies your musical knowledge. There had to be an introduction point to this material, though. How did these artists even get onto your radar?
Growing up in an artistic environment gave us a unique perspective early on. Growing up in a family that is musically inclined, and their friends being so artistically and musically inclined, being surrounded by it constantly was certainly influential.