“Right now, I think the world needs rock ‘n’ roll more than ever”: meet Sam Kiszka of Greta Van Fleet.
Here’s the setup. Kiszka is 19. Along with brothers Josh, Jake and drummer Danny he’s in a band, Greta Van Fleet.
The outfit have only two EPs – a double EP as Sam puts it – to their name, yet they’re creeping to the top of festival bills across the United States. Since From The Fires dropped last November they’ve enjoyed some considerable success. No hyperbole, this outfit really is making a dent. They’re moving records and selling shows.
But how? Why? Well, they’re a rock band. But it’s not as much about what they do as much as how they do it. Live or on record their music comes cut from the fabric of a potent past. They’ve drawn ready comparisons to rock’s greats.
Plus, they’re young and there’s something to that. For all of Sam’s mellow vibrations he can’t hide the confidence that the best is yet come. Not unjustifiable as he rightly points out. Look at what this group have achieved on the back eight songs and the space of a year.
The only way is up, right? Jim Morrison was 22 when The Doors cut ‘The End’. Ray Davies was the same age when he bought ‘Waterloo Sunset’ to The Kinks. Greta Van Fleet have potential and failing the delivery of any immediate greatness there’s time enough to get it straight.
Whatever lays ahead, Sam’s confidence carries. When paired with a song like ‘When The Curtain Falls’ it’s more than a little infectious. Greta Van Fleet dreams big sure, but there’s some undeniable talent backing it up. When that’s the case you can’t help but throw a bit of hope and expectation alongside it all too.
Music Feeds: Greta Van Fleet formed in 2012 but you were playing music even before that. You and your brothers have been playing at bars since you were thirteen, biker bars!
Sam Kiszka: [Laughs] Yup!
MF: I feel that the music reflects that in a way, there’s never a dull moment. Do you think having been playing – performing – music for so long is something that feeds into it?
SK: Yeah, definitely. That’s really – that’s what makes us who we are, the fact that we don’t care where we’re playing. We just love to play. I think that after doing that for so long we’re sharper.
There’s a chemistry now because we’re all so close – you know we’re brothers – and I think that really translates to the music. It’s not only in the studio playing but it affects the live playing too, this ability to understand or predict what somebody’s doing on stage at any given moment and being able to build on that vibe. Especially jamming and songwriting, it all contributes to that. Not only the bond that we have but what’s around us, what we grew up with – a lot of nature! I think that really works its way into the music too.
MF: Who are a few of your musical heroes?
SK: There’s a good amount of them! Songwriters in particular really, really inspire us. Guys like Neil Young or pretty much anything from that vein of music. The Crosby Stills and Nash stuff too. John Denver was a really big inspiration for us.
MF: Never believe anything you read on Wikipedia I know but the group’s page also says that you’re a little more jazz influenced than your brothers. Are there any influences there that you’d like to flag?
SK: Oh totally! Yeah! Listening to what primal jazz is, like when I heard [Miles Davis’] ‘Kind of Blue’, it really kind of changed how I look at music. I learnt that music doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s not about perfection it’s about the emotion that you put into something like that. I think that that’s something everybody can learn from jazz.
MF: It also says you’re a fan of Motown. As someone working in a rhythm section, I can understand why! Do you have a favourite song or record, something that hits you every time?
SK: [Guiltily] ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’! [Laughs] As proud as I am to admit that, it’s a bit of a predictable answer. That rhythm, it’s just the best. It was the first riff I learnt to play on bass. I was just like, “Ah! What’s that!?” because I’d heard how a bass could make a song move.
I wouldn’t say that I particularly have a favourite Motown artist, but I definitely have a favourite Motown bass player who played for everybody. James Jamerson! He really reinvented the way that bass was looked at.
MF: Of course!
SK: There were also guys later like Jack Bruce from Cream. He kind of took it to the next level for me. Seeing how aggressively he played? He made it into a lead instrument and that’s kind of the same thing with Motown too.
MF: Greta Van Fleet are a rock band plain and simple. You don’t shy away from the fact that you’re not intent on working hip hop or electronic elements into your sound anytime soon. But why is that? Does it stem from a feeling of disconnect with modern music? What’s your ethos in that regard?
SK: Well I suppose I could tell it in this way. A lot of people used to ask, “Do you feel out of place in this generation?” You know just because the music that we play is, stylistically and as people interpret it, ‘older music’ because we’re not using computers as instruments. And for a long time, I thought, “Yes, I wish I was born so I could be growing up as a teenager now in the ‘60s.”
But then I got to thinking. I got a second to look at the world around me and I feel right in place with where we’re at right now in 2018 with Greta Van Fleet. Right now, I think the world needs rock ‘n’ roll more than ever.
MF: The band is having an impact. Your music is reaching a growing audience and you’re denting the charts in The States. It just seems like this last 12 months has been a phenomenal year! Where do you feel like you’re at right now?
SK: I feel like we’re in the absolute primal infancy of Greta Van Fleet. This is just the beginning. Having all this just off of a double EP – eight songs on record – is absolutely incredible.
I think it’s just because so many people go out to the live shows. People have a great time and you know word spreads. It’s crazy what we’ve been able to do with the small amount of material that’s out there. I think once the first record comes out we can call that ‘The Beginning’.
But we’ve got a good foot in the door right now. The last year-and-a-half has been absolutely crazy. We haven’t really had a chance to stop and think about it yet. We’re on the road and recording constantly.
MF: You’ve taken your time to get to your debut album. Does that have any special significance to you? You know given that in rock music the album is almost like this sacred thing…
SK: Big picture I think that I would really love to bring back that format, the album. Nobody makes albums anymore, it’s just all about the song. That’s what music streaming has done to the way that people listen to music. I would love to have people go back to that because the album – the full-length album – is kind of a lost art form. I mean there’s people who do it, but it’s certainly not a mainstream thing.
But yes. The first album is such a big deal. We’re very, very proud of what we put together and I think it marks exactly where we were this past winter. I think that we’re already getting excited to get in the studio for album two.
MF: Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves! Where is this first album going relative to From The Fires?
SK: Well I think that ‘When The Curtain Falls’ really kind of sums up the fact that we haven’t gone completely astray! But it really kind of picks up where the EP’s left off. There’s lots of stuff on there that is reminiscent of that sound. There’s aggressive rock tracks but then there’s ballads.
But we really took everything to the next level. We wanted people to hear where we’ve come in this past year of touring constantly. I think there’s a certain continuity to the music that I’m really proud we achieved because pretty much the whole album is all live. We wanted to take everything onstage and get that happening in the studio. All of the songs are take one or take three or take four. I’m really happy that we captured that.
MF: Getting onto the live side of things. It’s festival season over there but you’ve had to pull out of a prominent set at Panorama because Danny, your drummer, has flubbed his hand up or something like that. What’s happened? Is it serious?
SK: Ah yeah! Ah yes! He’s, uh… his hand is a bit, as you put it, broken. We just got him to a specialist this past Sunday. No long-term damage or anything but his hands are… quite ugly. Lots of blood blisters and torn ligaments. But we’re kind of in the clear now, he’s on the road to recovery. We’ve powered through two headline shows and tomorrow we play at Lollapalooza, then a show after that then a few days break.
MF: Your touring schedule is absolutely off the wall. You’re tearing across the US and heading up Europe soon too. Have you ever given any thought to coming down under, down here to Australia?
SK: Absolutely! It’s in the works!
MF: Oh, it is?
SK: Keep your eyes peeled. I’m very excited, I’ve heard very great things about that part of the world. I’m really excited to get out there. We all are really.
MF: Well we’re Australians! We love hard and heavy rock, it’s in our DNA. Do you have a favourite Australian band old or new?
SK: Yeah actually, Cloves. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of her but yeah, she’s Melbourne based I think. We actually just did 10 dates with her this past month. Just last night actually was the finish of that. But yeah, she’s incredible!
MF: What’s coming next? What are you looking forward to the most?
SK: I am absolutely looking forward to the next single that’s in the works right now. But if you wanted to get Big Picture I’m really looking forward to getting that album out because we still are very proud of it. We kinda thought that, “Okay, we’ll set aside February to record an album.” But we kinda got it done in about a week and half-two weeks. It was something that we were really happy with, so we said, “Well okay, that’s it!” But other than that, keep your eyes peeled for some Australian tour dates!
Greta Van Fleet will tour Australia for the very first time in January and February 2019.
Greta Van Fleet ‘March Of The Peaceful Army’ 2019 Australian Tour
Tickets on sale 10am Friday, 19th October
Tuesday, 29th January
Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Tickets: Live Nation
Sunday, 3rd February
Eatons Hill Hotel, Brisbane
Tickets: Live Nation
Tuesday, 5th February
Forum Theatre, Melbourne
Tickets: Live Nation