Interview: Greta Van Fleet guitarist Jake Kiszka on touring and new album 'Black Smoke Rising'
Courtesy of Republic Records

Michigan has done it again. There’s something about the state’s Lower Peninsula that makes it the perfect breeding ground for rock stars; Alice Cooper, Jack White, Iggy Pop, Bob Seger and Ted Nugent are just a few of the big acts that hail from southern Michigan. Now it’s time to add one more name to that list: the powerhouse rock quartet Greta Van Fleet.

Greta Van Fleet (GVF) play energetic and catchy blues-based rock of the sort that has an affinity to Led Zeppelin, and it doesn’t hurt that singer Josh Kiszka has a voice that often recalls Robert Plant. While Josh Kiszka is at the mic, kinfolk Jake Kiszka (guitar) and Sam Kiszka (bass) along with drummer Danny Wagner rock out in power trio fashion, on stage and on their new album Black Smoke Rising. And speaking of rising, the band’s star is ascending at a phenomenal rate, so when we checked in with Jake Kiszka by email we asked him how the band is staying grounded. The answer to that question and much more is below in commentary given exclusively to AXS. Check out tickets for upcoming Greta Van Fleet shows here

AXS: Greta Van Fleet is named after a beloved Frankenmuth, Michigan musician named Gretna Van Fleet. She’s an octogenarian; has she been to one of your shows? Is she kind of like a group grandma to the band?

Jake Kiszka: She has been to one of our shows. She came to see us at Fischer Hall in Frankenmuth and she stayed for the entire show. We do three-hour shows. We take one break, and she sat through one entire set. And our music is quite loud. After the show she came backstage and we got photos with her. She’s not quite like a band grandma, but she gave us her blessing. And she loved our music, which is really substantial when you consider that she’s in her 80s. 

AXS: What are the best things about working with family within the band, and are there any drawbacks?

JK: The thing about working with family and the band is that there’s a closeness about it, even with our drummer Danny, who’s essentially a brother. There’s a special connection between brothers; you just know what the other one is thinking. But we’re all close; we grew up together listening to the same music. There’s a non-communicative awareness, a glance onstage or when we’re in the studio, one of us will do something different during a song—a look, something—and everyone is prepared for that change. We just know what the other one is thinking. 

AXS: Your twin brother Josh is also in Greta Van Fleet. Do you ever experience the psychic communication that some twins are known to have? If so, can you cite an example?

JK: It’s not so much a psychic quality. I do know what he’s thinking when I look at him and when I want to know what he’s thinking, I can perceive what he’s thinking. We were playing “Safari Song” once and Josh is singing it and I just leaned in to the mic and started singing the harmonies. I’d never done that before and we hadn’t rehearsed it, it just happened. I had just looked up and thought that Josh wanted me to sing with him. After the show he asked me how I knew that he wanted me to sing that part with him. We have an interesting chemistry and it can contribute musically. 

AXS: A lot of people are going to recognize a Led Zeppelin influence in your music. What acts would you say most influenced the tunes on Black Smoke Rising?

JK: Our influences are all over the map and extensive. There are lots of blues influences, especially song-structure wise. For me personally, I have a thing for older roots blues like Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. In terms of rock influences, the Who, the Doors and Cream, and for Josh, Sam and Danny, Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin. Those are all some of the biggest influences on our EP.

AXS: Band members are fond of listening to music on vinyl. What is the most recent treasure that any of you have found on vinyl, and where did you find it?

JK: We were doing a show in Indiana a couple of week ago, and before the show I went for a walk and found this vinyl record store across the street from the venue. I went in there to see what they had and it was a great vinyl store. I found the Who’s Live at Leeds on vinyl. I love that album, but I’ve never had it on vinyl.

AXS: Do you have a favorite story from your recent tour with the Struts?

JK: It would have to be the reception we garnered from the audiences, and this happened at all six of the shows we did with The Struts. When we would finish our set and walk off stage, the crowd continued to cheer. We’d wait about five minutes for them to stop, but they didn’t, they continued to applaud and cheer. We don’t have roadies and we had to get back out on the stage to pack up our gear, so we eventually had to go back out on stage, and the crowds continued to cheer while we packed up. That really was the best part of the tour and certainly not anything we had anticipated.

AXS: Your tour schedule for the rest of the year has GVF playing some big festivals including the Louder than Life festival in Louisville where the line-up includes big stars like Ozzy Osbourne and Rob Zombie. Who among the scheduled performers would you most like to meet or even get to jam with?  

JK: I’m a Black Sabbath fan so Ozzy Osbourne is the ONE. He’s historically significant and has been a big part of music for a very long time. I’m sure he would be a very interesting person to have a conversation with.

AXS: The band is garnering notoriety very quickly right now. Do you have any thoughts or band guidelines in place to make sure you stay grounded?

JK: Family is a big part of our remaining grounded. Because of the way we were raised, it would be hard for us to grow inflated heads by any means. We couldn’t not be humble if we tried. And I think we’ll go home as often as we can; that will be good for keeping us grounded. 

Follow Greta Van Fleet here.