Interview ~ Sam Kiszka of Greta Van Fleet

High school days provided us with some of the best times of our lives. We had football games, dances, fieldtrips, our first cars, major crushes and so much more! Can you imagine if you were in high school and having to miss your prom because your band was about to go out on the road opening up for The Struts? It’s hard for me to wrap my head around that opportunity, but that’s exactly what’s about to happen to Sam Kiszka (bass/organ) and Danny Wagner (drums) who play in one of the hottest bands on the rise right now known as Greta Van Fleet. Rounding out the band are Sam’s older (21) twin brothers Jake (guitar) and Josh Kiszka (vocals).

These young and extremely talented guys are white hot right now and have just issued their debut EP entitled Black Smoke Rising and while you may immediately be drawn to the Led Zeppelin influences that run throughout their songs, there is far more to their sound if you peel back a layer or two. They wear their influences on their musical sleeves, but they manage to blend the old and the new in a refreshing and invigorated way that’s way beyond their years. We caught up with bassist Sam Kiszka recently who was juggling finishing up his senior year of high school with band practices before heading out on tour. That’s a hell of a lot of pressure for someone his age to have to manage, but it seems as if he has his feet firmly plated and is doing a damn good job of dealing with it as are all of the guys. Pull up a chair as we talk about what life’s like these days for the four guys collectively known as Greta Van Fleet.

How crazy have the last few weeks been for you?

Sam Kiszka/Greta Van Fleet: It really hasn’t changed too much other than we’re writing more and we’re playing more, but what’s crazy for me right now is getting through high school and getting all of that taken care. Then, I’ll have so much more time for everything. That’ll give me 40 more hours a week to play and write, which we can’t get enough of. It does feel really good to be keeping busy.

I started wondering what it would be like if I was going through this while in high school and it’s hard for me to begin to imagine it all. Has your popularity increased recently or does everyone go ‘oh it’s just Sam from that band, whatever’?

I wouldn’t say that my popularity has really changed because our school is so small. Our graduating class is 140, so I know everyone in my grade by first and last name and I can tell you something about every one of them. I wouldn’t say that it’s changed a whole lot because it’s such a steady environment to be in. People have definitely been asking about it with the interest that we’ve been getting, the EP and the music video. People are excited about it too, so that’s always great to hear.

I’ve played a few songs for some people and they seem to immediately gravitate to the Led Zeppelin comparisons. How you heard any negative feedback from people about that?

Not really, but I didn’t know that the Zeppelin thing would be such a big deal to people; it’s not like we stole anything. I know some bands that steal whole riffs from Zeppelin songs. I don’t know why the Zeppelin thing has resonated so much through the music, but that’s from a different perspective. We learn from whomever we listen to and it just all came together. I think it’s wide ranging, but I think the main thing is that Josh sounds so much like Robert Plant in his own way.

What a phenomenal voice at such a young age!

Honestly, I think Josh could be the most powerful man in the world. Everything about him is so powerful, his art and his singing, and he’s very creative and very tasteful. He knows his stuff very well.

I’m a big music nerd and I love learning how a band got its name. You press release said that you were named after a town elder; care to elaborate on that?

That’s a pretty broad statement isn’t it; named after a town elder. About five years, we were about to play a show at a big festival. Our old drummer Kyle was at breakfast with his grandpa and we were all scrambling to find a band name because we didn’t have one yet. You can’t come up with something so original that sounds tasteful and Josh actually said that band’s shouldn’t even have names because they sound so awkward. So, Kyle’s grandfather said that he had to go because he had to chop some wood for Gretna Van Fleet; she was woman of the community who was pretty musically gifted. When Kyle heard him say that, he thought it was cool and he brought it to us. We thought it was pretty fucking sweet and we took out the N and went with it. It’s worked out really well because if you search it on the internet, you don’t really get anything else. It’s unique and has worked for us really well; when you hear the name you don’t know what to expect. When you hear the name Dying Fetus, then you know that’s a heavy metal band. I can imagine a folk duo or a rapper with a name like Greta Van Fleet.

The run with The Struts starts on May 12 and will those be your biggest crowds that you’ve played for?

On average, this will be consistently bigger for us; the biggest show that we’ve done to date has been Grand Rapids which was a 2700-2800 capacity. I’m really looking forward to this run and all of those people packed into the room; you really feed off of all of that energy. I’ve never felt nervous before a show, but when we went to Monroe was because it was enormous. We opened for Shinedown and it was a sold-out show; we walked out on stage and the audience was all blacked out. It felt so natural for all of us because we’ve done this a million times. Then, they turned the lights on the crowd and it was like holy shit; how far do these people go back. It’s the best feeling in the world when you get rolling on a song and everybody’s into it. It really lifts you up and takes you somewhere else; then when we’re done it felt like we were only up there for a few minutes.

I don’t know how long your set time is, but what else do you play since the EP only has four songs on it?

We don’t want to get bored with the set, so we will probably throw in two other songs or one really long one. They will be off of the next two EPs which will make up the album. We have one called “Talk on the Street” which will be in the set, but we will probably change it up. There will be no covers, but there will be some sneak peek material.

Time out! Tell me about these next two EPs.

Right now we’re looking at doing a single, then an EP, then a single and then another EP. Once you put these three EPs together, that will be our full length.

So, will they be released separately and then all together on a long format?

I want to put it on a long format; that would be ideal for me. Then, you can put it together like a full LP which nobody really listens to anymore.  That’s annoying because you’ll have that one song off of an album that everybody listens to and they buy that and then they don’t listen to the rest of it. I am a huge fan of the full length album; we all are and it’s a shame that people don’t listen to albums all the way through like they used to.

What prompted you to pick up the bass?

I suppose the seed was planted when Jake was always bringing home a buddy and they would play guitar and drums together. Then, Josh would sing on them every now and then for fun. Every now and then, my mom would say ‘you look like a bass player’ because I’m the long, lanky kind of deal. After she kept saying it, I thought it would be pretty sweet to it out. So, I took my dad’s bass and Jake taught me some stuff, but it was guitar stuff. It was the wrong fucking tuning that I was playing on. It was the top four guitar strings rather than the lower four, so it was the wrong tuning which I eventually figured out. I started playing with them and then I noticed that there was this old organ out here in the garage. It was an old Hammond and it looked cool; I figured out how to start it up and I started playing on it a little bit. I heard Billy Preston’s organ in the background of “She’s So Heavy” and holy shit, I wanted to do that! There is a setback when you want to play keyboards in a four piece band where you already play bass. I learned how to do the bass pedals with my feet; I was a really big fan of Jimmy Smith the jazz organist. He would run these crazy bass lines and then either double it with his left hand on the lower manual or do rhythm while he was fucking soloing or doing a lead with his right hand.

One of my favorite things on the EP is the outro for “Flower Power” where it goes on and on for about two minutes; it’s so trippy and I just love it!

Oh my god; I am so glad that you said that! I wanted it to be substantially shorter, but if you’re going to do it, you have to just go ahead and do it. We’ve always done an organ outro with it live and I’m really not sure how it came to be because “Flower Power” kind of wrote itself. I was kind of imagining the end of “America” by Simon and Garfunkel with that organ outro. I’m glad that you dig it and I’m really glad that we put it on there. I haven’t heard a song like that in a very long time.

If you could go back and play with any musician that we’ve lost, who do you think you would choose?

I would want to play with Robert Johnson because he is such a ridiculously amazing guitar player and I just want to know what else he can do. Man, that would be so cool to just sit down and jam with him with a couple of acoustics.

What a wealth of knowledge too; it would be great to be able to pick his brain.

I know, that’s what I’m thinking too; I’m getting greedy with it!

I see that our time is just about up, so I definitely want to thank you for squeezing me into your already hectic and busy schedule. Dude, we freaking love this EP so much and we’re excited about you guys and what you’re doing. Is there anything else on your radar other than the dates with The Struts and the two Eps that you want to mention?

We have some summer stuff booking up so we want everyone to keep their eyes peeled in case we might be coming to your town. I’m excited because we’re going to go out to LA in June for some meetings and we’ll probably do a show going out and coming back. June 24 we have Shake the Lake in Madison, Wisconsin and we have Summerfest in Milwaukee on July 1. We’re going to hopefully be getting all around the states this summer!

Even though school will be over, it doesn’t sound like you are going to slow down one bit.

No, we’re definitely going to speed up!

Order your copy of Black Smoke Rising HERE

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