Thursday, 30 November 2017 14:01

Year On Fire: Michigan rockers Greta Van Fleet celebrate sudden success with sold-out Intersection show

Written by  Eric Mitts
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This time last year, Jake Kiszka had no idea what was about to happen for him or his band, Greta Van Fleet. 

Yet, in just the past 12 months, the band went from the relative obscurity of its Michigan hometown of Frankenmuth to one of the hottest acts in the country — selling out two headlining tours in advance and having its debut single, Highway Tune, top both the Billboard Mainstream and Active Rock charts. 

“I don’t think that in any of our minds we expected to garner such immediate attention like we have over the last year,” Kiszka told Revue. “I don’t think any of us were expecting that.”

The buzz came in early and often for Greta Van Fleet this year. Upon releasing its debut EP Black Smoke Rising back in April, the band was named Artist of the Week by Apple Music. Online music sites and major media outlets soon followed, with some calling the young band the face of rock ‘n’ roll for a new generation, while others compared them to the legendary Led Zeppelin. 

Not bad for a band who still had two of its members in high school at the time.

“It’s difficult to perceive how much has happened, because it’s so constant,” Kiszka said of the band’s rapid acclaim, growing popularity and hectic schedule. “It’s sort of like being in the eye of a storm, where there’s so much going on around you, but right in the center it’s very calm.”

Made up of Jake Kiszka, 21, on lead guitar, his twin brother Josh on vocals, his younger brother Sam, 18, on bass/keyboards, and longtime friend Danny Wagner, 18, on drums, Greta Van Fleet first started in 2012. 

The Kiszka brothers grew up in a musical household, where their father exposed them to all the classic rock greats, from The Who to Jimi Hendrix, with dad’s extensive vinyl collection in near constant rotation. Encouraged at an early age to be artistic and creative, the brothers all sought different forms of expression, with Jake quickly gravitating to the guitar. 

“I knew early on that (the guitar) was a tool that I could use to speak with spiritually,” Kiszka said.

Jake was the first to start what would become Greta Van Fleet, and soon wrangled both of his brothers into the project, where they continued to grow and explore their shared influences together. 

“I think we really egg each other on musically and try to push each other to the next level,” Kiszka said. “In the household that we grew up in, it wasn’t just music. There was literature and film and different forms of art, and we all sort of took different angles. I was always the musician early on, and Josh was always cinema-oriented, and Sam was always into literature, and that sort of bleeds over (into the music) now.”

Last month, the band followed up the success of Black Smoke Rising with the double-EP release From The Fires, its name inspired by summer nights around the bonfire on family trips to Yankee Springs. The new release combines the band’s four already released songs with two new original tracks and two covers. It’s also just a hint at the massive quantity of new material the band has already written and recorded, and is eager to release in the near future.

Greta Van Fleet takes its name from one of Frankenmuth’s town elders — an octogenarian named Gretna Van Fleet — who has given the band her blessing, and even attended one of its shows. That close connection to home hasn’t left the band either, even as the brothers have sold out concerts in nearly every city they’ve gone to this year.

“I didn’t particularly think that living in this environment had too much to do with contributing to my influences,” Kiszka said of growing up in Frankenmuth. “But now that we’ve been away from home for so long, and seen how (other cities) work and how there’s large scenes of bands in a lot of areas, and how heavily amalgamated that is … being from Frankenmuth, a small town sort of in the middle of nowhere, where there weren’t too many influences, really is what gave birth to the influences that came naturally to us and that weren’t forced on us by anyone.”

Already following in the footsteps of many Michigan-born-and-bred rockers, Kiszka said he’s honored to add to that legacy in any way that he can. 

“If we can even just stand a bit close to some of the legends that have come out of here, like Bob Seger and MC5 — it’s overwhelmingly cool to be able to rub shoulders with those guys,” Kiszka said. 

Greta Van Fleet had the chance to open for Seger at the Dow Events Center in Saginaw, ahead of its first trip to Europe this fall. After all its travels, the band is eager to come home to Michigan this month for two triumphant shows at St. Andrews Hall in Detroit and a sold-out night at The Intersection. 

“Hopefully, I think in the coming years, (we’ll) be able to be graced with the ability to play for larger audiences and I think doing that would make it easier to convey the messages and the meanings that we have in our music and be able to spread love, peace and unity,” Kiszka said. “I think (playing) on a larger scale would be ideal, and that’s what we’d all love to do.”


Greta Van Fleet (Sold out)

The Intersection, 133 Grandville Ave. SW, Grand Rapids

Dec. 30, 7:30 p.m., (616) 451-8232

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