INTERVIEW WITH GREAT VAN FLEET FRONTMAN JOSH KISZKA
Date: October 17, 2017
Interviewers: Mark Horvath and Mark Gregory
Sleaze Roxx caught up with Greta Van Fleet’s lead vocalist and elder twin Josh Kiszka for a candid conversation about his band and the state of rock within the music industry today. We are particularly excited about this band because of the sheer velocity of success they’re garnering in such a short time. Their debut EP was after all, just released just back in April of this year. Some of Josh’s answers surprised us and most of them made us think that Greta Van Fleet just may be the humble beginnings of a new and large sweeping movement in popular music today. With the anticipated release of their new double EP ‘From The Fires’ on November 10th, we feel that the band just might bring rock music back to the top 40… along with an element of authenticity that has certainly been lacking in pop music today.
Sleaze Roxx: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us Josh. There is a much deserved buzz around the band since you released your EP ‘Black Smoke Rising’ this past April. It’s refreshing to see a band that is playing no frills, guitar driven rock n’ roll and making a huge dent in today’s pop oriented cookie cutter main stream.
Josh Kiszka: Thanks so much!
Sleaze Roxx: On the EP, you guys have worn your influences on your sleeves but have also crafted a sound that is your own.
Josh Kiszka: Yeah! We’ve been fortunate enough to do that.
Sleaze Roxx: In watching/listening to numerous live clips, it is quite apparent that you have a very powerful, yet soulful vocal range. Your vocal approach is extremely clean yet it is very obvious you are NOT using auto tune, backing tracks etc…. which unfortunately nowadays a lot of artists are resorting to when playing live.
Josh Kiszka: No, no backtracks, none of that.
Sleaze Roxx: Did you specifically train your voice to sound that way?
Josh Kiszka: I did. It was initially the sound I wanted to be able to make and be capable of, and kind of harnessing it and perfecting it, to the point now where I think I’m comfortable. But there’s still a lot of work for me to be doing.
Sleaze Roxx: And what kind of work would that be?
Josh Kiszka: I’d like to be more capable of doing more range of things, or at least strengthen and be comfortable that I’ll be able to do it for a long time.
Sleaze Roxx: The band is comprised of your younger brother Sam (age 18) on bass, Danny Wagner (age 18) on drums and your brother Jake (21) on guitar who is also your identical twin…
Josh Kiszka: Yeah, he is. He’s an identical twin. We’re about five minutes apart. I am the older one and he’ll never forget that [laughs].
Sleaze Roxx: So if you ever decided to jump ship, Jake would be able to flawlessly take over vocal duties as well [laughs]?
Josh Kiszka: Theoretically yes, he can sing. He might be a tiny bit better than I am [laughs]. And for me was incidental. It was always for me, as an artist, I wanted to be a film maker, which was really the centre of my attention. But it quickly turned, and it’s still there, a voracious hunger for film because I’m something of a film nerd. So as we did stuff musically, it’s a bit of a natural outlet. It developed in the rough patches where I was thinking “I shouldn’t be doing this, [music] I should be doing film.” Eventually things started going our way so I’m very glad that I stuck with it.
Sleaze Roxx: Being from Frankenmuth, Michigan [which isn’t exactly known for being music scene central, but rather known as Christmas Wonderland 365 days/year], where did you guys play live to strengthen your chops? Did you stay local or did you have to leave and play places like New York, L.A., Boston, Chicago etc.
Josh Kiszka: We for the majority stuck to the local area, playing Saginaw lots, and Flint and Detroit was a market that we eventually broke into. But we put in a lot of work, like probably four years of playing bars and dives and all kinds of venues.
Sleaze Roxx: That is great that you were able to build a strong following locally, and that’s where the fun stuff starts. It seems that major labels have ignored guitar driven rock for a long time, or if they do sign a band of that ilk, they are often left for dead and there is no promotion or marketing given to them by the label. Greta Van Fleet is signed to Lava/Republic [through Universal Music], and they seem to have been really going to bat for you guys. How did that relationship occur, which eventually led them to signing the band.
Josh Kiszka: Well I’m not completely sure, [maybe] we were in some alternate universe [laughs]. It’s strange to me, just as it is to you.
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] But did you approach them? Did you have an EPK [press kit] that you mailed/emailed them? Was there a showcase or did they come to you?
Josh Kiszka: Well… We were in the studio ourselves. Working out how to record an album or so. And that went on for about a year. And eventually our producers had us go down to Nashville to meet with some people, and that resulted in a management deal which we looked over for quite some time which then initially I think we met Nick Fararra. He’s an entertainment lawyer. And he set us up with ABI Management. And he kind of had this list of people he wanted involved — and at the top was Jason Flom and Mark Geiger and he got a hold of these guys and they were it seemed like, immediately on board which was a huge honor and quite a shock for us, and for Jason I think it was just, I mean there was no showcase or anything. It was pretty immediate. It was kind of overnight, that was it. And this music seems to be capturing the attention of a lot of people. Garnering way more attention than any of us initially thought.
Sleaze Roxx: So on that topic, here at Sleaze Roxx we talk a lot about this…. that there is a lot of undiscovered talent out there in regards to young bands that play anthemic, dare I say “classic” or “arena rock”, and that there is obviously an enormous market for it. We often bitch about the fact that if a major label signed a “rock” band and gave them even 10% of the promotion and marketing that they give a pop act [i.e. Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, etc], it would reach the masses and put rock n’ roll back on the map. This is EXACTLY what is happening with Greta Van Fleet. We see the lead off single “Highway Tune” blowing up [five consecutive weeks at number one on the active rock charts], and not only is it taking off at rock radio but also with tremendous sharing on social media. That being said the EP is only available in digital format. Will it be released to retail in physical format?
[Editor’s note: at the time of the interview the physical version of the EP was not available]
Josh Kiszka: We do have it in physical format. We sell that at the shows and I think it’s been recently discontinued due to a collection of more work that’s about to come out.
Greta Van Fleet‘s “Highway Tune” video:
Highway Tune (Official Video)Song available here: https://republic.lnk.to/GretaVanFleetHighwayTuneYD Connect with Greta Van Fleet:https://www.facebook.com/gr…
Sleaze Roxx: If it’s discontinued now, will the four songs on the ‘Black Smoke Rising’ EP be included on the new record?
[Editor’s note: at time of the interview it was not yet announced that on November 10th they would be issuing the double EP ‘From The Fires’ which will include the four songs from the first EP, four newly recorded songs and will have a physical release on LP/CD]
Josh Kiszka: Yeah, and in November, December-ish, January and February, that’s when we’ll be working on a full length [album]. And at this point, it’s sort of gathering together specific songs that we think are going to be diverse and share a lot of light shade and present a lot of nuances. So that’s where we’re kind of at right now. Writing seems to be a process that’s sort of natural, sort of like a second nature where just today, we were working on something. Somebody’s doing something, and you initially like that idea. It comes down to at any given moment, something happens and you’ve got a song.
Sleaze Roxx: What are your thoughts on the way that music is being consumed today?
Josh Kiszka: I think it’s fair to say, in my opinion the resurgence of vinyl has I think created an excitement around having a physical copy of anything. Which I think is really great. I mean there’s a certain sound you get on vinyl that you can’t get anywhere else. We’re planning on going that route as well. I think that now music is being consumed a little bit differently where we can buy one song, or a single or a track or an artist doing singles.
Sleaze Roxx: One of the things we have noticed is how good this EP sounds sonically. The recording of it seems very pure and organic and not heavily “processed” or “polished.” Did the band record analog [to tape] or was it done digitally with the use of Pro Tools?
Josh Kiszka: Yeah, we were talking about doing it analog, and recording it that way. We decided we would use the digital platform but we used good classic mic’s and Al [Sutton] who’s really well read on [recording] so it was only natural that we meet up with him. If we wanted to work with someone. it was going to have to be Al Sutton [producer].
Sleaze Roxx: In the spring, you had a very successful run opening for The Struts. How was that tour, as I am sure you gained a whole new audience and fan base playing with them?
Josh Kiszka: Really well! I expected that would be a good match. They’re good guys. I was amazed that the way it felt when we were playing with them, that there was a sort of a rock revival almost going on. A journalist was talking to Jake [Kiszka] the other day and he thought it should be called ‘renaissance rock and roll [laughs].’
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] We have also heard people refer to you as that.
Josh Kiszka: Yeah, we love it. We embrace it. We think it’s a great thing.
Sleaze Roxx: Greta Van Fleet is now headlining and selling out bigger venues [1,000-2,000 seat capacity] than they were when they were just an opening act and are selling out at venues where you are booked multiple nights.
Josh Kiszka: [Laughs] I hope it’s the quality of the performance and the quality of the artistry, of the craft. And hopefully [now that] we’ve dipped our toes in the water and there’s that ripple across the pond. People are responding to it, talking about it and there’s a momentum and it continues to hold. That’s all we could hope for.
Sleaze Roxx: Do you want to make a gradual transition to bigger venues or do you have a timeline in mind that you would like to move to bigger venues… The demand is definitely there for you guys.
Josh Kiszka: I don’t know for sure; before we know it, I hope. It’s just nice to be able to spread the message of love and peace and unity and real music and sort of inspire as many people as possible, for the good of doing it.
Sleaze Roxx: You obviously channel the sound of the late ’60s and ’70s. What are you noticing about the demographics of the crowd attending your shows?
Josh Kiszka: We always say it’s like [ages] eight to 80 because there’s parents. You see the older generation that have lived all of that with a sort of like nostalgic glisten in their eye. And then there are their kids and their kids’ kids. It’s sort of like all of that. And they want to share that kind of music and that experience with their families and their children. And I think that’s a very beautiful thing.
Sleaze Roxx: Are you noticing a strong female presence at your shows as well as males? I am assuming there are girls AND guys in the front row singing every word [laughs].
Josh Kiszka: Oh yeah!
Sleaze Roxx: It just seems like dance/pop music is shoved down people’s throats these days and MOST of these artists are here today and gone tomorrow. What do you notice about people your age as far what they are actually listening to? Do you find they are listening to music that is rooted in classic rock and the blues?
Josh Kiszka: Not to the extent that I would hope but it’s different. Rock and roll takes on a lot of different connotations. [There’s] metal, or heavy metal, or death metal, that kind of thing. I personally categorize that as rock and roll genre per se. But it seems more like that’s the kind of scene people are listening to. But there are a good few who are listening to good rock and roll, all that good stuff that came out in the late ’60s and the ’70s.
Sleaze Roxx: Obviously your influences have been well documented [Delta Blues, Robert Johnson, Sam and Dave, Joe Cocker, Wilson Pickett, etc]. As far as newer bands, let’s say in the last decade to 20 years, who would you say are your influences from this more current time period.
Josh Kiszka: I really like The Shins, The Fleet Foxes are amazing, Grizzly Bear, First Aid Kit, bands like that — even Mumford and Sons. Jake [Kiszka] and Sam [Kiszka] and Danny [Wagner] are grooving on the Rival Sons [and] the Black Keys. I’m more of a melody-driven, folk music. I don’t know that I consider myself a rock n’ roller.
Sleaze Roxx: Do you think Greta Van Fleet has a differentiator? What sets you apart from all the other new bands out there today?
Josh Kiszka: A lot of that has to do with the diversity of our influences. I think we’re all pretty confident in going forward in making the music that we grew up on. It was really roots stuff. And there’s three of us who have grown up together. Daniel has obviously been around a long time in our lives. So there’s a really very special communication between the four of us, I think in a special way. It’s like sort of, the way The Beatles could communicate. It’s beyond words. So that’s something you get that’s a little different than in mainstream music. We inspire from each as much as we get from anything else. Daniel Wagner is one of my favorite drummers, period. So as musicians we look to each other and build off each other in a neat way like that.
Sleaze Roxx: And speaking of Danny, was it true that there was golf in his future and he had to make a choice between the band and a professional golf career?
Josh Kiszka: Yes, that’s true. He was one of the best in the state. So yeah, he had to make that decision.
Sleaze Roxx: If there is one highlight that stands out for you, between the time that “Highway Tune” took off this past April and now, what would that one highlight be.
Josh Kiszka: I think everything has been really different. Being on the road and travelling the world. I always had this anxiety as a child about the world. I felt small in comparison, you know? And it’s like I’ve been able to conquer that fear by challenging it face on. You’re meeting people all over the country, and all over the world. It becomes smaller, more of a home instead of a place to fear. I find that, I think it’s been the realization and the experience that I shared with my family and new friends and that all people are kind of interconnected and genuinely loving and caring, peace-seeking free people.
Sleaze Roxx: I guess where I am going with this is I know you guys opened a show for the legendary Bob Seger in Saginaw, Michigan in September. Must have been a nice homecoming for the band.
Josh Kiszka: Yes, [laughs] and we were lucky we got in there just in time. It was humbling and it was kind of like full circle. Growing up, we heard a lot of Bob Seger on the radio and I don’t know that I cared for all of the rock and roll music or much of it even, I could say. But for some reason, Bob Seger was very special to me in that he had a lot of blues about him and a real appreciation for the roots of what rock and roll was. I loved listening to that growing up, and to be able to hear it live and even meeting Bob Seger and talking with him was kind of like an amazingly surreal experience.
Sleaze Roxx: So what is next for Greta Fleet?
Josh Kiszka: Hope world domination [laughs]. No, I think it would be nice to communicate with all those people in arenas and all over the world. I think it’s a world music and not just for any one group of people so hopefully making album after album and hopefully reinvigorating and inspiring a lot of future generations.
Sleaze Roxx: Is there anything in the works as far as full tour opening for someone on a larger full scale arena tour?
Josh Kiszka: We’ve been going over that with management and it seems like the numbers and the momentum and the statistics… I don’t know that we’ll have to do that. Hopefully with somebody like Mumford And Sons, that kind of thing. But we’ll see. It’s hard to really say at this point. We might just go out doing our own stuff and see where that goes.
Sleaze Roxx: Once again Josh, thanks for taking the time to talk to us and congratulations on all your success and all the success that’s heading your way.
Josh Kiszka: Thanks again and we’ll see you guys when we hit Toronto.
Greta Van Fleet performing “Safari Song” for 101WKQX intimate session at The Sound Lounge in Chicago, Illinois, USA:
Greta Van Fleet performs “Safari Song” during a 101WKQX intimate session in The Lounge.#TheLoungeSUBSCRIBE ⟶ https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsCWF39dkshD5UC…
Greta Van Fleet performing “Black Smoke Rising” for 101WKQX intimate session at The Sound Lounge in Chicago, Illinois, USA:
Greta Van Fleet performs “Black Smoke Rising” during a 101WKQX intimate session in The Lounge.#TheLoungeSUBSCRIBE ⟶ https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsCWF39d…