GRETA VAN FLEET

THE FU­TURE OF ROCK’N’ROLL? DETROIT CER­TAINLY THINKS SO

Kerrang! (UK) - - Welcome - Gobinder Jhitta

Greta Van Fleet are sat around a pic­nic bench, pass­ing a bot­tle of cham­pagne around. A freak heat­wave has set­tled on top of down­town Detroit, Michi­gan, and two of the four band mem­bers have taken their shirts off.

Gui­tarist Jake Kiszka is talk­ing Ker­rang! through the chaotic scenes that un­folded after the group’s show in the city two nights ear­lier, when a small and unexpected con­voy of cars tailed their tour bus all the way back to their ho­tel on the edge of town, the court­yard of which they cur­rently occupy.

“There were peo­ple com­ing out of their cars and sur­round­ing the bus,” he ex­plains coolly, be­fore de­scrib­ing their es­cape – or­ches­trated by the band’s man­age­ment – like a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion. “There was a crowd of peo­ple out here and they were scream­ing and stuff – and it was like, ‘Go, go, go.’”

This sort of thing, it seems, is be­com­ing pretty nor­mal for Greta Van Fleet. In an af­ter­noon spent in their com­pany, we wit­ness pass­ing mo­torists scream­ing from their cars as the four young men line up to have their photo taken out­side a vin­tage vinyl record store, while later on a small voice be­long­ing to a ner­vous-looking gen­tle­man ap­pears over the ho­tel’s fence to ask if the lads will sign his base­ball (they will).

It’s the sort of ex­cite­ment you’d ex­pect to fol­low age­ing rock­stars around, yet two mem­bers of Greta Van Fleet wouldn’t even get served in a bar in this state. More stu­pe­fy­ing still is that th­ese young men are yet to re­lease a full-length record, their back cat­a­logue cur­rently made up of two EPS, to­tal­ing six orig­i­nal songs and two cov­ers (of soul and folk singers Sam Cooke and Richard John Thomp­son). Yet some­thing about the band’s mod­ern retelling of rock’n’roll and blues is striking chords in the Mid­west and be­yond, and those re­spon­si­ble be­lieve they have the an­ti­dote for main­stream apa­thy to­wards rock mu­sic.

The four young men in the eye of this storm grew up about an hour and a half’s drive north from here, in the ru­ral Michi­gan town Franken­muth. There’s 22-year-old vo­cal­ist Josh, his twin brother gui­tarist Jake, their 19-year-old brother Sam on bass, and child­hood friend Danny Wag­ner – also 19 – is the band’s drum­mer. The ex­tended lay­over in Detroit is so the group can play three sold-out ‘home­town’ shows at 3,000-capacity

“PEO­PLE HAVE LOST SIGHT OF WHAT ROCK’N’ROLL IS…” SAM KISZKA

venue The Fill­more. It’s an im­por­tant place for the quar­tet – one they would travel to while in high school. There’s also a deep fond­ness for the city it­self, not least due to its rich mu­si­cal her­itage. Motown, MC5, Grand Funk Rail­road and Ste­vie Won­der all re­ceive name-checks as in­flu­ences.

“Peo­ple al­ways pre­sume that we lis­ten to rock’n’roll all the time, but it’s just not true,” says Josh in his wood-smoked voice. “There’s so much great mu­sic that’s not rock’n’roll.”

Their col­lec­tive mu­si­cal ed­u­ca­tion ap­par­ently started at an early age in Franken­muth. The small farm­land town has a large Ger­man pop­u­la­tion, and is known for its Bavar­ian ar­chi­tec­ture and be­ing home to the world’s largest Christ­mas store. The band paint it as a mys­ti­cal idyll. They re­count build­ing rafts to sail down the lo­cal creek in the sum­mer, and ven­tur­ing across snowy tun­dra dur­ing the win­ter. “Like a weird Ger­man ver­sion of Huck Finn,” of­fers Danny.

For the Kiszka broth­ers, it was their par­ents who first in­tro­duced them to mu­sic. The boys would rum­mage through their folks’ vinyl col­lec­tion, lis­ten­ing to what­ever they could find – blues, soul, folk, jazz, R’N’B – while their fa­ther was a keen mu­si­cian him­self. “He would play gui­tar when we were grow­ing up,” says Josh. “But the one in­stru­ment that he’s al­ways played and found his heart in is the har­mon­ica. He’s such a blues man.”

Danny’s mu­si­cal awak­en­ing also came via his par­ents, when he found his mother’s old 12-string gui­tar in the base­ment. “I even­tu­ally con­vinced them to get me a younger, six-string ver­sion,” he says with a smile.

It’s Jake, who says he first started learn­ing gui­tar age three, who takes credit for the of­fi­cial for­ma­tion of the band around 2012. Having got his broth­ers in­volved, he then re­cruited Danny, and their jam ses­sions quickly gained mo­men­tum, with the group tak­ing things se­ri­ously from the get-go. “Within that first week we all kind of looked at each other and said, ‘There’s some­thing sub­stan­tial here,’” says Jake. “And that’s when we had the pro­fes­sional ideals on our shoul­ders.”

The band’s early sound cen­tred around ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with blues mu­sic – the one genre that all four mem­bers com­monly shared an in­ter­est in. It’s since de­vel­oped into a spell­bind­ing ta­pes­try of rock’n’roll, with ad­di­tional el­e­ments of psychedelia and folk wo­ven through­out. When we watch the band’s third and fi­nal show at The Fill­more the fol­low­ing night, it’s the power and pre­ci­sion of the per­for­mance that stands out most, with Josh’s thun­der­bolt vo­cals re­duc­ing a heav­ing room into rev­er­ent si­lence. It’s a sound that gets the band con­stantly likened to some of rock’s most pres­ti­gious elders…

“Oh, you mean like Led Zep­pelin?” Josh says with a sar­cas­tic smirk. “Well, there are worse things that could have hap­pened. Led Zep­pelin are… they’re pretty good.”good.”

His brother Jake of­fers some diplo­macy: “They were one of the bands that were a fac­tor in the evo­lu­tion of that genre of mu­sic. They’re a bril­liant band, and I think we’re all hon­oured, and I think we al­ways will be.”

The com­par­isons may be start­ing to grate – Led Zep­pelin vo­cal­ist Robert Plant even re­ferred to the group as ‘Led Zep­pelin I’ a few months ago – but it’s clearly only be­cause mu­si­cal in­tegrity is im­por­tant to the group. To that end, they’ve been in a Nashville studio re­cently, record­ing their de­but full-length and aim­ing to cre­ate a sound of their own – one that cap­tures the imag­i­na­tion of a new gen­er­a­tion of rock fans.

“We’re just mak­ing mu­sic that’s true and hon­ourable to the things that we grew up on,” says Josh. “We’re a bunch of young kids and we’re con­tem­po­rary artists. It’s not classic rock, it’s pro­gres­sive rock. It’s based off some older stuff, but ev­ery­thing is. Hope­fully it’s also mov­ing things for­ward into the next decade.”

Sam backs him up: “That’s the thing about it. Mov­ing it for­ward. That’s the prob­lem. No­body moves it for­ward. Peo­ple just say, ‘Oh, this is what’s on the ra­dio, we’re go­ing to write a song just like this…’

“Some­times [when writ­ing mu­sic] we think, ‘What should come next?’ and we put some­thing in just be­cause it’s weird. Mu­sic is sup­posed to be unique.”

O ne thing you quickly re­alise about Greta Van Fleet is that once they start talk­ing about mu­sic like this, try­ing to get them to stop is like step­ping in front of a freight train. In fact, the only time they slow down dur­ing our time to­gether is when all four are silently leaf­ing through vinyl in­side the record store we stop off in.

It’s why you can be­lieve that the group are in this for the mu­sic, first and fore­most. And there are other signs – ask them what it was like to play El­ton John’s Academy Awards party ear­lier this year, about which celebri­ties lined the halls, and they’ll tell you they’re not great with fa­mous faces, but will in­stead de­scribe play­ing Satur­day Night’s Al­right For Fight­ing with El­ton. “We left after­wards think­ing, ‘Well, we can die in peace now,’” says Josh. “After that, it’s like, you’d have to bring in Paul Mccartney in a clown out­fit.”

A sim­i­lar act of mu­si­cal nerdery oc­curs later, when the group are asked what the big­gest rock­star mo­ment of their ca­reer has been so far. “Open­ing for Bob Seger,” comes Jake’s im­me­di­ate and sur­pris­ing re­ply.

De­spite their col­lec­tive hu­mil­ity, the group do con­fess to some hefty as­pi­ra­tions – head­lin­ing Coachella fes­ti­val in the U.S., and Down­load fes­ti­val in the UK, for starters. They’re also not shy when it comes to pin­point­ing when and why they reckon rock’n’roll lost its way in the past.

“Well, rock’n’roll post-1975 was pretty hor­ri­ble a lot of the time,” says Sam. “I think peo­ple had stopped per­ceiv­ing what rock’n’roll re­ally is. Ev­ery­body thinks it’s about sleep­ing with mul­ti­ple women, drink­ing ridicu­lous amounts of al­co­hol and just par­ty­ing their whole lives, but I think it’s more than that. Peo­ple just lost sight of what rock’n’roll is.”

It’s a bold as­ser­tion for a young man drink­ing cham­pagne in the mid­day sun to make, but what­ever their thoughts on the fol­lies of rock acts of the past, what’s for cer­tain is that Greta Van Fleet have ab­so­lute faith in their own abil­ity to bring the genre back to the masses.

“There’s a truth to what we’re do­ing,” prom­ises Josh. “There’s so much man­u­fac­tured mu­sic out there, but you can’t fake emo­tion.”

“For a lot of our gen­er­a­tion, this is a new sound,” says Sam with a grin. “It’s a new wave and I gen­uinely be­lieve this is the fu­ture of mu­sic. Rock’n’roll is on its way back.”

Big words. But we’d ex­pect noth­ing less from Greta Van Fleet now we know them a lit­tle bet­ter. Here’s to those about to rock…

TOM SHEPHERD Words: PHO­TOS:

How big are you lot gonna be, Danny?

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