Dayton Daily News
Greta Van Fleet hopes to rock Grammys tonight
In mid-January, the quartet of very young rockers in Greta Van Fleet were preparing to make their “Saturday Night Live” debut. For a band just a couple of years into a dizzying rise from a Michigan hometown known for its Bavarian kitsch, this was enormous, and the act’s members sounded a little nervous.
“It’s a really humbling experience,” said guitarist and co-songwriter Jake Kiszka, 22, just hours before they took the stage in New York.
When they finally performed their singles “Black Smoke Rising” and “You’re the One,” the four were dressed in fringe, with shirts fully unbuttoned to show their track team captain-worthy chests. The Kiszka brothers ( Jake, singer Josh, 22, bassist Sam, 19) and drummer and family friend Danny Wagner, 20, would have looked the part of hotel-ransacking, ‘shroom tea-sippin’ rockers in any era.
No surprise, perhaps, that Greta Van Fleet had a way to go to live up to the titanic stage presence of their heroes — the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton, among them. But it’s hard to deny that they are rock ‘n’ roll’s new ascendant heroes in the mainstream, at a time when the odds are stacked against any band that wants to try.
The group looks poised to bring home a serious haul at the Grammy Awards tonight. They’re up for rock song, rock performance, rock album and new artist, the only band in that category this year. They’re the type of act that veteran Grammy voters salivate over: a young combo reverent toward the classics that also hit No.3 on the Billboard album charts with its 2018 Republic debut LP, “Anthem of the Peaceful Army.”
In a Grammy year when almost every major category seems up in the air, a new band that looks like the Who and pulls hip-hop-size Spotify numbers might be pretty compelling to the Recording Academy.
Greta Van Fleet will be the first to tell you that rock doesn’t need saving, even in a streaming era now dominated by other genres.
“To some degree, it’s silly. No one single artist can determine the fate of rock’s resurgence,” Kiszka said. “Once something is born, it will be reinterpreted and reinvented. We’re adapting rock ‘n’ roll to our time and generation. It’s not just happening in rock; it’s a return of real music and truth and meaning and purpose.”
That’s a sentiment everyone from hippie holdouts to tech-beleaguered Gen Z can get behind. But even though music trends are cyclical, it’s still striking to see a band wear those vintage influences so openly and find such a huge intergenerational audience (after Greta Van Fleet’s “SNL” set, sales and streams jumped 60 percent overnight). Acts like the Strokes, the White Stripes and Arcade Fire have ridden similar return-to-roots hype waves before, and Maroon 5 and Imagine Dragons have found huge success melding rock with electronic pop.
But Greta Van Fleet is one of the first riff-based acts to ascend in an era when rock’s also-ran status at streaming is taken for granted. On singles like “Black Smoke Rising” and “You’re the One,” nimble blues riffing and Josh Kiszka’s high wails sound like they’re spilling out of “Led Zeppelin I” (Robert Plant approves: He winkingly told an Australian TV station, “There’s a band in Detroit called Greta Van Fleet … Beautiful little singer, I hate him.”)
Sure, songs like “Flower Power” (“Electric gold, our love with tender care/ Hills of satin grass and maidens fair”) have a Tolkien-esque pomp that Johnny Rotten thought he strangled to death in the ‘70s. But in an era when even Tyler, the Creator has an album called “Flower Boy” and plenty in Highland Park are buying spell books, Greta Van Fleet’s earnest mysticism and environmental concern prove savvy and modern.
“It would be a puzzling thing to identify as a throwback band. We’re very much a product of the current environment,” Kiszka said. “It’s living in these times, being influenced by what’s around us. For any artist, it’s an important job to be a mirror for society and reflect on issues we’re concerned about. ‘Watching Over’ and ‘Age of Man’ are about decay of the Earth, what we’ve done to it, how we’ve been blind to it.”