It’s been years since rock music has seen the rise of a band like Greta Van Fleet. The buzzy four-piece—made up of two twins, a third brother and a close friend, all 21 or younger — only nationally released their debut single (the gripping blues rock throwback “Highway Tune”) in April of this year.
GRETA VAN FLEET
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 30
Where: Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave.
Tickets: Sold out
By May they were out-strutting The Struts on their first sizable opening gig, by June and July they picked up steam at Summerfest and Ribfest Chicago, by September they topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock Charts and headed out on a national festival circuit and by October they had won “Best New Artist” at the Loudwire Music Awards and completely sold out their first major headlining tour (which stops at Lincoln Hall November 30). In fact, the only way to even see a Greta Van Fleet gig right now is to head to Europe (but just wait until they get their hands on the band, too).
It’s a feat that a few kids from sleepy Frankenmuth, Michigan (the quaint tourist destination known as “Little Bavaria” with claim to the world’s largest Christmas store), could make so many believe that rock stars could again exist. Though, that’s bound to happen when you sound just like the mothership, Led Zeppelin.
The “baby Zepp” and “Zeppelin Version 2.0” comparisons are rampant — a spiritual privilege for some listeners, sacrilege for others — but the kinship is anything but unfounded. Close your eyes while Josh Kiszka belts out the hair-raising wails on “Black Smoke Rising,” and you’ll swear it’s Robert Plant on some lost-in-the-archives track.
“They are the best rock band of all time, so we’ll take it,” Kiszka admits, laughing, during a recent phone chat. The interview before ours had just played him a clip of Jason Bonham (Zeppelin drummer John’s son) saluting the band, and Kiszka has heard some say that Plant has lovingly used the word ‘badass’ when referring to the group. Other rabid fans include Alice Cooper, Howard Stern and Kings of Leon. “The fact that our music is getting around so much is pretty cool,” Kiszka says, with many ears rightfully now starting to hear more depth than just the homage sound.
Kiszka never really intended on being involved in music at all, now just a few years out of high school where he was a community theater brat and budding filmmaker. “I love total oddball characters, the real strange and exotic ones,” he recalls, his favorite playing the lead role in “Willy Wonka.” Soon after he found his way into his brothers’ garage jam sessions where bassist Sam, guitarist Jake and drummer pal Danny Wagner began to cement the polished backing line that gives the band a modern, fresh touchstone.
“After being in [structured] musicals, to be able to step aside and grab the mic and make up what I was singing with the band was really fun. But with a sound that loud, I had to find a way to sing over it and cut through. And I learned a way that was natural for my voice to sound as clean as I could get it. It was really three years before I thought, ‘I have the hang of this.’”
Kiszka says his main influences are not even traditional rock music at all—he throws out references to John Denver and Wilson Pickett and a whole bucket of world music. “I love folk music, I’m a huge fan of African music and South American bands, especially that Peruvian sound. And Polynesian music,” he says, noting that, as children, he and his brothers grew up on a heavy education of blues music courtesy of their father. “The earliest concert we attended was Buddy Guy when we were in strollers.”
On their latest release, the double EP “From the Fires,” which in concept was inspired by the family’s annual winter trips to Michigan’s Yankee Springs where they’d write music and sit by the fire telling stories, there are also two interesting covers. They include “Meet On The Ledge” by Fairport Convention and a soulful, heart-melting take on Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” that really hints at the band’s true old souls.
“We are just starting to get into more complex Greta Van Fleet material,” Kiszka says, forecasting that the band’s anticipated full-length album will be out in 2018. “This music now is just the carrot on the stick.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.