Last summer, Greta Van Fleet were about to tear through some of their Viking stomp rock & roll during a live appearance on a Chicago radio show when lead singer Josh Kiszka leaned over to pick up his tambourine, and out of his pockets poured a stream of colored pills.
“Everyone in the front row just stared at me,” says the 21-year-old. But Josh hadn’t accidentally revealed a contraband stash of oxys and perks.
They were multivitamins.
It was a classic rock moment with a twist, perfect for this quartet, which cut its teeth six years ago playing covers in Michigan biker bars they weren’t even old to drink in. Their sound is pure Seventies golden-god swagger – an electrifying throwback at a time when most bands that get played on what’s left of rock radio lean more towards hip-hop-influenced electro-pop – but they lean more hippie than hedonist. As they record a full-length follow-up to their first two EPs (packaged together last year as the eight songs of From the Fires), they favor hikes in the Nashville woods over all-night ragers.
Josh and his twin brother Jake (on guitar) are the band’s elder statesman; younger brother Sam (on bass and keyboards) and drummer Danny Wagner are both 19. When Josh and Jake were 15 and Sam was just 12, they began gigging around their hometown of Frankenmuth, Michigan, refining their super-sized blues rock by studying the three Kings (B.B., Albert and Freddie), as well as their disciples, like Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton. By last year, their first single, “Highway Tune,” was topping the modern rock chart, and winning fans like Elton John, who asked them to play his annual Oscars party last March. “He said, ‘This is probably the best rock & roll I’ve heard in 20 fucking years,'” says Sam.
But the band’s biggest success was also its most hard to imagine: making rock & roll cool again for a younger demographic. While audiences at Greta Van Fleet gigs inevitably include a gang of old-school Zep heads reliving their dancing days, fans in the group’s own age bracket are swelling. The Kiszkas believe younger listeners are missing the connection they found in their own inspirations.
“Rock & roll to us is liberation. A reminder that we as human beings have a voice,” says Josh, squished into a couch next to his bandmates at their management’s Nashville office. “But I don’t want people to hear me talking about rock & roll and think I mean the kind of shit they’re putting out now.”
“All the modern music we were exposed to is stuff on the radio, and I can’t stomach that,” says Jake, his shirt unbuttoned to his navel like a true guitar hero. “But once you start looking, there’s a lot of good shit out there.” For them, that “good shit” included Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, Fairport Convention and Led Zeppelin – a range they’re hoping to capture in the sessions for their debut album, which they’ve been recording in Nashville and Detroit. Josh promises an exploration of “spaces unseen” in their first two EPs.
“With this album, every day we come into the studio, we’re in a different mindset,” says Danny.
A summer tour will find Greta Van Fleet playing 2,000- to 3,000-capacity rooms, and festival dates including Coachella. All shows are already sold-out, with tickets snatched up by fans eager to experience a band that isn’t afraid to wave the flag for guitar rock – or even preach unity to a divided, hardened nation.
“There’s a lot of blind hate out there, but rock & roll is the best way to get to know each other,” says Sam.
For Josh, the Greta Van Fleet rock show is akin to humbly welcoming a diverse audience into his living room without ego or air.
“We haven’t gotten to the asshole phase yet,” he says, then pauses. “That’s the second album.”