INTERVIEW: Jake Kiszka and Danny Wagner of Greta Van Fleet

L to R: Danny Wagner, Sam Kiszka, Jake Kiszka and Josh Kiszka. Photo courtesy of Greta Van Fleet and Ford Fairchild

A Conversation with Lead Guitarist Jake Kiszka and Drummer Danny Wagner of Greta Van Fleet.

There’s a lot of comparisons as to who your sound and style of music sounds like, for example I’ve heard a lot of people comparing GVF to Led Zeppelin, what is your opinion on that and how would you describe your music style?

Jake: We’re very honored to be compared to one of the greatest rock bands of all time. In the same regard, there is no one who could possibly BE Led Zeppelin. There are a lot of influences we commonly share and what encompasses our overall sound. Our style of music is not only under the specific genre of rock and roll, there’s folk, blues, jazz, soul and many other cultural or worldly music.

Danny:  We as a band have developed a lot of our sound mainly from rock and roll, blues, and soul artists such as Cream, Howlin’ Wolf, and Sam and Dave. We all personally have interests that go much deeper than just those genres of music, but as a band we try to channel a lot of the energy that those types of music have to offer.

How and when did you decide that the music career was what you wanted to do in life?

Jake: I don’t really think we particularly chose it music as a career, as it more so chose us. We’d grown up in a very musically centric household and were sort of automatically drawn to playing music. It was natural for us. Our father is a blues musician and specializes in the harmonica. He was instrumental in creating our musical infatuation. It was more of a natural course rather than a planned career choice.

Danny Wagner at at Troubadour (10/19/2017). Photo credit: Gloria Skulls.

Danny:  I actually decided at a young age that no matter which direction I take in life, I will always work to pursue music however I can. I have been playing music for the majority of my life and it isn’t really by choice. I was the first and really only in my family to have such an obsession with music, so I like to think that it was meant to be for me to play music in life.

Your album “From the Fires” is very complex, fast and hyped up songs to slow and smooth, how did you decide what song to use on your debut album?

Jake: Initially, the approach for both the EP and Double EP were to showcase our range and variety of material. That range also comes from different time periods. Having been together for 5 years, there’s been a different spectrum of music written over that period of time. From five years ago with Highway Tune, the first song we’ve ever written, to more a contemporary sounding song on the Double EP such as Talk On the Street.

Danny:  When we put together “Black Smoke Rising” we thought that it simply just was not finished. With that thought, we compiled four more songs that we felt covered every loose end of “Black Smoke Rising” which birthed the double EP “From the Fires.”

You guys did a cover of “A Change is Gonna Come” why did you decide to cover this song?

Jake: A Change is Gonna Come was a song that had always been sort of up in the air for Josh and I. We had always enjoyed listening to it and had been wanting to do a cover. As a reflection of the times, we felt like it played a great political importance. It’s an appropriate time to record and release a song with this type of gravity.

Danny:  “A Change is Gonna Come” was a song that not only provides a nostalgic listening experience for us, but also displays a message that we felt was very pertinent to society and to us as human beings. It also reflects a lot of the soul aspect in our musical influences.

“A Change Is Gonna Come” is a very powerful song and I loved how you guys covered it, did you use a full chorus for this song?

Guitarist Jake Kiszha at Troubadour (10/19/2017). Photo credit: Gloria Skulls.

Jake: We had wanted a full choir for A Change is Gonna Come and it was brought to our attention that this was a possibility. Herschel Boone, from Kid Rock’s camp, worked with his wife to assemble this choir. We thought having the full chorus would honor the song and showcase a lot of the soul influences we all share.

Danny:  “A Change Is Gonna Come” to us was a song that took its time as the recording process went on. We all knew what we wanted as the end result of the song, but we didn’t rush any parts. We actually are very good friends with backing vocalist for Kid Rock Herschel Boone. Herschel and his wife came in to the studio and tracked multiple parts to create that full choir/chorus sound. It was very incredible to experience! 

Tell me about the process of writing your songs and what was the process like?

Jake: There really isn’t one particular process of how a song is written, rather than when a song sort of presents itself. I could bring a song idea to the table and have written it on the guitar, or Josh could have composed something on the piano. From that point we all communally work to finalize complete product. Everyone has their unique strengths and when we all come together, they can all individually be utilized.

Danny:  The majority of our songs actually have this way of writing themselves, because they come from everywhere and could come from any one of us. That being said, generally what happens is someone comes up with a concept for a song and we then bring it together and format it and write the rest of what it needs.

Who are some of your musical inspirations?

Jake:  From specifically a guitarists perspective, there’s a large range of people who have influenced my playing. From great Blues artists such as John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, Lead Belly, and Son House, to folk influences such as Joan Baez, and Bert Jansch. Along with many rock guitarists such as Keith Richards, Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix. Naturally, through the process of composition, you can hear these musicians influence in my playing.

Danny:  Personally, some of my musical inspirations for drumming are Carmine Appice, John Bonham, Mitch Mitchell, and Michael Shrieve. I play other instruments too, and as far as general artist inspirations go, by far some of my largest are Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, and Demis Roussous.

I had the opportunity to see your show at the Troubadour in Hollywood, it was sold out jammed packed, when you went out on stage describe the feeling that you had seeing the crowd.

GVF at Troubadour (10/19/2017). Photo credit: Gloria Skulls.

Jake: Initially we hadn’t expected all of our shows to sell out so immediately, so we all were very enthused to be performing at such an iconic venue such as the Troubadour. As we sat up in the green room, we watched through the large windows that looked out over the crowd. Seeing that is was so jam packed certainly struck a bit of nervousness in me. Once we got on stage, we all just knew it was time to rock and roll.

Danny:  The feeling was very incredible to see the crowd at the sold out Troubadour show. I am very blessed to only experience the feeling of “stage fright” very rarely. What replaces that is a rush of adrenaline and excitement. It’s always such an incredible feeling to know that I get to do exactly what I love for others to experience.

What is the most exciting thing about being in one of the newest, hottest, Rock n’ Roll bands of our generation? 

Jake: It’s a truly gratifying thing that people have viewed us to be a contributor to the great legacy of Rock and Roll. Music has been such an influential part of our lives and now we have the ability to share that with the world. It’s a humbling feeling to be able to do what you love.

Danny:  I honestly think the most exciting thing to me in all of this, is the opportunity to do things in music that have always been dreams of mine as a kid. Some highlights of these are meeting a lot of legendary musicians and playing some iconic places and festivals.

What do you guys have stored for us next year?

Jake: In January, we are working to finalize our full length album to be released in the spring of next year. Now that we’ve been given the opportunity, we’ll be expanding to larger venues, bigger festivals and more countries. We’re looking forward to the people, places and experience coming up.

Danny:  We have, in the works, our first full length album that will be recorded in the early months of 2018. After that, we will be covering a lot of ground as far as touring goes in the spring months leading into Summer. We will be hitting a lot of major festivals both in and out of the United States.

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– Interview by Gloria Skulls, Go Venue Magazine Photojournalist