Interview: Jake Kiszka of Greta Van Fleet

For the uninitiated, Greta Van Fleet is a powerhouse of a band that originated from the tiny Michigan town of Frankenmuth. Say that 3 times fast. The band is composed of brothers Josh (vocal), Jake (guitar), and Sam (bass/keys), and family friend Danny Wagner (drums). They have taken over the charts with their first EP “Black Smoke Rising” as well as their new EP, “From the Fires”.  Greta Van Fleet is a band that seems out of a time machine, playing heart wrenching music in the vain of yesteryear. With their shows being constantly sold out and their name growing every day (with Elton John himself inviting them to play for his famed Oscar’s party), they are the musicians to pay attention to. We won’t bring up who they sound like because everyone else has, but our very own Ralph Miller did get to sit with guitarist Jake Kiszka. 

Ralph: All right, so you got some free time for me?

Jake: I do, yeah.

Ralph: Perfect. So, how are things going?

Jake: Pretty fantastic, pretty fantastic. 

Ralph: Yeah man, I have a couple questions for you – just want to shoot the shit with you, I love the music and I appreciate you taking the time out for me man, thank you so much.

Jake: Okay, no problem. 

Ralph: So, I know you guys have been all over the place already and you’re moving forward with everything, so what has been your favorite show so far?

Jake: I would have to say probably Cherry Festival in Travis City. It’s pretty exciting to be home and see that many people.

Ralph: Just coming out for you guys. 

Jake: That audience for such a large festival – it was pretty overwhelming. 

Ralph: How many people were there about?

Jake: I would say around about, maybe 20,000.

Ralph: Oh shit, so that’s literally four times the amount of people that live in your hometown.

Jake: Yeah.

Ralph: That’s a little nuts HA. So, bringing it back to the beginning,  is it true that you literally started playing guitar around 2-3 years old?

Jake: Yeah, I started very early on, you know, there was always a guitar and I was drawn to it I guess, very early on.

Ralph: Was anybody helping you out with that or you kind of just picked it up and just sort of started doing your thing with it?

Jake: Yeah, I kind of picked it up, self-taught, none of us have ever had lessons.

Ralph: That’s insane. So, is it also true that guitars became some sort of “trophy” from your dad. I heard when you asked for a new guitar he made you learn certain songs to get the next guitar which furthered your progression as a musician.

Jake: Yeah, I think he wanted to ensure that I was motivated enough to want to do it, so he made me, he made me work for it.

Ralph: That’s awesome.

Jake: Yeah, there was a selection of songs to get to the next electric guitar. Then I would have to learn, you know, more on the previous guitar and then at one point he took my electric guitar and told me I could only play acoustic for a couple of months.

Ralph: So which do you like more? Acoustic or Electric?

Jake: That is a difficult thing to really say, you know I think that they both in their own right have a certain finesse in one way or another so I couldn’t say, I like them both equally, you know?

Ralph: Yeah, depends on the situation.

Jake: Yeah. 

Ralph: Elmore James, you always bring up, other than that what are the main influences that bring you guys to make the music that you make, because I know you have more of a blues background but your sound is totally different in and of your own.

Jake: Yeah, there’s a ton of blues influences, and I suppose those influences vary and sort of evolve as we go along. There are a lot of things in our music now and some of those being contemporary sort of direct a lot of what we know. Not so much direct, but influence more what we’re doing and almost unconsciously.  We’re constantly listening to something new and that helps change the music a lot.

Ralph: Yeah, definitely. I mean your guys sound is unique and as a lot of people might say, sound like some other people from back in the day but I feel that your sounds have a vast range. I mean, your entire project that you recently released, the sounds are completely different from each track. I want to know how you guys decided to revamp Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.”

Jake: Yeah, that was something that Josh and I have listened to, been listening to for a long time and I have always wanted to do a cover of it because its so great and with it’s political importance a message within that song brings a lot to say to what is going on now and I think we just kind of looked at each other and said, well I think it’s probably time we do a cover of it.

Ralph: Yeah man, you guys did a hell of a job with it, it’s one of my favorites. 

Jake: Thanks man.

Ralph: So, recording parts of everything that’s going on, you guys are at Rustbelt Studios. How did you guys fall into that studio, what was the situation, how did you choose that one?

Jake: Well, we have been in studios around Michigan previous to Rustbelt like Metro 37 and Plymouth Rock Studios and as much as they can record us I think we wanted to find someone in a place that could better our intent, or approach to what we wanted, to what sound we want to get and narrowed it down to Rustbelt Studios. We sent Al Sutton some of our demos and he was pretty excited about them and we started working there two and a half years ago.

Ralph: That’s pretty cool, so they kind of picked up on the vibe of what you guys were going for and was like, yeah definitely do it here. 

Jake: Yeah, it was really easy to relay what we sort of wanted to do and influentially I think they understood it, and yeah it was a great effort. 

Ralph: Yeah, man everything is sounding amazing, I know you guys are hearing this all day, every day from everybody but it really is crazy, from the second I heard you guys, I just instantly started to put it out to everybody I know

Jake: Wow, man. That’s dedication.

Ralph: Seriously, It’s so different from what’s going on lately in the past whatever amount of years, just to hear this great type of stuff makes me happy, it really does. 

Jake: Yeah, man. (Laughing)

Ralph: So, tell me about the whole performance when you guys were with Bob Seger? How did that come about, or how was that night for you?

Jake: Yeah, I don’t think we slept much the night before, ya know?

Ralph: You all didn’t know how to react to something like that, right?

Jake: Yeah, very daunting and strange to do then I remember we had met Bob before we went on and chatted a little bit, that was really humbling and petrifying and all that good stuff.  I remember going on and it was dark and I was looking back at Danny and all we could see is his hands just shaking.

Ralph: Oh shit.

Jake: This was going to either go really well,  or terribly, and it went really well.

Ralph: That’s awesome.

Jake: It was such a big honor for us being Michigan boys and growing up and listening to Bob Seger on the radio all the time.

Ralph: Now do you guys think you were more nervous for your first show at Janes Bar or performing with Bob Seger?

Jake: Definetly Bob Seger.

Ralph: Yeah, really? Even more than your first show?

Jake: A slight difference, but yeah they were both pretty nerve racking but I would have to say that the Seger show rivals the amount of nerves that Janes Bar had. 

Ralph: Understandably. With your guys EPs and your recent projects being awesome as far as the music, but who is coming up with music album cover art for all this? Even that is like a throwback; different and amazing. 

Jake: Well, We’d go to different artists while Josh and I made the first EP Black Smoke Rising, Josh and I designed that but , since we have been so busy we don’t have time to design stuff to give the support to other artists who are capable of doing it, so now Josh and I sort of conceptualize the cover art, and go from there.

Ralph: I know you guys probably didn’t see this coming. Is everyone like still trying to put this all together in your head, like what’s really going on?

Jake: Yeah, no I think, some of us have given up on trying to identify with why, but you know we have accepted it now and we’re just trying to make great music, you know? 

Ralph: You guys are sold out until March, probably even more so by now but the last time I checked, you guys are going overseas, have you done overseas yet?

Jake: We went over to England and we had a couple of small shows there and a lot of press and we been in Sweden, we went to do a showcase and some press there but no we never toured the Europe or been in a lot of those countries. We will get to see France, Germany, and probably Sweden, so yeah we are really excited for that.

Ralph: All right, I don’t want to take up too much of your time, and again I appreciate you giving me some time to speak with you. So, I just have one more question for you man. I know you guys been on tour like crazy and you have been doing all these interviews, what’s the one question that no one has asked you that you want to be asked, if there is one?

Jake: Huh…. I don’t think there particularly would be one, that’s a good question. I feel like when someone asks me that question then I will know.

Ralph: Yeah, it’s a lot easier when it’s asked, right? All right, man well again I appreciate your time, thank you so much, it was great talking to you.

Jake: I appreciate your time, thank you for interview man. 

 

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