Greta Van Fleet: Gemutlichkeit & Pursuit of the Right Sound

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Artist Feature,   From Issue 783   By: Robert 'Bo' White

02nd August, 2017     0

Editor's Note:  Hometown heroes Greta Van Fleet are definitely on the fast-track to success, having sold out their appearance at The Viper Room in Los Angeles, receiving rave reviews on the West Coast; and also opening for fellow Michigan legend Bob Seger on his upcoming tour.  With their debut single also hitting 2 million downloads on Spotify this week, the group is also appearing in a series of European dates also announced for the fall.  It's hard to believe that three-and-a-half hears ago the Review's Bo White sat down for the first interview with the band in these pages; and 3 years ago they made their regional debut at our 29th Annual Review Music Awards ceremony.  Check out this piece from our archives that takes us back to the beginning

Greta Van Fleet seemed to emerge from the ether as fully formed prodigies, channeling Led Zeppelin and leaping to the front of the pack. They have the look and sound of classic rockers yet have embraced the earthy realism of singers like Janis Joplin and Buddy Guy and the soulfulness of Sam & Dave. Their talent is breathtaking and their reach is beyond the stratosphere.

Only in their teens, Greta van Fleet has emerged as a musical force of the first degree and they leave the rest of us slacked-jawed as their precocious skills continue evolving at a rapid pace. Consisting of Josh Kiska on vocals, Jake Kiska on lead guitar, bassist Sam Kiska, and Daniel Wegner on drums; and under the guidance of manager Michael Barbee, this is the perfect band for this imperfect time. Chronologically mankind is entering a New Millennium. Astrologically we are in the Age of Aquarius. The aspects are right and the moon and stars are aligned. We are living in a time of sameness and change, old and new. This is the perfect time for Greta Van Fleet.

How’d you come up with the name?

Josh: Oh, we had been going over a lot of names, and we decided we’d just flip open the phone book. On one page we had flipped was Gretna Ensley. We decided we’d take out the “n” in Gretna and it was Greta Ensley and it just worked real well because the next day we had to go play Auto Fest out in the street, so we had to have a name and that was it. After a while we looked it up to see if it had any meaning whatsoever, and it ended up meaning “Pride of the Sea” or “Light of the Ocean.”

So you got together, the three brothers and a good friend. Did it seem like you developed your gifts quickly?

Jake: It went ridiculously fast. I can’t personally remember when I started because it’s kind of like staging it in a way. You just know how to do it. I’ve always played music. The bass player is incredible; he’s learned so much in a year’s time, so it’s more than just the bass. He can play anything - keyboard, mandolin… he can play guitar as well and the drummer is awesome. Our rhythm section is phenomenal, like we cover all grounds.

 I heard you sound like Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin. Did he inspire you?

Josh: I liked him a lot. I think that’s where my voice is at, and it’s something that sounds very impressive. I think a lot of where I get my vocals from is soul bands like Sam & Dave - you know, black singers who can just really project. Then there are the Fifth Dimension and the number of things they go off on. When it’s just them singing, you can tell. That’s the point where they are able to just really cut loose. I like that a lot. I like the blues singers. Janis Joplin is incredible. So I think that’s where I get Robert Plant. We have the same sort of bug. I fell into the same place he did, I think, especially being around guys so much like John Bonham, Jimmy Page. Yeah, it’s pretty crazy how that worked.

In a short period of time you have a lot of energy surrounding your band. People are talking about you. They love you. What do you think of that?

Josh: Well, I think we love the people.  It all depends where you’re playing, whether it’s a good experience or not, and performing at White’s has been exceptional, absolutely. The acoustics in there are amazing. You know, we walked in and we are in this little wooden bar. You know you’d think there’d be a lot of echoing, but it just sounds fabulous. Everything in there is so simplistic, and it works, the sound and everything, so it’s got a good vibe. Great people.

I guess you’ve covered this somewhat but if you could describe your music, what would you say? How would you describe it to me?

Jake: A good question. I don’t know. It’s a combination. Heavy blues, jazz, classical rock and it comes into folk, actually heavy folk, believe it or not. A combination of R&B, soul, and jazz mixed into it, a very heavy blues sound.

You’ve really gotten some recognition. Does it feel like it happened too fast?

Josh: No, it doesn’t seem like we’re there yet. I think we just push aimlessly in any direction we like and then really give it our all and see where we end up, you know. Yeah, we like to spread the musical love as a sort of people’s Gospel. Spread that feeling.

Have you written many original songs?

Josh: We have. We have tons and tons of originals. It’s getting over-logged, you know. We’ve got so much material we’re waiting to just explode and we are ready for recording our material.

How many songs do you have ready, fully formed?

Jake: There are three originals out there now and those are okay, but again, we didn’t just jam them. There are eight that we’d like to record for an upcoming album. It’s been a selective process. We’ve got so many songs, we’ve picked eight and each one is different. The dynamics are different. We’ve developed some acoustic sounds now that are incorporated into different pieces.
Where have you recorded?
Josh: We recorded at Metro 37 in Detroit. Kevin Sharp is one of the producers down there.

Josh you’re really a focal point as a lead singer, a lot of people are talking about you. When did you discover your voice?

Josh: My father was quite an influence. He is a lead singer and he plays the harmonica. He’s a really great singer and I think that’s where I learned that I could sing. After I started getting serious about singing, I’d pick things out and you start thinking how he’s doing this or that and gradually figured it out. A lot of it is determination, and that’s how I’ve come to where I’m at now. It’s just dissecting all of those things. You so figure it out slowly and keep it in my memory tank. I think it does come naturally, for the most part.  

Jake, I want to ask you about your guitar paying. What kind of guitar do you use and where did you learn your technique, your style, and could you describe it?

Jake: I use a Gibson SG and it’s about eight years old. I got it a long while ago. My inspirations kind of fall way back into very early blues, just key roots and things like that, like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and Albert King because it’s rudimentary stuff. I hear Willie Nelson, and I’ve learned to manipulate it and manipulate it and change it into things that you like to hear. I get a lot of my inspiration and technique from listening really old blues and folk tunes.

Let’s go to the rhythm section. Sam is on bass and Stan pounds the skins. Sam, can you talk about your bass playing and how you get in the pocket?

Sam: I play a Thunder Jag bass and the sound is just phenomenal - the best bass out there. I really take my styles from pre-rock like James Jameson and that Motown scene, and then I just put all my favorite bass influences together and found a style. I love Jack Bruce.

Dan, tell me about your kit and your style and who inspired you?

Dan: Well, my kit is a pretty recent purchase, it is older, not vintage but it’s older. It’s a Pearl. Everything is Pearl except for the cymbals. I have Paiste cymbals because I like the sound. I took up the drums about two years ago when my parents bought me a set. I didn’t have any lessons so it involved a lot of listening to music and copying the riffs and making them a natural component of my approach - now it just flows out. I like a lot of older jazz and harder, powerful rock. I like Mitch Mitchell from the Jimi Hendrix Experience. He’s great. I copy a lot of his riffs. I like Buddy Rich and Ginger Baker. They all have their own unique influence on me. I take all that and make it my own only a bit different

I heard that the youngest band member is 14 and the oldest is 17. Is that correct?

Michael: Two 14s, two 17s. The rhythm section is 14 and the lead guitarist and singer are twin 17-year-olds.

Starting out young is very important. I think the zeitgeist is in your favor. What do you guys think?

Josh: A lot of that is thanks to the parents because I grew up listening to the music of my dad and it just went over and over and I got to know the music of the sixties. I didn’t even really listen to modern songs until about the sixth grade and then it was like “Wow, there’s a lot more room for experimenting and exploring with the older stuff.

None of us really knew what was going on in today’s music until we got about into the later school years and went, “Wow, that’s crap.” (Laughter).  We’d all listen to older stuff and that was all we’d heard and when we’d listen to the new songs we thought, “What the hell happened?”

We used to rehearse in this log cabin around December. This became one of the most important foundations of our music. We drove there to Yankee Springs and we’d rent a cabin and we’d have friends of the family and other family members and we’d all play music. Dad would do the Blues on the harmonica and that’s where I learned all of that - singing the blues at the cabin. Everybody would have a guitar, keyboard and there’d be friends and we’d have just a giant music fest. I think gemutlichkeit  (friendliness, peace of mind) would be one word we could use to describe that whole history in itself.

Have you signed with a management company?

Josh: We have Michael Edward Barbee who is one hell of a manager…

Barbee:  Actually I have been doing some work with a group out of Detroit around the 2008-2010 time period. It was called the Reed & Dickinson band. Alto Reed was a member of Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. So it ended up that I’d work if they had any gigs that included merchandise. I got some contacts, and I reached out to B.B. Cunningham, which was Jerry Lee Lewis’s bass player, Vince Knight - Jim McCarty’s guitar tech down in Detroit. My ears were wide open. I just wanted to learn management. I wanted to be a manager for the artists. I’d learned a lot and I felt I could take a band, you know, and get them somewhere.

The boys just signed with North Star Media out of Detroit, a publishing deal, so that’s a pretty big deal. You know we’re only a week into that, so that’s going to really get the music out there and get some licensing deals and everything else, so we’re pretty excited about that.

Jake and Sam actually have gotten some attention from GHS strings up in Battle Creek, so they’re working their way toward an endorsement with GHS.

Are there any last words before we end?

Josh: We’re going to be doing a live radio show called Man Cave in Toledo. And it’s supposed to be streamed to Internet radio also and broadcast locally in Toledo. It’s Toledo with Jeff Graham. We’ll be performing live, and there’ll be some interviewing.

Now it’s classic hits It’s streamed so people out here could get it, and there’s an app for it was well. We’re going to play two songs live so if you get the opportunity check it out if you want to hear some originals.


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