Greta Van Fleet Are Looking to Make the Mainstream a Safe Place for Rock Again

(Image credit: Jessica Earnshaw)

Packing a Pantload of Zeppelin-esque riffs along with the unbridled energy of early Van Halen, the Frankenmuth, Michigan–based quartet called Greta Van Fleet has stormed radio and streaming services in a way that few rock bands have done in years.

High-velocity tracks like “Highway Tune” and “Safari Song” from the band’s debut four-song EP, Black Smoke Rising, seemingly came out of nowhere and are edging more established groups off of playlists.

“I think we’re all pretty surprised at the reaction we’re getting,” says guitarist Jake Kiszka. “We didn’t expect to receive such attention right out of the gate. I don’t know what to attribute it do; hopefully, it’s just because people are responding to great music.”

The 21-year-old Kiszka formed Greta Van Fleet with his brothers Josh (vocals) and Sam (bass) when they were in their mid-teens; their pal Danny Wagner soon climbed aboard on drums. Swept away by their parents’ “vinyl playground,” Kiszka and his siblings based the band on the music they grew up loving: Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, John Lee Hooker, Cream, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.

“It didn’t feel like old retro music to us at the time,” he says. “It was exciting stuff. It wasn’t until I got to middle school that I even realized the other kids were listening to new stuff on pop radio, and it sounded nothing like what I liked. The contemporary music lacked feel, so we just stuck with what felt right to us.”

Kiszka started out playing a Fender Squier before graduating to Gibson Les Pauls and SGs. He cites Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix as enormous influences (“the first time I heard Hendrix play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ I nearly fell out of my chair”), and he doesn’t shy away from comparisons to Jimmy Page. “Are you kidding me? I embrace it!” he says with a laugh.

“That big riff style that Page pioneered is something that always excited me. I think it’s a little sad that huge rock riffs are lacking in a lot of today’s music. Maybe if people see what we’re doing and how cool it is, we can help make it come back.”

GUITARS 1961 Gibson Les Paul, Gibson SG Standard, Danelectro
AMP Marshall Astoria 30-watt head, 1976 Marshall 4x12 cabinet
EFFECTS Marshall Astoria 30-watt head, 1976 Marshall 4x12 cabinet

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Joe Bosso

Joe is a freelance journalist who has, over the past few decades, interviewed hundreds of guitarists for Guitar World, Guitar Player, MusicRadar and Classic Rock. He is also a former editor of Guitar World, contributing writer for Guitar Aficionado and VP of A&R for Island Records. He’s an enthusiastic guitarist, but he’s nowhere near the likes of the people he interviews. Surprisingly, his skills are more suited to the drums. If you need a drummer for your Beatles tribute band, look him up.