Greta Van Fleet
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
Doors 8:00 PM
Greta Van Fleet
Jake Kiszka - guitars
Josh Kiszka - vocals
Sam Kiszka - bass/keyboards
Danny Wagner - drums
Frankenmuth, Michigan - Michigan's "Little Bavaria" - is known for its scenic farmland. Crispy chicken dinners. The State's best indoor water parks. Picturesque wine and chocolate boat cruises. The world's largest Christmas store.
These days it's also home to one of the most exciting rock 'n' roll acts to come from the heartland, or anywhere, in many a year.
Greta Van Fleet - which took its name from one of the close-knit community's town elders - is a hard rocking quartet whose creative ambitions and achievements reach far beyond the ages of the four band members, not all of them old enough to have voted in last November's election. On its debut EP Black Smoke Rising, the group deftly straddles the line between timeless and future, sounding at once like many things you've heard before and also something you've never heard before. The three brothers - twins Josh (vocals) and Jake (guitar) Kiszka, younger brother Sam Kiszka (bass, keyboards) and drummer Danny Wagner - have turned their rich and varied musical background into an arresting mélange of rock 'n' roll with flavors of metal, pop, blues and grunge, the result of years of practice, study and familial good times.
"When we were not even born yet my father played us blues music and R&B, soul music - all the good stuff," says Sam. Dad Kiszka was a musician himself, playing guitar and harmonica. "Our parents had a lot of vinyl laying around," recalls Josh, so we grew up listening to that and really liked playing with the vinyl albums - putting them on the turntable and speeding them up and slowing them down. But, yeah, I really liked the blues and the soul and the funk - Wilson Pickett is the big one, and Joe Cocker, those kinds of things."
The Kiszka kids furthered their music education during winter ski trips to Michigan's Yankee Springs, where a plethora of family and friends would gather with instruments. Someone was playing something nearly every minute of the day, and Josh, Jake and Sam soaked it up with relish. "Every year was better than Christmas," Josh recalls. "In the evenings or during the day, there was always music being made there, everybody getting together and experimenting with sounds, having lots of fun, making music." For Jake, meanwhile, it was "really awe-inspiring when you see this completely surrealistic environment, to see all these people from all over the place come together, and what brought them together was music. That was mind-blowing."
It was Jake who turned that inspiration into Greta Van Fleet, drawing the idea from the likes of Cream, the Yardbirds, The Who and other 60s British Invasion favorites. "We liked to see how the English bands had reinterpreted the blues, and we wanted to interpret it again - Y'know, wouldn't it be interesting if an American band came right back and reinterpreted the reinterpretation that the English did?" the guitarist explains. "I thought there was something there that needed to be created."
Jake gradually assembled his brothers into a band. Sam was caught up when Jake began jamming at the family home with a drummer friend from school. "It dawned on me that I needed to play bass for them," Sam says. "Plus," he joked, "my mom always said I looked like a bass player." Josh, meanwhile, was studying theater, film and painting at school, with acting giving him an ease on stage, as well as a voice, that made him a no-brainer to be Greta Van Fleet's frontman. "It wasn't something I set out to particularly do. But it felt pretty natural," he says now.
Danny Wagner, a friend of Sam's since kindergarten, became the last piece of the Greta Van Fleet puzzle, joining a year after the group started, after being a regular at the Kiszka house for jams and rehearsals. "We all have similar taste in music and that helps a lot," Wagner notes. "But at the same time we have these little differences in what we like, and when it comes together it produces this sound. It's got that classic kind of vibe but it has a lot of soul, a lot of energy, and that's a huge part of it."
You won't find a better description of the four songs on Greta Van Fleet's EP, recorded at Rust Belt Studios in suburban Detroit with producers Al Sutton (Kid Rock, Hank Williams Jr.) and Marlon Young from Kid Rock's Twisted Brown Trucker Band. The introduction runs a gamut from the dusty grind of "Highway Tune" to the sinewy punch of "Safari Song" and the muscular crunch of "Black Smoke Rising." "Flower Power," meanwhile, is a trippy sonic tapestry that weaves psychedelic and folk textures into the mix. "No limits, no barriers, no boundaries," Jake declares. "It was like that when we were growing up, and it's like that when we're making our own music."
Listen closely and you'll also hear the flavor of a small, tight-knit community seeping into the group's songs. "I think it has a huge presence in the music," Josh says. "It's this romantic, simple, Americana kind of thing, like Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn growing up outside of town in the country."
The good news is there's more where these four songs came from. The group has been in the studio for about two years now, with nearly 20 tracks down and more coming every day. "We've been writing since Josh and I were 16 and Sam and Danny were 13," Jake says. "We have so many songs we're working on it's ridiculous. We're just trying to develop and get better. That's very important to us." So is playing live, where Greta Van Fleet has been slaying audiences with an electrifying show that sounds more like a band that's been around for decades rather than just a few years. The group can't wait to take it around the country, and around the world in support of the EP, showing off the big sound this band from a little town can make whenever it hits the stage.
"It's really happened so quickly. It's definitely overwhelming and exciting - and it's awesome," says Wagner. "All these things are happening - the record deal, management, William Morris (booking agency). It's slowly starting to build up, and we're starting to get that fever. We're itching to show everybody who we are and what we can do."
“This album took three years to make, and over the course of that time I went to hell and back within myself. I grew up and evolved and now I’m finally ready to put my album out,” says CLOVES.
With One Big Nothing, her debut album, CLOVES demonstrates a musical assurance and maturity far beyond her years; an impressive progression from her acclaimed 2015 EP XIII, which landed her slots at the Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals and a track on the soundtrack to the 2016 film Me Before You. But as CLOVES started work on a full-length album—and toured extensively, including a run with Ivor Novello award-winning Michael Kiwanuka—her ambitions were changing, her palette expanding.
“The EP was basically demos,” she says, “songs we recorded in a day, without any real thought behind what the songs needed. It’s funny to me how much simpler of a time that was, because I would never release something so off-the-cuff like that now. I’ve become much more methodical in the recording process.”
“Bringing the House Down” was the first song CLOVES wrote that wasn’t a ballad. “That song is very self-assured,” she says. “It’s about a break-up, but your subconscious is saying ‘Something’s not right, but it’s not me.’ It brought up the question of what are the sonics, what can we do with it, how do we bring in more rhythm? After the EP being very acoustic, this was a shot of wanting the album to be something else, and figuring out how to translate that.”
She credits producer Ariel Rechtshaid (who has worked with Adele, HAIM, and Vampire Weekend) with helping “House” find a direction. “Ariel was incredibly open to my ideas and opinions,” she says. “It was all very collaborative, never negative, and that made it really easy.”
So began the long journey of the One Big Nothing sessions, which also includes production by Ed Swinburne, Ian Barter and Starsmith. “We worked on the sound every day for two years, it was an experimentation process, a process of elimination.” says CLOVES. “Going into the album I was a bit of a mess. Being in the studio gave me anxiety. I often felt I wasn’t good enough and that I didn’t know what I was doing, and it was a constant struggle to stay on top of my own thoughts. I’m one of those people who can be so in their own head that I can easily lose perspective, and it was a constant challenge for me to fight my insecurities and make progress,” says CLOVES.
The song that became the album’s title track proved a critical turning point. “About a year in, I let some pressure go and let creativity take over. ‘One Big Nothing’ was the point where I stopped trying as much and became more experimental—it’s much more arrangement based, and I really started looking at what could I do differently, structurally and rhythmically. I gained confidence, one step at a time.”
From there, the album took on more dimensions and directions. “I’d never really fully utilized the studio before,” says CLOVES. “I gained so much confidence as we went on, and that just continued to progress. Songs became more arranged and produced, got even more intricate. You get bored of the same old tricks, your influences change, and you come up with new ideas.”
But challenging herself and advancing her music is what the Australian-born, London-based singer-songwriter has been doing for almost all of her life. Born Kaity Dunstan, she can’t remember a time before wanting to make music; when she was seven, her father setup a small area in their garage where she would pretend to perform for a crowd.
She wrote her first song when she was 11, and began playing with her sister in Melbourne bars at age 13. “When I first started making music, I was obsessed with Carole King, Nina Simone, James Taylor, I was all about being a great songwriter,” she says.
Dunstan dropped out of school at sixteen. She explains, “I was never really understood at school. I had friends but I never felt like I wanted to be there. I found classes difficult and the teachers frustrating. I’m also dyslexic which definitely didn’t help my confidence. Ironically music class was my least favorite because it was so restrictive. Education is obviously very important, but school can really crush kids creatively by being too restrictive. The music teachers would reprimand me because I wasn't singing the song exactly how it was written, and that always really annoyed me because my singing was stylistically very different.”
Dunstan worked a few jobs, but never left her music. A failed early production deal left her disappointed, but even more committed to her own vision. She went to Los Angeles to write, but after a month of the music industry shuffle, she felt that London would be a better fit for her creatively.
CLOVES says that her adopted hometown had a major impact on the tone of her lyrics. “I’d always wanted to go to London to write songs,” she says. “London is very blunt; British people are almost cutthroat, in a good way, and it brought a lot of grounding to the songs. I spent such a long period of time writing that I kind of melted into the city, and it brought a moodiness to the album that I really like.”
Of her moniker CLOVES she explains, “ I chose the name whilst in Bali for a week. I was 18, smoking a lot of clove cigarettes. Without too much thought I chose the name because It had a nice mystique to it and I liked how it looked on paper, so I stuck with it, deciding to make its own definition by what I do with it."
During the course of making One Big Nothing, CLOVES played virtually all of the album’s ten songs on stage, which also affected their final shape. “Playing live and making the record went very hand-in-hand,” she says. “You can really tell if a song is any good when you play it live—it shows what a song has to offer, and you really find all its faults. So in a lot of places, we went back and changed arrangements, or built up a section if it felt too small.”
She points to several tracks that illustrate the range of moods on the album. “Wasted Time,” she says with a laugh, “sums up my brain on most days—a lot of the time I feel anti-social. The chorus lyrics are ‘I’m wasted time why do you waste your time.’ I feel like that a lot.” From another direction, “Up and Down” is “very blunt, honest and sad in sections.” (“That one is a bit of a sleeper,” she adds, “listen till the end it’s the best bit.”)
Another new territory for CLOVES was filming the music video for “Bringing the House Down” with legendary director Sophie Muller, known for her work with the likes of Beyonce, No Doubt, and Coldplay. “Sophie brought out a confidence in me that I’d never had in front of the camera before,” she says. “I used to feel that making videos was a little self-indulgent, but she made me see that if you want to get your point across, you have to be as honest and blunt on camera as you are in the songs.”
The marathon recording of One Big Nothing could leave an artist feeling frustrated or uncertain, but CLOVES expresses a sense of completion, and an eagerness to apply the lessons she’s learned as she moves forward. “I have a love/hate relationship with making music. I love making music but sometimes hate how it makes me feel about myself, but I’m working on it everyday to not let that get the best of me,” she says. “I am extremely proud of this album and the work that’s been put into it. I’m ready to put my last three years of work out there and I’m ready for what’s next.”
Second, bigger show added at The Anthem on July 21 since this one sold out in a flash! Tickets available here.