If there’s a secret to the success of the Michigan-born rock band Greta Van Fleet, it’s that the members have always allowed themselves to push the proverbial envelope—to go deep, further, and even toward the weird in their work. To head toward extremes says the group’s frontman and lead singer, Josh Kiszka. The band, which is comprised of brothers Josh on the mic, Jake on guitar, and Sam on bass, along with close friend Danny Wagner on drums, didn’t limit themselves in their exploration and internal discoveries as they coalesced and improved as musicians. The strategy has worked. The result so far has been sold our tours, an SNL appearance, and Grammy recognition. But accolades aren’t necessarily what drives the band. Rather, acceptance from their heroes is, along with the process of going through that which excites and calms their creative minds, which occurs almost in the same breath.
“I think there’s some merit to ‘practice makes perfect,’” Josh tells American Songwriter. “But only because we had a natural inclination to do it. The drive wasn’t for the sake of wealth or celebrity, or anything like that. It was just an inclination to make art for providing something the universe cannot. That’s why any artist creates, to fill a void, to offer something spectacular. I think just diving in and not being afraid to go too far to be weird is important.”
Speaking to the frontman, one thing quickly becomes clear—Josh is heady and philosophical. He and his band blend sophisticated thinking with guttural, hip-pulsing rock. It’s a delightful balance that has earned the group a swath of fans and critical acclaim. In the process, he and his mates have learned a lot about themselves, too. But this likely wouldn’t have happened had each of the members not allowed “ourselves to go there,” he says.
“I’ve found some things about myself that I really like,” Josh says, “and I’ve found something about myself that I don’t. The struggle to be a better person every day is present and I think that makes for good art. I think conflict makes for good art.”
The big-voiced singer says he has realized that, at times, he’s an anxious person. He says he still gets nervous before each and every show. Yet, it’s a process he continuously puts himself through and as soon as he hits the stage, something “spectacular happens.” And by the time he leaves the stage, he feels transformed a little bit and never exactly the same each time. It’s a push and pull, an inhale and exhale that he appreciates and keeps him coming back to playing live. His connection to music provides both short-term tremors and long-term stability. (I guess that’s why they call it rock and roll.)
Growing up, for the Kiszka brothers, music was everywhere. Their grandparents had a big, eclectic record collection that their father inherited. Their older sister was also into blues and rock and roll. As Josh says, the trio of brothers was raised on lots of music—which at times surprises their fans, who generally associate their aesthetics and tastes only to classical rock, given the band’s common comparison to Led Zeppelin. Nevertheless, as a kid, Josh says he was always singing. Jake played guitar “from the moment he could crawl over the thing” and Sam picked up bass later in high school.
“It felt really organic,” Josh says, “the presence of music in the mix of things growing up.”
Greta Van Fleet was formed formally in 2012. The group released two EPs and then their first full-length record, Anthem of the Peaceful Army, in 2018. The band followed that up with the sweeping, alluring, often ecstatic LP, The Battle at Garden’s Gate, in 2021. The result, as mentioned above, is a slew of accolades and even more admirers. But Josh says he and the band try not to dwell on these so as not to restrict their natural thought processes or creative endeavors.
“I don’t really like the idea that it would influence a decision I would make artistically, or even in a life sense,” he says.
Yet, celebrity naturally puts a person under a microscope. Especially when that person, or persons, comes out in a big way seemingly out of nowhere. But Greta Van Fleet has been fortified. They’re prepared for examination. Their music is authentic and holds up to scrutiny. As such, the band has been accepted by the masses and by their heroes.
“A lot of reassuring moments,” Josh says, “have been when we’ve met people who we’ve been inspired by musically and grown up listening to and they’ve been very kind and shared the torch a little bit.”
Josh tries to stay optimistic. He says that if he died tomorrow, he’s lived a rich “fantastic life.” It’s the outcome of going for it and having the philosophies and work to back it up. And that work shows up, especially in Greta Van Fleet’s 2021 album. The work is an “extension” of previous records from the band, Josh says. It’s also an album about conflict in the music industry, religion, and other dynamics. To write and record it this go-round, the band had more time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, the band was able to complete a full 12 songs, which was a goal. And while it’s completed and been out in the world for months, the band is already (and always) thinking about new work. It’s part of the members’ collective effort of being open to the world.
“It’s more about being open and feeling things out,” Josh says when considering the concept of the future. “Taking the trip, buying the ticket, and taking the ride. We’ll see what happens. I suppose I’m optimistic about the future—holding onto that good energy and letting it direct you.”
Often, the source of that good energy is music. And the band will feel a great deal of that as it heads out on its upcoming tour (see the complete list of dates, which begin at the end of this month, here).
“I love that it’s the universal language,” Josh says. “It’s not a fine science. It’s this cosmic thing. People gather in large spaces, shoulder to shoulder, to experience the sound waves and to take something away from it that, again, transforms spaces and the people in those spaces.”