“Go for it, man!”
As if he were ripping off a Band-Aid, Sam Kiszka appreciated being asked upfront whether he wanted to answer questions about Led Zeppelin at the start of our interview or more toward the end. He chose to get them out of the way right away.
The bassist and keyboardist in the fast-climbing throwback Michigan rock band Greta Van Fleet — which he formed with his two older twin brothers when he was 12 years old (he’s only 19 now) — Kiszka has been hearing queries about Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and their legendary British group all year. That’s because GVF sounds uncannily like classic Zeppelin.
Due to make its Twin Cities debut with a sold-out show Tuesday at the 8,000-capacity Armory, the young quartet has been earning raves off festival appearances across America and Europe over the past couple of months following strong radio and press support in the spring for its debut album, “From the Fires.”
However, all of the praise for the band also acknowledges its strong echoes of Zeppelin. From singer Josh Kiszka’s high-pitched wail and “Oh, mama!” refrains in the opening track to guitarist Jake Kiszka’s bluesy but bombastic guitar riffing in the hit single “Highway Tune,” Greta Van Fleet has turned in the best Zeppelin-like album since Wolfmother’s self-titled 2005 debut, or maybe the Black Crowes’ “Amorica.”
Asked about the band in a recent radio interview, Robert Plant gave singer Jake Kiszka a backhanded compliment for his ability to howl like a young golden god. “A beautiful little voice; I hate him!” Plant cracked, but then mocked the band members for sometimes denying the influence.
Here’s how Sam Kiszka owned up to the comparisons and answered other questions in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles.
Q: My feeling is why not sound like one of the greatest bands of all time if you can. What’s your take on the Zeppelin comparisons?
A: Worse things could’ve happened. And you’re right, they probably are the greatest rock band of all time. We grew up listening to them, sure, but only in part. A lot of our influences were their same influences, listening to guys our dad was into like Big Bill Broonzy, Howlin’ Wolf and other old blues stuff. And for Josh and his singing, it’s probably a lot of the same influences [as Plant], like Wilson Pickett and Sam and Dave, that sort of stuff.
Q: If my brother could wail like Robert Plant, I’d tell him to keep doing it, and often. Is his singing a big part of what started you down the road to sound this way?
A: [Laughs] For sure, we encouraged him to go for it. But a lot of people think we sat down and said, “OK, what band do we want to sound like?” Of course, it didn’t happen like that.
Especially for us, we started at such a young age, it was just us wanting to play music any way we could. So we started playing old blues covers like “Smokestack Lightning.” And that sound really kind of got stuck in our heads. We weren’t really paying attention to it. We just went with it.
Q: You guys still are such a young band, too, you’re still exploring your sound. Do you think you’ll eventually start sounding less Zeppelin-y?
A: Our sound is definitely becoming more and more like Greta Van Fleet. It’s manifesting itself more and more musically, just within the past year from all the touring. Playing five nights a week for an hour and a half, you really hone your craft. Not only is the songwriting growing, but the playing is maturing, too.
Q: What was it like being in your early teens going out to play bars around Michigan?
A: It’s weird to think we’ve been doing this for six years now, and how different I was six years ago. Some bars wouldn’t let us play at all. A lot of them, we would have to leave the bar the second we stopped playing or sound-checking. But eventually we found the bars that just didn’t care about our age and would let us play, and that’s what we did, sometimes going from like 10 till 3 in the morning.
We eventually moved on to Detroit, but for a while we were playing Saginaw, and that was a pretty wild scene. A lot of biker gangs and people doing coke off the toilet. But we just wanted to play. We didn’t care.
Q: What’s your hometown of Frankenmuth like?
A: It’s a strange place, but it seems normal to us. All the architecture there is based off Bavaria, Germany. It’s coined “Michigan’s little Bavaria.” It’s cute and quaint and all that. But it’s funny, we were just at this beer garden kind of place in L.A. that had the same kind of Bavarian decor, and it made us feel right at home.
Q: Who is the woman from Frankenmuth your band is named after, Gretna Van Fleet?
A: We don’t really know her; we just liked her name. We were about to play our first real gig, and we couldn’t come up with a band name. Our now ex-drummer came over, and he said he would have to leave early to go chop wood for Gretna Van Fleet. And Josh looked at us and said, “That’s it!” We just took out the “n” in Gretna.
Q: How does your current drummer, Danny Wagner, manage to fit in between three brothers?
A: He’s like our fourth brother. He really is. We’ve known him so long. And we really became Greta Van Fleet when Daniel joined. It wouldn’t be the same band without him. His contributions to the writing and the live performance are just so conducive to our sound. He’s a talented guitarist, too, so he can hear things really well.
Q: You and Danny are both still only 19. How much parental authority is there on the road?
A: All our parents have day jobs. So our tour manager is our acting parent. We definitely need some adult supervision, too. We get to have some fun, but we’ve really been so busy and hard at work, we don’t have too much time to get in trouble.
Q: Any regrets about missing your high-school graduation, college or any other normal part of teen life?
A: [Laughs] No, not yet.