Greta Van Fleet Isn't Just For Your Led Zeppelin-Loving Dad

Oct 23, 2018
Originally published on October 23, 2018 1:28 pm

It's been nearly 40 years since the rock group Led Zeppelin broke up in 1980, but many classic rock fans are still feeling the void. Singer Robert Plant's trademark howl has inspired many bands over the decades — from Billy Squier to The White Stripes — but few as convincingly as a young band from Frankenmuth, Mich.

Greta Van Fleet has a hard-hitting sound that takes you right back to the '70s. The band is a family affair, with 22-year-old twin brothers Josh (vocals) and Jake (guitar) Kiszka fronting the group, and their younger brother, Sam, on bass. As the siblings were growing up in Michigan, a loud and chaotic household ensued as they honed the band's momentum craft. Last year, the members piled into a van and toured the country, which jump-started the band's momentum. Before even releasing a full-length album, the four-member band (rounded out by drummer Danny Wagner) sent two back-to-back singles, "Highway Tune" and "Safari Song," to No. 1 on Billboard's mainstream rock charts, and the band started getting all kinds of buzz. Now, Greta Van Fleet is setting off on its first world tour, in support of its latest album, Anthem of the Peaceful Army.

"Things have grown so fast and so quickly," Josh says. "Its almost indescribable because it's unfathomable to us."

"Kind of a throwback sound, but very refreshing," Mark Pennington, the program director of rock station WRIF in Detroit, says. "And, of course, the obvious Robert Plant comparisons were there, but there's layers and depth to it, and [Kiszka's] voice is so unique and strong. I was just blown away."

Robert Plant is the voice of Led Zeppelin, the band people often compare Greta Van Fleet to — and not always favorably. In fact, many consider the Michigan band a total rip-off. Jake and Josh grew up listening to folk and blues music from their father's extensive record collection and didn't discover Led Zeppelin until they were in high school. Still, Josh never set out to replicate Plant's vocals.

"I think people make the mistake, assuming that we are offended by it, or that we dislike, in any way, Led Zeppelin, and that's far from the truth," Josh says. "What I was originally trying to do was the kind of thing Wilson Pickett was doing, or Joe Cocker, but I found it easier to sing in a tight space over top of everything else if I were to sort of make it louder because it would cut through the music."

Whatever the case, the band seems to have found a good formula. It is reeling in older listeners who still thrill to '70s nostalgia, as well as younger ones who weren't there the first time around — creating rock and roll converts, Jake says.

"Our environment, the current times, a lot of that influences our music," Jake says. "I think our generations see that and say, 'Oh, this is rock 'n' roll for us.' "

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A popular young Michigan band makes many of their fans think of a much older group - Led Zeppelin. NPR's Vince Pearson reports on the group that makes this sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAFARI SONG")

GRETA VAN FLEET: (Singing) Oh, yeah.

VINCE PEARSON, BYLINE: Meet the guys behind Greta Van Fleet.

JOSH KIZKA: I'm Josh Kizka, and I play the vocals.

JAKE KIZKA: I'm Jake Kizka, and I'm the guitarist.

PEARSON: They're twins, 22 years old. Their younger brother plays bass. So what makes this family so talented?

JAKE KIZKA: Must be something about the water up there in Frankenmuth, Mich.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAFARI SONG")

GRETA VAN FLEET: (Singing) Oh, lady, won't you come on down? Won't you come on down to my town? Oh, mama, won't you come on down?

PEARSON: Can we just pause to think about how noisy that house must have been.

JOSH KIZKA: Oh, yeah, it was quite loud. We started in the basement and then moved out to the garage, you know. And then from there, it was just sort of like bars and even a few biker gigs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAFARI SONG")

GRETA VAN FLEET: (Singing) Oh, mama, what you gonna do with all that love in your heart?

JOSH KIZKA: We got ourselves in a van, and we went across the country. And that started the momentum. That was actually at the top of last year. Things have grown so fast and so quickly. It's almost indescribable because it's unfathomable to us, you know.

PEARSON: Like, literally you started - you got your van and started touring like a year ago?

JOSH KIZKA: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HIGHWAY TUNE")

GRETA VAN FLEET: (Singing) Oh, mama.

PEARSON: Before even releasing a full-length album, the four-member band sent two straight songs to number one on one of Billboard's rock charts, and they started getting all kinds of buzz.

MARK PENNINGTON: It's kind of a throwback sound but very fresh sounding.

PEARSON: Mark Pennington is the program director of Rock station WRIF in Detroit and an early supporter.

PENNINGTON: Of course, the obvious Robert Plant comparisons were there. But there's layers and depth to it. And his voice is so unique and strong. I was just blown away.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HIGHWAY TUNE")

GRETA VAN FLEET: (Singing) All mine - mine, mine, mine, mine, oh.

PEARSON: Robert Plant is of course the voice of Led Zeppelin. People often compare Greta Van Fleet to Zeppelin and not always favorably. In fact, many consider the Michigan band a total rip-off.

JOSH KIZKA: I think people make the mistake assuming that we are offended by it or that we dislike in any way Led Zeppelin. And that's far from the truth, you know.

PEARSON: Still, Josh says he never set out to sound like the Led Zeppelin singer.

JOSH KIZKA: What I was initially trying to do is the kind of thing Wilson Pickett was doing, you know, or Joe Cocker and that kind of thing. But I found it was a lot easier to sing in a tight space over top of everything else if I were to sort of make it louder because it would cut through the music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN THE CURTAIN FALLS")

GRETA VAN FLEET: (Singing) Well, you're so pretty, and I love you so. You know, I'm your biggest fan.

PEARSON: Whatever the case, the band seems to have found a good formula. They're reeling in older listeners who still thrill to '70s nostalgia as well as younger ones who weren't there the first time around - creating rock 'n' roll converts, says Jake.

JAKE KIZKA: Our environment, the current times - a lot of that influences our music. And I think our generation sees that. And they say, oh, this is rock 'n' roll for us.

PEARSON: Greta Van Fleet's new album is called "Anthem Of The Peaceful Army."

Vince Pearson, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF GRETA VAN FLEET SONG, "WHEN THE CURTAIN FALLS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.