When the members of the rock band Greta Van Fleet put their last touches on their first full-length album, they didn’t celebrate with a round of beers or a fancy dinner. They immediately started working on new songs.
“Once we finished Anthem of the Peaceful Army — the very day that we’d OK’d all the mixing — we started writing the next album,” said Jake Kiszka, the band’s guitarist. “If we’re stagnant, it becomes boring.”
The young Michigan rockers whose sound and classic rock look is reminiscent of Led Zeppelin have done the opposite of stagnate in the last 18 months. It’s been more like an explosion, capped by four Grammy Award nominations, including best new artist and best rock album.
Since their April 2017 breakthrough with the song “Highway Tune,” they’ve put out two EPs and their Anthem of the Peaceful Army debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s rock chart and No. 3 on the all-genre albums chart last year. It has also reached the Top 10 in Canada, Italy and Germany. They’ve played Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, count Elton John as a fan and have been embraced as the four guys who can save rock ‘n’ roll, a tag they politely decline.
“It’s a silly thing to consider anyone a savior of rock ‘n’ roll. In our opinion, no one king can wear that crown,” said Jake Kiszka, 22. “There’s always someone who carries the torch and takes that into the future and interprets that through their influences.”
Jason Flom, who signed Greta Van Fleet to his Lava Records, said there’s nothing calculated about the band, saying they make music because it’s what they were born to do: “It’s almost like they were sent in a time capsule to save rock ‘n’ roll,” he said. “They wouldn’t say that, but I will.”
Keeping the members grounded through all this fuss is blood — three of the members are brothers. Kiszka’s twin, Josh, is the howling singer, and his younger brother, 19-year-old Sam, plays bass and keyboards. The quartet is rounded out by drummer and family friend Danny Wagner, 19.
The Kiszka brothers are so passionate about what they do that they used to get into fistfights when they were younger over musical choices. Now they rely on each other to get through the noise.
“When someone starts to steer one way or another away from the herd, it seems like there’s always someone there to pull you back in,” said Jake Kiszka, who called the past year “being in the eye of a storm. There’s so much chaos around you but the very center seems so calm.”
At the Grammys, taking place Feb. 10 in Los Angeles, the band is up for best rock song (“Black Smoke Rising”), best rock performance (“Highway Tune”) and best rock album (From the Fires EP). Competition in those categories include the late Chris Cornell, Arctic Monkeys, twenty one pilots, St. Vincent, Weezer, Fall Out Boy and more.
Greta Van Fleet, whose name was inspired by the octogenarian bluegrass musician Gretna VanFleet, also are nominated for best new artist, up against Chloe x Halle, Luke Combs, H.E.R., Dua Lipa, Margo Price, Bebe Rexha and Jorja Smith.
Asked which of the four awards the band most coveted, Jake Kiszka was diplomatic. “I think best album and best performance would be some of the more highlighted categories I’d like us to win. It seems to me the best new artist is sort of a cursed category.” Does that mean they won’t accept it? “We’ll accept it,” he answered, laughing. “That would be rude.”
Rudeness is not something baked into the band, which also hasn’t relied on social media to fuel its rise. Flom, who has also guided the careers of artists like Lorde and Jessie J, said he’s impressed by Greta Van Fleet’s work ethic and comradery. “They get a week off, they go rent a cabin in the hills of Tennessee and write songs,” he said. “That is their idea of a good time.”
The band hasn’t won over everyone, as proved by the snarky comments online following their SNL appearance last week. Some criticized them for their ’60s-styled outfits and for mimicking classic rock gestures. One viewer called them “a glorified college cover band who have just found their dad’s Led Zeppelin records.” Music critics also have been mixed, but the band isn’t letting any of that get under their skin.
“Every individual is entitled to an opinion,” said Jake Kiszka. “I think we’ll always be humbled with the references and honored by the affiliation of those who have influenced us and inspired us to be musicians. But I think there isn’t a band in this world that somebody doesn’t hate.”
The Zeppelin comparisons once were certainly warranted but increasingly less apt. The band’s early bluesy rock has evolved into a more diverse, mature sound, including the laid-back, “You’re the One,” the last song created for the latest album. Jake Kiszka said Greta Van Fleet has moved on from their stripped-down sonic beginnings.
“It was sort of an objective of ours to achieve somewhat simplicity — to get to the emotion of it and the truth of it and the feel of it,” he said. “Once that was achieved, in our minds, it was time to start moving forward in a more technical manner — to grow.”