Fledgling teenage bands everywhere could learn a thing or two about commitment and accountability from the promising Michigan rock quartet Greta Van Fleet.
In 2013, when the youngest were around 14 years old and the oldest were about 17, Greta Van Fleet’s members drafted and signed a contract in which they pledged musical allegiance to each other.
“[Looking back], the legalities of it were probably not there,” recalls drummer Danny Wagner, who in those days was about to enter his freshman year of high school. “It was something that made us all feel pretty official, and it gave us our responsibilities. We had assigned practice dates in it, and that we had to be places at certain times.”
For a time, before Wagner completed the current Greta Van Fleet lineup, he was a fan and attended a few of the group’s shows. His relationship with one of the musicians in particular ran pretty deep: He’d known bassist Sam Kiszka, the younger brother of twins Josh (vocals) and Jake (guitar), since they were kindergarten classmates.
When GVF’s previous drummer lost interest and “didn’t really want to do it the way they were looking at it,” according to Wagner, the Kiszka brothers asked him if he knew how to play drums.
Up to that point, Wagner had “learned the basic beats” on an inexpensive drum kit left behind by his cousins when they moved to Dubai. And in conjunction with the offer to join GVF, he dedicated himself to improving.
That also meant obtaining better equipment: a Pearl Export kit purchased on Craigslist that Wagner kept at the band’s rehearsal space, the converted Kiszka family garage.
“Their dad covered the whole floor with red carpet,” Wagner says. “The entire garage space turned into a music sanctuary.” And during practices there, they bonded and jammed on songs by “all those powerhouse British bands,” the drummer adds, citing Cream, The Who and Led Zeppelin.
As for early gigs, Greta Van Fleet played small bars and clubs near their home base of Frankenmuth, Michigan, some 90-plus miles north of Detroit.
“I had my fair share of Xs on my hands. I’m surprised I don’t have permanent scars,” says Wagner with a laugh, referring to the common practice of alcohol-serving venues drawing on underage patrons with dark markers.
About a year ago, Greta Van Fleet signed with ABI Management, which sent rough mixes of three GVF originals to Jason Flom, the CEO of Lava Records.
“Right off the bat, he loved them,” says Wagner. Flom’s signings throughout his long career have included Katy Perry and Lorde, he’s worked closely with the likes of Matchbox 20 and Coldplay, and he is the man behind the current Church of Rock and Roll movement. Adds Wagner: “He’s really been dedicating a lot of his time to building up these rock ’n’ roll bands, and he thought [what we’re doing] just seemed so fitting.”
Those three originals presented to Flom — “Highway Tune,” “Safari Song” and “Flower Power” — make up 75 percent of Black Smoke Rising, Greta Van Fleet’s first EP for the Lava-associated Republic Records. Following the EP’s late April release, Wagner says the tentative plan is to release another EP toward the end of the summer or in the early fall, then combine them (with possibly some extra material) for GVF’s first album.
Speaking of firsts, whatever became of that initial band contract?
“I guarantee you our original manager, who is now our tour manager, has it somewhere,” Wagner says without hesitation. “And if he doesn’t have it, then my parents do.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Greta Van Fleet on tour (schedule subject to change):
• May 12: Austin’s Fuel Room — Libertyville, Illinois
• May 15: Deluxe at Old National Centre — Indianapolis
• May 16: The Machine Shop — Flint, Michigan
• May 18: The Rapids Theatre — Niagara Falls, New York
• May 19: Rams Head Live — Baltimore
• May 21: Bottle & Cork — Dewey Beach, Delaware
• June 9: Ribfest — Chicago
• June 23: Route 20 — Sturtevant, Wisconsin
• July 3: National Cherry Festival — Traverse City, Michigan
• July 14: Red River Valley Fair — West Fargo, North Dakota
Greta Van Fleet, from left to right: Sam Kiszka, Josh Kiszka, Danny Wagner and Jake Kiszka. Photo by Michael Lavine