• Naomi Sanders

Interview with Danny Wagner of Greta Van Fleet

Two no.1 songs on the US Mainstream Rock Charts with songs “Highway Tune” and “Safari Song” from their debut EP, Black Smoke Rising, Michigan hard rock band Greta Van Fleet sprung onto the music community with a bang, and show no signs of slowing down anytime soon! With upcoming festival dates in both the US and Europe, as well as more music coming down the pipeline, we managed to chat with drummer Danny Wagner on their recent European tour to discuss the whole experience thus far for the quartet, as well as the possibility of a full album this year…

This is part of your current tour in the UK & Europe - how has it been so far?

So far, it’s actually been very nice. You can’t argue with the fact that a lot of the shows are sold out, and that actually helps a lot of the momentum, but it’s been great. People at the venues have been great and everything’s gone smoothly so far - I’m excited for the rest of it!

You’ve been announced for festivals in the US and Europe, including Download Festival - looking forward to them?

I am - festivals are great! Festivals are different; I think they’re cool because you get the chance to meet a lot of the bands you’re playing with and chances are, if it’s a festival, it’s a lot of bands! But I think festivals are fun - I’m excited for the European festivals ‘cause I’ve never been nor played a European festival, so those are gonna be cool!

2 no.1 songs on US Billboard Mainstream Rock Charts from your debut EP, Black Smoke Rising; what has this been like for the band?

That’s also been pretty crazy! I get family members, they’re the ones who notify me of this, they love keeping track of it at home, and my dad will send me a text like “Congrats! Another week! That’s cool!”. But I can definitely say it was something that we weren’t expecting, because when we released Black Smoke Rising with both those tracks that made it to no.1 [“Highway Tune”, and “Safari Song”], it was just like we were releasing songs ‘cause we had them done, so I can’t say we were really expecting it, but we’re very humbled!

You’ve recently played at Elton John’s Oscar Party - what is it like having someone like Elton John have so much faith in the band?

We’ve all been listening to Elton [John] since we were kids, first off, I mean like little tiny kids! We’ve known him forever, and when we got the invitation, we were all actually kind of starstruck, which was really cool! He’s one of very few people who would really intimidate me, it was kind of intimidating, but he’s such a phenomenal human being, and when we did meet him, he spent as much time as he could with us to make us feel a little more comfortable. But it was a great event, and I can say now that I was a part of it! Yeah, we love Elton!

The band have often been compared to classic rock and hard rock bands like Led Zeppelin - what would you say are your inspirations when writing and performing?

What’s funny, and what a lot of people don’t realise, is yes, rock and roll is prevalent in our catalogue of music, but we find ourselves mainly listening to folk and roots blues, American blues, British blues; a lot of that stuff, and that’s mainly because that’s what we grown up listening to. I’m personally a big folk listener, I like Crosby, Stills, Nash, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell; Sam [Kiszka, bassist]’s been really getting me into Joni Mitchell, John Denver’s a big one. So we listen to a lot of that type of music, and I think that is showcased in a lot of folkier songs. As far as rock and roll goes, that’s kind of just us putting ourselves in a room, and channelling as much energy as we possibly can. But I would say it varies really, I’m personally more folk, Sam likes a lot of jazz, Josh [Kiszka, vocals] is very world music orientated, Jake [Kiszka, guitarist] is kinda always been classic rock, blues, that hard blues, old blues; he’s been like that forever. It’s cool, ‘cause when you put all of those together, I guess it makes the Greta sound!

What is your favourite song from the double EP, From The Fires?

It’s a tough one! I probably have to say, out of our songs, probably “Edge of Darkness”. Out of all of the songs, probably “A Change Is Gonna Come”; I’m biased because that’s always been one of my favourite songs! I think it’s cool that we had the opportunity to cover that!

To see such a young band practically flying in success is always great to see - what advice would you give to musicians who are inspired by you and your band?

I would say stay persistent, first off, because yes, a lot of things have been happening quickly, but at the same time, we’ve been putting in quite a bit of work and about a year ago, we all came together and realised that in this next year, we’re not gonna be home a lot, ‘cause we gonna try and get out and play as many places as possible, and that was mutual; we all agreed that’s what we need to do, and we like each other so why not? So we haven’t been home much, it’s just a different lifestyle! In terms of advice, it’s the simple things that matter; keep yourself very healthy on the road, and it’s not that bad! We think it’s fun, we like it! It doesn’t have to be bad! There’s a lot of hard work, but I don’t even know if we show it because we’re just having a ball! We get excited to go on tour, we all get together; hate flights ‘cause we’re just anxious to get there!

Recently, you did a cover of Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep” for Spotify - what other songs would you like to cover?

That’s a tough one, ‘cause covers for us have come and gone, and that’s just to establish the fact that there are a bunch of other influences; if you take all 3 of the covers that we’ve done so far, even “Evil” that we do live, which is a Howlin’ Wolf cover; you have the blues, you have the important convention which is the folk, “A Change Is Gonna Come”, you have the soulful Sam Cooke; you just take all those and put them together, and it kind of accurately showcases all of our influences. There are a bunch of songs out there that I’d be willing to cover, but I think they have to meet a certain personal requirement in all of us, like with “A Change Is Gonna Come”, we’ve all grown up with that song, ‘cause it’s not easy to cover a song! It was pretty stressful actually, and then once they were done, we all took a deep breath and were like “You know, they’re not so bad”! But it was stressful!

What would you hope someone would take away with your music if this was their first time hearing the band?

I would hope that they would take away that we are, or at least be able to tell that what we’re trying to do is not anything like a mastermind plan! We’re going into the studio with very often empty and open minds, and we’re coming out and we’re writing and we’re being creative while we’re in the studio, and that’s the way it comes naturally to us, and I’d hope that listeners can hear that in the music because that’s what got us all into music at a young age, the feeling it gives you when you’re listening to it, and I just hope that people get that from the experience, whether or not you like rock and roll. Just a fun experience, just enjoy it! There’s a lot of stories in the songs, and that’s always fun; I’m a lyric guy!

If you could collaborate with another band or artist, who would it be and why?

You know, this might be a bit of a far stretch, but we just had a deal with Elton John so I guess anything’s possible! I’d say my favourite musician on this planet is Paul McCartney, that’s where I’d have to take my answer! I don’t know about the rest of the guys; for me personally, it would be Paul McCartney. He’s just a wizard, he’s magic! He really understands music I think more than a lot of other people on this planet, and he’s just a very special individual; I’d like to meet him!

Finally, after the tours and festival appearances, what’s next for the band?

What’s next is actually what’s now! In and off from touring, we’re recording a full-length album because people are gonna kill us if we don’t! We have the materials, why not? So we’ve been working pretty diligently in the studio as often as we can in Nashville, and at the moment, that is what’s really up next in our minds. We’re gonna try and get this album done and release it this year at some point, and that’ll hopefully help the festivals, just kind of make our way round this world. I guess, in terms of longer future, we’re looking for arena tours, working into the big arena sound ‘cause, me personally, you can’t beat that arena sound, doesn’t matter what band you put on the stage, it’s got that sound, so I’m looking forward to those. Just keep an eye out, ‘cause we’ll be all over!

Greta Van Fleet are currently on tour!

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