Greta Van Fleet and the Next Brand of Progressive
Josh Kiszka talks about millennials and the current political climate.
Posted Oct 18, 2018
“Take one look at your skies
And in the darkness realize
Kill fear, the power of lies
For we will not be hypnotized”
From “Brave New World” by Greta Van Fleet
To say that the expectations of Greta Van Fleet are high would be a colossal, titanic understatement. How else would you describe a situation in which a band that hasn’t even put out a full-length album yet has been tagged as the “next Led Zeppelin” and the saviors of rock?
Rolling Stone raves about their “flat out incredible lives shows.” New Musical Express (NME) calls them the ‘Post millennial Led Zeppelin.” PopMatters says, “These will be the New Gods.” Wall Street Journal says, “Greta Van Fleet is a rarity in today’s music business: An old-fashioned rock band that could … break into the pop world.” For crying out loud, even Robert Plant seems to be passing the torch — with a particular nod to singer Josh Kiszka’s vocals — saying, “They are Led Zeppelin I … a beautiful little singer.”
Greta Van Fleet has earned the praise based on their clear musical talents. But there seems to be a different kind of hope attached to this band. We currently live in a world in which government appears to be comprised more of warring factions than political parties. And there seems to be a disconnect between the generations – “Boomers” seem to be setting the political agenda, with young adults seeming disinterested in what they see in the political landscape, as evidenced by young people’s low voter turnout in the 2016 presidential election.
So when a band comes along that has a 70’s rock sound, but is comprised of millennials and post-millennials — 22-year-old twins Josh and Jake Kiszka as well as 19-year-old younger brother Sam Kiszka and 19-year-old Danny Wagner – people start to wonder whether this is a band that actually has the potential to unify people. And when Greta Van Fleet calls their first full-length album, Anthem of the Peaceful Army, you kind of get the feeling that they are looking forward to taking on that challenge.
So I spoke with Josh Kiszka to better understand where Greta Van Fleet is coming from, and how they fit into the current cultural landscape. The first thing we discussed was his perception of how the current polarized political environment has resulted in his generation’s being less engaged in conventional politics.
“I don’t know that I particularly fit amongst others my age, but I do have a feel for what’s going on…. There is a political disinterest that’s happened.… And it’s a disinterest in all the argumentation that’s been going on between parties – party politics and things like that where you’re right or you’re wrong – there’s no in between,” Kiszka told me. “Kids of my age or younger are not engaged like they used to be because I think they want nothing to do with it.
“It’s too argumentative and so ugly.”
Kiszka feels that this individualistic and divisive form of politics does not accurately reflect how he or his peers would want to address the issues in the world. “It’s another generation’s politics. And it’s generational politics that’s going on that people don’t agree with.… There’s always this sort of cultural divide, especially now – it’s driven a stake right through the heart of the thing,” Kiszka explained. “There was that Reagan era which has turned into a ‘me, me, me’ concept.… And even magazines like Rolling Stone kind of capitalized on the “me” movement thing. And so it turns out that we exploit things.… we’re continually destroying the environment.”
“We’re turning into an industrial hate society.”
In fact, there are many people who agree with Kiszka and feel disconnected. Results of a Pew Research Center survey of 6,251 Americans found as many as two thirds of people surveyed did not feel like people from other communities understood them. Kiszka feels that a more inclusive, collectivist approach would be welcomed, particularly among people in his generation.
“‘Everybody belongs’ is really the concept. And that it’s OK not to fit in… there is no one person that doesn’t fit into this new world,” Kiszka explained. “It’s about preservation and hopefully more about societal needs such as taking care of the homeless epidemic and things like that. If it promotes love, that’s the goal. If it promotes the idea that small organic farming is the way to go here and that’s healthy, that it’s better for the soil, better for the human.”
“It’s the next brand of progressive.”
More, Kiszka feels that “everyone belongs” includes people having more direct connections to participate in society and government. He is echoing a trend that was perhaps best exemplified in the 2016 presidential race, in which both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders received particularly large numbers of small donations in comparison to other candidates. Further, social media platforms allow for opportunities for many people to be directly involved in the cultural landscape, rather than having to go through more conventional “gatekeepers.”
“There’s a lot more to the possible opportunities in our culture, in our day and age, in our time, than what they previously believed.… Lobbying – that stuff is going to be out of the question because the platform is so different,” Kiszka described. “People are communicating through social media platforms and things like that. It’s no longer the traditional verbal thing where you go grab your signs and you march on a capital or something.”
To be sure, there is a long history of musicians who have at least in part made it their mission to bring awareness to issues in the cultural and political landscape, with differing degrees of success. But Kiszka is inspired rather than discouraged that previous musicians have not fully healed the world.
“I always see it as building blocks. As human organisms, we’re going to have to fail so many times before we get it right,” Kiszka said. “Where do we go next? How do we go further – forward towards the main goal? I can’t say where we transcend any of that to be honest with you. I’m optimistic about what we’re doing and what role we can play in the next progressive movement.… It’s like we’ve tried so many times. I honestly believe at some point at least we can move things closer.
“I think I’m surprised by the resilience of the human.”
Kiszka feels like Greta Van Fleet’s specific role in this new movement is to use their music as a mechanism to connect with people on a visceral level so that they eventually focus on the messaging. “That visceral stuff seems to be rooted in ancient society in a way. You’ve got something really primeval about shrieking and making noises and beating on drums. That’s just the way our ancient ancestors chronicled their history and their mythology… when you push that forward into the future that’s essentially what you’re doing,” he explained. “But when you get into that universe and you’re shot out of a cannon into that ether or cosmos, you can put yourself that far out there, then you’re submersed in the meaning behind the sound. The rhythm and the melody – and beyond that are ideas that challenge you and that give you this curiosity, and that makes you want to go further out – whatever that is.
“The search for enlightenment seems to be the beat.”
Kiszka is thrilled that so far, people seem to be “getting it.” “And I’m kind of relieved that they really are getting it what the music is talking about.… We’re all one human culture – a global society. So certain themes are starting to register. People are starting to understand this world,” Kiszka described. “Kind and intelligent people – there’s this search for knowledge, to be aware. People writing in saying, ‘I didn’t feel like I belonged in this world or this generation. But this has given me purpose – there’s some substance here.'”
Further, he is hopeful that Greta Van Fleet is fulfilling its promise of having the music and the message resonate across generations. “What this music seems to be doing is it’s cross generational, and it seems to be binding everybody together – you see children, their parents, and their parents’ parents all the way in the back with this nostalgia,” Kiszka said. “There’s something going on where no one person is excluded. And it’s creating unity, and promoting this idea of peace, and hopefully there can be a crossover – this understanding of what the other side is and what this generation is.
“And maybe for once we can work together a little bit more, as opposed to this divide.”
So is Greta Van Fleet going to bring back rock music, unite the world and turn us into a “peaceful army”?
I honestly don’t know.
But I sure am looking forward to watching them try.