Sam Kiszka

Ethereal Energy
Sam Kiszka
Sam Kiszka: Paige Sara.

Guitar rock in 2023 doesn’t get bigger or ballsier than Greta Van Fleet. A veritable steamroller since “Highway Tune” launched in 2017, the band’s second EP, From The Fires, won the Grammy for Best Rock Album and 2021’s The Battle at Garden’s Gate clobbered Billboard, reaching #1 Rock Album, #1 Hard Rock Album, #1 Vinyl Album, #2 Top Album Sales, and #7 in the Top 200. To date, more than a million people have caught the band’s tight, dynamic live show; in ’22 they sold out a 60-arena tour spanning the U.S. and six other countries.

Singer Josh Kiszka, guitarist Jake Kiszka, bassist/keyboardist Sam Kiszka, and drummer Danny Wagner launch their next album, Starcatcher, on July 21.

“We tried to make it dangerous, sexy, and ethereal,” Sam Kiszka (pronounced Kiss-ka by most, Keesh-ka by Polish purists) told VG. “We hope people grab a cup of tea and dig in front to back, because that’s how it’s meant to be heard.”

Is it hard to believe it’s been six years since “Highway Tune” made a splash?
Sometimes I think about when we were playing to 10 or 20 people. Those were really fun times. We were just jamming, trying to perfect songs. We loved creating. And that’s still what we do. But yeah, we sometimes sit back and think about being in the eye of a hurricane.

The band’s songwriting has always been collaborative. Did the formula hold for Starcatcher?
It did. When we’re at home, we write pieces of music – sometimes it’s just a riff, sometimes it’s a song with full arrangement. Then when we get together, it’s lightning – we all spew creative ideas.

Does Josh come up with lyrics, Jake the riffs, etc.?
Josh does focus on lyrics, which is a big part of a vocalist’s job in most contexts. Usually, Jake, Daniel, and I are scoring a theme. We might not know what it is, but we’re chasing it. We communicate: “What’s this scene?” From there, Josh listens to the music and asks himself, “What is this about?” He has a superpower to write really beautiful lyrics that tell stories. Sometimes, Daniel, Jake, or I slip something in if he gets stuck for a phrase.

GVF songs usually pretty cerebral, sometimes philosophical. Where does that come from?
I think from a desire to transcend human form. Not in an egoistical way, but to see what’s beyond our own bodies, our own world, and our own philosophy. Exploring the ethereal realm is the job of an artist. Every song is different, and every situation is creating something that doesn’t exist. That’s why we work so hard to make every song unique and not too reminiscent of our other tracks.

New music should also reflect your growth as musicians. What does Jake play now that he wasn’t six or seven years ago?
He keeps experimenting and becoming more unique, more Jake Kiszka. When you listen to a guitarist – say Jimi Hendrix – you immediately know it’s Jimi Hendrix even when he’s playing a 12-bar blues or lines Freddie King did. The same is true for Jake; his playing is so stylized that he could do 12-bar blues and start soloing and you’d go, “Oh, yeah. I know who that is…” because he’s using all these crazy-key minor things. He has a very big style, and what he did on Starcatcher is his most-impressive work yet.

The same goes for Daniel and Josh. Both really pushed themselves, creatively. And the way [producer] Dave Cobb captured it was really important.

What are your favorite guitar moments on the album?
I would say the “Fate Of The Faithful” guitar solo. Jake played a ’63 Tele with a B bender and was really inspired by it, doing all these crazy licks. In turn, I was really inspired by that. A lot of the overdubs I’m really inspired by, too, like all the phaser-y stuff on “The Indigo Streak.” It’s such a cool guitar moment. I’d never heard anything like it.

Which basses and amps did you use?
I used a Rickenfaker – a ’70s Japanese knockoff of the 4003. I was in Eastside Music Supply, in Nashville, to grab a pedal or something, and I heard a guy talking about how rare it was. I called my buddy Andrew Yonke at Chicago Music Exchange and he said, “Dude, buy that!” I love the way it plays, and it has that ’70s Rick-bass sound. Also, Dave has a red ’66 Mustang Bass that I really loved. I ran both through a Hiwatt.

Why did you seek out Dave Cobb this time?
We wanted to step back to where we started, when we had a guitar, bass, a drum kit, and Josh’s throat. But we also wanted to extrapolate the experience we’ve garnered since we’ve played thousands of hours onstage, perfecting the way we communicate with each other through our instruments.

Sounding live and real is right up Dave’s alley.
There’s an authenticity in the music because we didn’t overthink it. It was us, relaxed in the studio, drinking wine and being silly, and at the same time trucking forward and being serious about it. He captured it right, in the right spot.

This article originally appeared in VG’s August 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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