Greta Van Fleet - Interview
by L. Paul Mann
published: 11 / 3 / 2019
L. Paul Mann talks to Danny Wagner, the drummer and multi-instrumentalist with rising young blues rock group Greta Van Fleet, about his band's early roots and main influences.
The young Michigan rock band, Greta Van Fleet, has been making a splash in the music world over the last few years after extensive festival appearances across the nation and around the world. But the band is on the verge of becoming a household name bolstered by their new album 'Anthem of the Peaceful Army' and an upcoming guest appearance on the 'Saturday Night Live' show. The band formed in Frankenmuth, Michigan in 2012 and has quickly made a name for themselves based mainly on their live performances. Vocalist, Josh Kizka, has been compared in style to legendary lead vocalist, Robert Plant, of Led Zeppelin. Even Plant himself has expressed admiration for the band. His brothers, Jake and Sam, play guitar and bass, respectively. The band also features drummer, Danny Wagner, who is a multi-instrumentalist wizard. The group may actually sound more like a classic rock blues band along the lines of Janis Joplin and Big Brother and The Holding Company. All comparisons aside, it is great to see such a young group keep the hard, blues-rock tradition alive. Wagner sat down with Pennyblackmusic for an interview after one of his recent festival performances to share a little of the band's roots. PB: Where is the band from? DW: We grew up in Frankenmuth. It's about an hour North and West of Detroit. But it's quieter than Detroit. It's your classic, sleepy, mid-western city with curfews. It's a nice, supportive, tight-knit community of about 5000 people. PB: I understand the band grew up listening to vinyl records which is unusual for your generation. DW: Yes, my parents had vinyl, but their parents had mountains and mountains of vinyl sitting around. It was a vinyl playground. PB: So who were your early influences, probably a lot of Detroit music? DW: Yeah, of course, the local radio stations would play a lot of Detroit music. Our earliest influences were bands like Grand Funk Railroad, Bob Seger, and Stevie Wonder from Michigan. The other guys grew up listening to Taj Mahal, and a lot of folk like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. All of it was good stuff and then, of course, the Beatles. We all loved the Beatles from an early age. PB: There is a lot of traditional blues sounds in your music. DW: Yeah, we grew up listening to Howlin' Wolf, and we would have CDs of Robert Johnson in the car. The other guys' dad is a blues man in his own right. He is a bad harp player. PB: You took the name Greta Van Fleet from a local 87-year-old musician who played saxophone and piano in a "dance band" with her three brothers during the late 1950s. DW: Yes, she is a matriarch of Frankenmuth, an instrumentalist. They actually wrote a song about her some time ago, but I don’t really remember who did it. PB: So you were sort of like Ringo coming into the Beatles, as the strange man out, as the rest of your band are real brothers. DW: Yeah, it was a lot like Ringo and the Beatles. I replaced the drummer, and they said, "You're better, you play drums." They tell you that you're better, but in your own mind you aren’t really sure. PB: I have heard that you are actually a multi-instrumentalist, especially on the albums. DW: Yes, I can play flute, recorders, mandolin and in the song, 'Flower Power.' I play guitar on the record. PB: So who does the songwriting? DW: It is split evenly, 25 percent between the four of us. It is all one unit working together. Josh usually writes the lyrics because he is quickest at it, but we all contribute to the music. PB: You are often compared musically to Led Zeppelin, but I actually hear more of a band like Janis Joplin and Big Brother and The Holding Company in your music. DW: Well, we listened to a lot of Big Brother, but I wish I had time to list all the old, blues-rock bands we used to listen to. Everyone has their own perception of the blues and their own execution of the blues, and we definitely have huge blues influences. We are Elvis fans too. He had his own version of the blues. PB: You have been playing a lot of shows lately. Do you ever find it hard to live in the moment? Paul McCartney likes to stop in the middle of his live performances and say, "Give me a moment to take it all in." Then he looks around at the audience and comments on the signs and sights he sees. DW: He is one of my favourite artists. I am glad you told me that. It’s a whirlpool, just constantly moving, just constant momentum now. Every tour we go on seems like it is stepping up in every way. It is very surreal sometimes. I will keep that in mind in the future. PB: Thank you.
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