Released earlier this month, the Michigan four-piece’s colossal second record was inspired by their time on the road and the tours that took them from their humble small-town roots in Michigan to arenas around the globe.
Exploring everything from how technology is causing people to be more detached from reality (‘Age of The Machine’), to how change is something inescapable and constant (‘Trip The Light Fantastic’), it’s resulted in their most mature and ambitious release yet.
We caught up with frontman Josh Kiszka and bassist Sam Kiszka from their new hometown of Nashville, to talk TikTok, Stanley Kubrick and what it’s like to release an album with its roots in travel to a world stuck in lockdown. Here’s what we learned.
‘The Battle At Garden’s Gate’ is their coming of age record
Greta Van Fleet have had a meteoric rise. Winning the Grammy Award for Best Rock Album for 2017’s ‘From the Fires’, and with their debut album ‘Anthem of the Peaceful Army’ topping the Billboard Rock charts, did their previous successes add any pressure?
“Not even a little. I think it’s because we felt like we were evolving, and getting too far in our own direction to have other people steering our ship for us,” explains Sam. “It was really liberating. We knew exactly what we were going to do – we were gonna create an album that was big and unfuckwithable.”
Sam says they’re no longer weighed down with previous influences. “You can’t really say anything about ‘The Battle At Garden’s Gate’ that would draw negative comparisons, to say, Led Zeppelin. It’s 110% Greta Van Fleet. In a lot of ways, it’s our ‘coming of age’ album”.
Rock and roll isn’t dead
Earlier this year KISS’ Gene Simmons doubled down on his belief that “rock is dead”. Josh disagrees.
“Maybe the world of rock he remembers is dead,” he says. “I think rock and roll is a very elastic genre, a very eclectic genre. It seems like, every once in a while, a generation reinterprets what that is… you can’t kill something that supersedes time. It’s an attitude, a spirit and a celebration.”
Josh cites Florence and the Machine as a shining example of rock’s good health. Florence Welch’s band are also a dream collaboration for Greta Van Fleet. “There’s something really unique and honest and raw they’re channeling. As far as their live performance is concerned, it’s a great live rock and roll act. I think we could create some good stuff together” .
Stanley Kubrick was a major influence on ‘The Battle At Garden’s Gate’
Cinema had a huge influence on the band’s latest record, with Sam claiming ‘The Battle At Garden’s Gate’ is “the soundtrack to a film that just hasn’t been made yet. The album itself is the movie”.
“We want to make something that’s widescreen” he explains. “That’s our favourite stuff. Hans Zimmer, Ennio Morricone, John Williams and everything in-between”.
Stanley Kubrick in particular had a big influence, with Josh explaining: “I love that sort of obsessive symmetry in the lens. That’s kind of the visual of it, thinking of what the world was. And there were some science fiction elements to [the album].”
Socially distanced Greta Van Fleet shows could be coming soon
“We had to postpone the album because the world changed overnight,” Josh explains of the record’s release. But while the album had to be delayed, it did allow the band to work on some extra tunes. “We wanted to have a 12 song album, but with touring it looked like we’d only have time to fit in 10 tracks.”
The additional time off meant Greta Van Fleet were able to add ‘Caravel’ and ‘The Barbarians’ to the record. “Those were written in 2020, we thought ‘yep, that belongs perfectly in the universe of this album!’” says Josh.
Now, they’re raring to get these new songs on the road. “We’ve been playing the hell out of the album,” Josh enthuses. “We feel pretty confident about it, everyone’s playing every instrument with every limb”. This time off has given them time to prepare the record for tour, as Sam explains: “It is a very difficult album to transfer to the live setting”.
Even so, we might witness their live rebirth sooner than we think. “I keep hearing a lot that this Fall we’re looking at possible [tour] stuff,” Sam says.
“Before that we’re also looking at things that are socially distanced,” he adds, before Josh interjects: “Guys in suits are murmuring into each others’ ears pods!”
They’re too old for TikTok
One of the songs on the album, the gargantuan ‘Age of The Machine’, looks at how we live in a “technological world that is rapidly becoming more and more technological,” says Josh.
The band members are self-proclaimed technophobes. “Phones, I loathe,” Josh says. When asked about video sharing app TikTok, Sam claims “for the first time I feel old, I have no idea what this thing is!”
Josh feels as humans we’ll never have technology fully figured out. “The world’s constantly changing, and people change with it, and then the technology changes along with that”. Which seems like a fine excuse to refuse to understand the sea shanty craze from the start of this year.