Greta Van Fleet Raises Question About Familiar Sound

by The Cowl Editor on January 31, 2019

Arts & Entertainment

Is it Right to Judge a Band Simply by Comparison? 

by Peter Keough ’20 A&E Staff

Horizontal band still Greta Van Fleet

During its midseason debut on Jan. 19, Saturday Night Live hosted the up-and-coming Michigan rock outfit Greta Van Fleet as their musical guest. Comprised of frontman Josh Kiszka, brothers Jake and Sam Kiszka on guitar and bass, and drummer Danny Wagner, the band took the stage decked out in vests, feathers, and retro-clothes. During their time on stage, the band strutted around and performed renditions of their popular tracks “Black Smoke Rising” and “You’re the One” from their albums From the Fires (2017) and Anthem of the Peaceful Army (2018), respectively. 

With two successful albums and three separate Grammy nominations (Best New Artist, Best Rock Performance, and Best Rock Album) already under their belts, it would not be surprising if Greta Van Fleet found widespread popularity and acclaim. And to some extent, they have.  However, much of the immediate response to their SNL debut and work as a whole has followed a single critical trend—people think they sound too much like Led Zeppelin. 

The band has been compared to the British heavy metal pioneers virtually since their inception, and it does not seem like this association will be going away anytime soon. In fact, many critics took to the internet immediately following Greta Van Fleet’s SNL act and continued this Zeppelin rhetoric without missing a beat.  Even Robert Plant himself, legendary singer and leader of Led Zeppelin, has acknowledged Greta Van Fleet and joked that their sound reminds him very much of Zeppelin’s first album. 

As one might imagine, the band is certainly aware of this criticism which remains attached to their rise to fame. In an interview with Rolling Stone’s Andy Greene, Josh Kiszka acknowledged this frequently-made critique of his band’s sound. He said, “Ultimately, I’d like to think that there’s substance to what we’re doing.” Kiszka continues, “Obviously, we hear the similarity…That’s one influence of ours. But at this point, it’s like ‘Okay, we’ve acknowledged that. Let’s move on.’” Essentially, Kiszka and his bandmates want the world to stop viewing them from the one-dimensional perspective of “Hey, these guys sound like so and so.” 

This perspective is not just reserved for trolls on social media, either. Publications like Pitchfork magazine have doled out particularly scathing reviews from this viewpoint, giving their album Anthem of the Peaceful Army a 1.6 out of 10 and writing “Greta Van Fleet sounds like they did weed exactly once, called the cops, and tried to record a Led Zeppelin album before they arrested themselves.” 

Despite the criticism, the boys of Greta Van Fleet, all in their late teens or early 20s, have not only gained a large following over the past year or so, but also multiple Grammy nominations. With talent, followers, and an abundance of energy and potential, it would be foolish to count this band out already. Someday, music listeners may even be saying that new bands sound just like Greta Van Fleet.