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10 Albums That Changed My Life: Sam Kiszka of Greta Van Fleet

Sam Kiszka, Greta Van Fleet’s bassist and keyboardist, was influenced by quite a few classic artists.
 Sam Kiszka of Greta Van Fleet performing at the Bowery Ballroom, NYC, December 6, 2017. Photo by Kevin Wilson, courtesy of publicity.

Sam Kiszka of Greta Van Fleet performing at the Bowery Ballroom, NYC, December 6, 2017. Photo by Kevin Wilson, courtesy of publicity.

Greta Van Fleet have a rock sound that is strongly influenced by all the Rock Gods in the Classic Rock pantheon, from The Beatles to Led Zeppelin. That’s a big mountain to climb in order to reach the summit. However, GVF do have the skill set, and in an era dominated by manufactured dance-pop, there is a void to fill.

Greta Van Fleet is the surname of a resident who lives in the band’s Michigan hometown. The quirky choice did not alter the fate of becoming overnight sensations within the rock community. After releasing a couple electric EPs that quickly whet the appetite of many a rocker, GVF finally released their debut full-length studio album, Anthem of the Peaceful Army, in October 2018.

Sam Kiszka, GVF’s bassist and keyboardist, is one of three siblings in the band. Brother Josh is the vocalist and brother Jake is the guitarist. Drummer Danny Wagner grew up as a friend of the siblings. Judging by Sam’s remarks on his favorite 10 albums, Danny also had a hand in turning Sam onto some great classics.

— Compiled by Patrick Prince

Crosby, Stills & Nash, Crosby, Stills & Nash

This is my favorite album of all time. The reason it’s so special for me is that I was listening to it during the time I started getting into music and playing music with my brothers. When we were growing up, we’d sit out around a campfire and play music. That’s when I decided to play guitar and at the same time this album was creeping into my life. This album changed my life, it brought me into songwriting.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Déjà Vu

Stephen Stills played all the bass on the ‘couch’ record; he played keys, most of the guitar, sang and wrote (most of) the songs. Neil Young had just left Buffalo Springfield and it was a magical occurrence that they’d bring Neil into the band. The Déjà Vu record was as spectacular as CS&N. I learned all those songs, the album taught me how to play my instruments, most of what I know, my style was from that album.

Joni Mitchell, Blue

This was a fairly recent discovery for me. I wasn’t always a fan of Joni Mitchell. While I was putting together a Christmas song playlist, I came across her “River” song. I was touched, a bit shocked, I had no idea what Joni Mitchell really was. She’s an angel. If an angel came out of a cloud, she would sound like Joni Mitchell. Joni is the spokesperson of the heart, and Blue is one of the best albums ever.

The Beatles, The Beatles (The White Album)

The songs on ‘The White Album,’ like “Revolution 1,” “Revolution 9” and “Wild Honey Pie,” are insane songs; they embody what was going on in the late 1960s. It’s an important album historically, but it’s an amazing piece of art. I think it embodies The Beatles more than Sgt. Pepper. It’s a very special album for all of us in the band ... We’ve taken a few hints from The Beatles.

George Harrison, All Things Must Pass

George Harrison is someone who history will remember forever. He was not just a pop star, but a figure of culture ... I don’t think that western civilization would fully have delved into Indian culture without him. His songs take you on a mystical journey, you experience all things. And at the end, you’re left a little bit crippled as to what just happened. An amazing record.

The Rolling Stones, Goats Head Soup

As far as The Rolling Stones songs go, this one has a lovely continuity ... “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)” is one of the best rock songs of all time; it embodies all the characteristics of rock ’n’ roll, it has an unharnessed rock energy, it’s a bit of a plea for change — the whole record is. It was the quintessential Rolling Stones album. This is why they had such a large impact on society and are still around.

Miles Davis, Kind of Blue

This was the album that made me realize what music really is. It’s kind of a philosophical album that doesn’t say one word at all; it just grabs you, demands your attention. It’s emotion, it’s a stream of consciousness, it’s where he was at that exact moment. Kind of Blue is a very next-level album. Miles Davis changed that for pop music, lots of people took notice of what he was doing.

Paul Simon, Paul Simon

Simon & Garfunkel was big for us, Daniel (Wagner) and I. We would sit outside of the coffee house and play... It took me a long time to figure out who Paul Simon was. He’s very powerful in a non-confrontational way. When someone starts yelling, all things shut down. When you say something politely, poetically, calmly with a level head, it travels so much further... And that’s what is so special about this album.

Elton John, Elton John

This is another record that Daniel came across in high school. I remember he was taking me home from school one day and he said ‘Have you heard this?’ He put on “Sixty Years On” and I was absolutely floored, taken into some kind of ethereal realm of untouchable things ... beautiful and haunting at the same time. It’s very special, it shows what Elton John is: the soul, gospel, ballads, rock ’n’ roll.

Jimmy Smith, The Sermon!

This one is particularly special to me. Jimmy Smith’s The Sermon was so important to me; it opened me up to the world of jazz, it spoke a language I could understand. I will never be a Jimmy Smith, but I learned to play bass with my feet from that record. It was monumental in my life as it showed what you can do if you put your mind to it. Playing bass with my feet has become a part of Greta Van Fleet’s sound.