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Downtime With Greta Van Fleet’s Sam Kiszka

We caught up with the bassist between tours, shortly before the band’s Grammy nomination for Best Rock Album
(Credit: Neil Krug)

Sam Kiszka is sitting in front of an ocean-blue wall sipping coffee, enveloped in a sea of calm. It’s the start of autumn, and even his dog Rose is noticeably off-duty, though not for long, as both will be heading out on the European leg of Great Van Fleet’s tour, having just finished a three-week playing through North America, many of those cities he can’t remember now. 

Now Nashville-based, he says he sometimes misses home in Michigan, especially during the changing seasons. “The smell of pine trees…the wintertime. It’s so different now.” Greta Van Fleet hit the road right after he and drummer Daniel Wagner graduated high school (his twin brothers, frontman Josh and guitarist Jake, are three years older). As Sam says, he’s changed a lot since he left Michigan, “my brain and my wavelengths.” Still, surrounded by family, traveling the world over, he holds onto his reverence for his home region: “It’s very simple, and it’s very beautiful.”

He considers these between-tour weeks his downtime, and he’s still learning what to make of it. “I’m trying to find shit to do right now,” he says, cataloging all the things that keep him busy during, including songwriting, producing other artists, and, when “downtime” first commenced, hiking and kayaking. One time he just got in his car and drove to North Carolina. It’s no surprise he can’t sit still. “I’m 24 now, and we went out on the road when I was 17. For the past six or seven years it’s been full-throttle. It’s hard to be off the road and not see new places, new things every day. It comes from a place of hoping that we can do our absolute best and work on our absolute highest level.”

(L-R) Sam, Josh, and Danny performing at Little Caesars Arena on September 8, 2023 in Detroit. (Credit: Scott Legato/Getty Images)

He couldn’t know that in a few short weeks, he and Josh and Jake and Daniel will be nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Album for their third studio LP, Starcatcher, the same award they won in 2019 for From the Fires

For now, he’s focusing on staying grounded—literally. When on tour, he’s up with Rose around 10:00 a.m. and they  go for a “nice” walk, then he eats, bathes, meditates, reads, and is being picked up to go to the venue around 2:00 or 3:00 p.m. Even on show days, he’s seeking outdoor spaces that are “secluded and peaceful.” At home in Nashville, he picks vegetables from his garden for an omelet—today “it was okra forward” and also included mushrooms and tomatoes. 

“The most important thing for me—I figured this out luckily a few years ago—is being in the forest. When I get out in the forest on a nice day and there’s no one around, I can just sit there for two hours…just sitting there. I’ll just look around, look at the trees, try to take in the smell. It’s the most relaxing place for me. I guess the broad answer is nature. We have such an innate need to be out in nature, and we’re so far from it, and we’re so disconnected from it as a society because we want to make ourselves more and more comfortable and do less and less. There’s something really invigorating about getting muddy and getting sweaty out in the sticks, as you would say. That’s what I really try to do.”

He tried living in Los Angeles for a while, but “only made it a couple of months.” He knew Tennessee before moving there—from visiting Grandma Betsy, who lived there—and now he and Josh and Jake and Daniel all hang out in their collective downtime too.

Sam on stage in March 2023. (Credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)

He’s just finished watching the sci-fi series Andor, and this makes him think about the broader spectrum of human behavior. “It was pretty much the story of a suppressed people,” he says. “I thought it was so fucking great. I think one of the most fantastic things that we have the ability [to do] as humans, we have the ability to question things. A lot of people get down to accepting the way everything is. We have the ability to question things.

“For young people, that would be my advice, because that’s something I had to learn: Don’t just accept the way everything is. If you don’t like something you have to say, ‘Why is that the way that that is? And how can I change it?’ Be the change, cause a little trouble, and see what happens. It takes a lot of small movements to change something as big as governmental systems.”

It’s 1:30 and raining, and Sam’s guessing his day will end by going out for sushi and bringing his book along (right now, he’s reading David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, at the time ahead of the film’s release). “I’ll either just have a gentle night in, and I suppose just trim some trees up in my yard and stuff and work in the garden in the evening time, or I’ll go out and have a couple of cocktails and have a meal. After that, who knows?

“The nighttime is really a great time for just being inspired as an artist. Once the sun sets, it’s like reality has kind of faded away. You can live in this more fictional world that you created yourself. That’s when I started getting urges to sit down at the piano…I started thinking in terms of interesting lyrics and interesting melodies and sitting down at the computer and started recording some of that stuff. Or one of us will have an idea and say, ‘Hey, Daniel, Jake, Josh, come on over really quick, and let’s lay down a demo for this track.’

“That’s the thing…I don’t even know myself what’s going to happen. I’ll have to follow up and be like, ‘Okay, I ended up having five Heinekens and falling asleep on the couch.’”