At a time in the music scene when rock stars have started to look like the guy who bagged your groceries this morning, The Last Vegas embodies what rock-n-roll used to look like: the theatrical value of wearing tight studded leather pants, a pair of snake-skin boots, heavy black eye makeup and dark sunglasses. The Last Vegas, hailing from Chicago, consist of Chad Cherry (vocals), Johnny Wator (guitar), Danny Smash (bass) and, brothers Nate Arling (drums) and Adam Arling (guitar). Arling sits in a Des Moines, Iowa coffee shop drinking a beer before the band is scheduled to play a show at the venue next door. Looking like a typical Midwestern guy in jeans and a t-shirt, he talks about the band’s style influence, along with their beginning, sound and the band’s newest record.
Brothers Nate and Adam grew up with music in their lives; their mother was a piano teacher who fostered their music interests. She told them they had to play piano first and then they could play whatever instrument they wanted. As Arling remembers she encouragingly said, “that’s what the Van Halen brothers’ mom told them.” Mom Arling put up with a lot of loud music coming from the boys’ basement jam room where plenty of rock bands practiced there throughout middle and high school. But instead of complaining about the noise, she made all the boys cookies during practice.
While the Arling brothers formed The Last Vegas and started touring in 2003, Cherry didn’t join the band until 2005. Arling says with conviction, “We were always looking for a singer, but we didn’t want to settle with what we didn’t feel was 100% right.” Both Cherry and Smash played in a glam band The Nastys, based in Michigan, before joining The Last Vegas. Cherry moved to the Chicago area when his girlfriend received a job offer from a modeling agency. But he still continued to drive back to Michigan to play gigs with The Nastys. After seeing The Last Vegas play a roller derby half time show in Chicago, Cherry approached some of the band members and said “You guys were kick-ass, but you need a singer.” The band quickly agreed he was a good fit and Chad joined the band immediately, got right in the studio and they went on a two-year tour.
But Smash didn’t leave The Nastys at the same time as Cherry; it took almost two years before that would occur. Arling jokingly says, “Danny wanted to kill us for quite a while because we essentially stole his singer. He was not a fan of The Last Vegas for quite some time.” But when the band’s bass player decided he no longer wanted to tour, they approached Smash. They all made peace, Smash got over it and he agreed to become The Last Vegas’ new bass player.
The band’s career was jump started in 2008 when they won a Battle of the Bands-type contest sponsored by Guitar Center. They went up against 8,000 other bands and participated in the finals at Hollywood’s Whisky A Go-Go, where all the members of Motley Crue selected them as the winner. Almost immediately they went on a full two-month tour with Motley Crue and signed with Eleven Seven, shortly after Nikki Sixx become President of the label.
On their unique look, Arling says they look at their band like a gang and see value in standing out from the crowd. In the past “if you are going to see a show, or entertainment, it always had a little bit of flash to it.” He credits such artists as Elvis, Chuck Berry, David Bowie, Steven Tyler and Alice Cooper for being their inspiration. “We get our style from the bands we are influenced by. It’s an escape from reality for a night. It’s good to be visually and sonically stimulating.”
Their music is often described as a mishmash of sounds including glam rock, hard rock and metal. But Arling believes their sound distinctly comes from their influences. “We grew up listening to Iggy Pop, Black Sabbath, Cheap Trick, Guns N’ Roses, Pantera and Soundgarden. We want to put an original spin on it too. It’s like Cheap Trick meets the stooges,” laughs Arling.
The band’s newest record, Bad Decisions, came out on August 28, 2012, and all the songs were written by members of The Last Vegas. Everybody in the band is a songwriter, giving them plenty of material to work with when it’s time to sit down and create an album.
The Last Vegas members approached Johnny K, a Chicago area producer who’s worked with Megadeth, Staind and Sevendust, with a demo of the latest album. He thought it was great and wanted to work on the record. He steered the ship but had a hands-off approach, calling it “a Rick Rubin approach.” Rick Rubin, known for working with a variety of artists including Aerosmith, AC/DC, Metallica and Black Sabbath, is also notoriously known in the music business for having a hands-off approach, letting the music come naturally, instead of forcing it. Arling explains Johnny “Gave us the keys to the studio.” and said, “You guys know what you’re doing. You have good songs. I’m going to advise you how to make it great.”
On past records The Last Vegas has co-written songs with Nikki Sixx and DJ Asha, and worked with other producers such as Roy Z, a producer known for his work with Sebastian Bach and Judas Priest. But Arling explains while “it was cool co-writing with Nikki and DJ, we wanted this record to be more The Last Vegas, dirty and raw.”
The concept of the latest album is all about having a good time making bad decisions, letting loose and not being too hard on yourself about doing it. Arling says it sums up “how we are as a band. The songs tell the story of the experiences we go through. Traveling around, touring. Having a good time making bad decisions, whether it’s right or wrong. Don’t over think stuff. Have fun.”
Evil Eyes is the first single from the record. Arling can see She’s My Confusion as another single choice. He says it “has a Cars vibe” and has been well received by fans. It Ain’t Easy is a David Bowie cover and while it still maintains that 70s-era rock sound, it sounds little like the original. “It’s different than the original version, but we thought if we were going to do a cover we would make it our own.”
The song It Ain’t Easy has a rich historical connection. Arling explains the vocal tracks for the song were recorded at Blues Heaven, the original Chess Records building in Chicago, where all the Chicago blues were recorded. Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry and Howlin’ Wolf are just some of the musicians who have spent time recording in the building. It’s also the first American studio the Rolling Stones ever recorded in. The family of legendary blues musician Willie Dixson owns the studio now.
The song Good Night was brought to the band by their guitar player, Johnny Wator. Arling says they liked it because it has a dark side. “It’s not like an 80s ballad. More of an Aerosmith sound. We thought it would be fun to have it be the closing song on the record to wrap it up.”
The Last Vegas may be coming to a town near you soon. They are currently on a club headlining tour to promote the new record. An international tour is being planned for later this fall or after the first of the year.
Watch the video for Evil Eyes