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Guitar Center On-Stage Winners: The Last Vegas On Living The Rock n' Roll Dream
February 2009: Guitar Center interviews On-Stage winners The Last Vegas on living the Rock n' Roll dream.

Every rocker shares the big dream – start a killer band, make great music, then catch the ear of an industry hotshot who launches you into international stardom. But every rocker also knows how few bands really get that lucky.

Well, for Chicago's The Last Vegas, that elusive dream has become very, very real. Eight thousand hungry bands entered Guitar Center's On-Stage, hoping to win the greatest prize package in rock, including an opening slot on Mötley Crüe's 2009 tour. But in the end, only The Last Vegas remained standing... the undisputed winners, chosen by the Crüe themselves.

"When it came to the finals, we figured we should just go out there and do what we always do: have fun and rock as hard as we can. So that's what we did." – Nate Arling, Drummer

"Like all the other bands," says drummer Nate Arling, "We submitted our entry on Guitar Center's Web site. Every band sent a couple of songs, some videos, and photos. Then there was a voting process by fans through email blasts and stuff like that. Over 500,000 visitors to the site had their votes tabulated.

"Out of 8,000 entries, the first elimination round got down to thirty bands that played at the world-famous Guitar Center Hollywood. The six finalists played at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go in Hollywood on November 10th. It was a sold-out show, and it was really cool for us to play that stage in front of a great audience of hard rock fans."

Of course, fans weren't the only ones that The Last Vegas was playing for. They were also out to impress the guys they hoped to work with: the members of Mötley Crüe. Playing for legends can be tense business, but Nate and the other members of The Last Vegas (guitarists John Wator and Adam Arling (Nate's brother), vocalist Chad Cherry and bassist Danny Smash were far more jazzed than scared.

"We grew up listening to Mötley Crüe, along with Cheap Trick, Black Sabbath, and Guns 'N Roses. So sure, it was a little nerve-wracking," Nate admits. "But I think any big show should be. And just to get through the various levels of the contest to the point of being able to play for the Crüe guys was a rush. When it came to the finals, we figured we should just go out there and do what we always do: have fun and rock as hard as we can. So that's what we did. We were the first band to play, and we came out like a fireball, just rocking out. About fifteen minutes after the last band played, the Crüe guys announced that we were the winning band. That was a really exciting moment."

But winning was just the beginning of the excitement. "After the show," Nate continues, "we took photos with the Crüe guys on stage, and we got the chance to visit with them a bit. Then they said, 'All right, we'll see you guys. We're gonna have fun on tour, and we can't wait to rock with you on Friday at The Palladium.' It was like spending time with another friendly band that you met on the road. They were just normal musician-type guys. It was cool to meet our idols and find out that they're really friendly and down-to-earth."

The next two weeks were a whirlwind for The Last Vegas. Four days after winning the contest they were on stage with the Crüe at The Hollywood Palladium. They signed a management deal with 10th Street Entertainment (Mötley Crüe' management), and a recording deal with Eleven Seven Music. As part of that deal they recorded a single, produced by Marti Frederiksen, D.J. Ashba, and Nikki Sixx.

Drummer Nate Arling tests cymbals the loud way.

Nate describes the recording process, saying, "We used a song that we already had, called 'I'm Bad' and just changed the chorus a bit. The guys produced it to sound a little bigger and more hook-y. It was a fun experience and we look forward to working on more tunes and doing a full record soon."

It's no surprise that the band is incredibly excited about scoring the opening spot on the 2009 Crüe tour, but Nate is especially looking forward to some particular dates on that tour. "On February 15th we're playing the arena in Rockford where we all saw Cheap Trick a million times growing up, so that's really cool. And on March 16 we're at Madison Square Garden, which is gonna be a blast. There's a lot of rock 'n' roll history in that building."

So how did this remarkable rock n' roll success story begin? "Well," Nate replies, "I started playing drums around the age of seven, after taking piano lessons for a while. I'm twenty-seven now, so I've been playing about twenty years. My brother Adam and I started jamming on guitar and drums in our basement when we were little kids. We played every single cover song imaginable – a lot of which were Mötley Crüe songs.

"As far as The Last Vegas goes," Nate continues, we've all been friends for a long time, but we've been together as a band about three years." And they've achieved quite a bit in those three years – they've released five recordings, toured seventeen countries, won a significant fan following, extensive press acclaim, and even a spot in the Guitar Hero 2 video game.

Nate grew up in Rockford, Illinois, where arena-rock legends Cheap Trick were the neighborhood heroes, and Nate was particularly influenced by Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos "I've met Bun E. a couple of times," Nate says. "I've always been impressed by the way he plays the ride cymbal and just washes it out. He plays almost pop-style drums, but yet always loud and awesome-sounding."

What other drummers would Nate cite as influences? "A lot of the standard rock guys," he says. "Tommy Lee would be up there, along with John Bonham, Keith Moon, Joey Kramer, and Phil Rudd. I've also been influenced by guys who don't have big names, like a couple of drummer friends of mine. They're the sort of guys you learn from just by swapping licks and ideas."

Nate's recent life has been anything but dull. When we caught up with him he had just returned home to Chicago from a two-week club tour in Europe – which had immediately followed all the excitement of the GC contest. "The timing turned out to be really tight," he says. "We flew home to Chicago from our two weeks out in L.A. at about 7:00 p.m., re-packed, and then left about 6:00 a.m. the next day for Madrid, Spain. We played a tour of 350- to 500-seat clubs for the next two weeks."

"You know," Nate adds with a laugh, "It's a shame I can't have any excitement in my life. Or sleep."

Nate stocks up on sticks for the tour.

Nate may not be getting much sleep, but he does have his share of the band's $25,000 Guitar Center On-Stage contest prize. When asked what he plans to do with the cash, Nate responds like a true drummer: "I'm going to put some money toward getting new gear. I'm talking to a couple of drum companies about the possibility of becoming an endorser. I'm already endorsing Sabian cymbals and Pro-Mark drumsticks, and both of those companies have been really great to me."

As for what sort of equipment Nate will be using on the 2009 Mötley Crüe tour, he says, "Well, I can't tell you which brand yet, but I can tell you what the configuration is likely to be. It'll be a classic, Bonham-style rock setup, with a 26" kick, 13", 16", and 18" toms, and a powerful snare drum. As far as cymbals go, I've been using a combination of Sabian Paragons--the Neil Peart series--and some AAs. And I'll be hitting them with my Pro-Mark Nate Arling Autograph 5A sticks."

Village Voice reviewer Chuck Eddy describes The Last Vegas as "well-swung post-garage pre-punk and/or pre-grunge long-haired dirty-white-boy riff-and-squeal hard rock." The description makes Nate chuckle, but says it's pretty much on the mark. When asked how he would describe a The Last Vegas show, Nate says, "There's a lot of energy, a lot of excitement, strong musicianship, and, most importantly, just a lot of fun. It's good-time hard rock 'n' roll. There's blues, and there are rock influences from the '60s and '70s. We have a singer who can really sing, guitar players who can solo like mad, and lots of showmanship."

What about Nate's personal contribution to the musicianship and the show? Does he get a chance to shine? "Yeah, man. I've always been noted as a wild player. As I said, I've been heavily influenced by Keith Moon and Tommy Lee. And I think it's part of a drummer's role to have some flash. Sure, you have to be the backbone of the band, but you also have to create some energy and excitement and be 'that crazy drummer guy.'"

Get the new single "I'm Bad" on iTunes now.

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