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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.

Nearly 8,000 bands duked it out in the first edition of Guitar Center: On-Stage. After the finals on November 10, 2008 at Hollywood's Whisky A Go-Go, only one band was left standing – The Last Vegas. Hand-selected by the members of Mötley Crüe, The Last Vegas won the greatest prize in rock history, which included a $20,000 Gibson guitar shopping spree, $25,000 cash, a management deal with 10th Street Entertainment, a recording deal with Eleven Seven Music, and the opening slot on Mötley Crüe's 2009 tour.

"Every band kicked ass on stage that night," says The Last Vegas guitarist John Wator. "Everybody wanted to win really bad. We just came out and played like we always do -like there are 20,000 people in front of us – although with Mötley Crüe sitting right in front of us on the balcony, there was a lot more adrenaline than usual."

"It's a team effort, not about the individual egos. Each player knows to do whatever it takes to make the song its best." – DJ Ashba, Producer

"That was the first time that most of us even set foot in the Whisky," says guitarist Adam Arling. "The energy in that place was unreal. They've got a bunch of cool old photos of people like Jim Morrison and Iggy Pop on the walls. It was great that our band has now become part of the history there."

"This is the big break we've been working for since the band began," says singer Chad Cherry. "This is more than getting out foot in the door-we're kicking it wide open! Now is the time to open the floodgates and let the kids know that it's rock and roll time."

Studio masterminds DJ Ashba and Marti Frederiksen at Guitar Center West L.A.

The Last Vegas didn't even have time to catch their breath before enjoying the spoils of their newfound success. The very next day after the finals, they visited Guitar Center's Hollywood store to pick out the Gibson guitars of their dreams. Then they went into the studio for two days with producers DJ Ashba, Marti Frederiksen and Crüe bassist/songwriter Nikki Sixx to record the single "I'm Bad," which they unleashed on the public on November 24th. A mere four nights after winning the contest, The Last Vegas were on stage at the Hollywood Palladium opening a sold-out Mötley Crüe show.

"The Last Vegas have the blood and spirit of bands like Guns N' Roses, AC/DC, Iggy Pop, and Mötley Crüe," says Nikki Sixx. "They're great songwriters and performers, and we're excited to show them to the world."

One of the biggest independent bands in the Midwest, The Last Vegas are no strangers to the recording studio, and they've released a variety of albums and EPs on independent labels over the last five years. Last summer they recorded seven songs in a Chicago recording studio with legendary metal producer Roy Z, who has worked with artists like Judas Priest, Bruce Dickinson, and Yngwie Malmsteen.

"Our band is constantly recording," says Adam. "We've recorded a few albums and have done a lot of home studio work. I bought a complete Pro Tools home studio setup from Guitar Center about two years ago. It's a portable rig that we run off of a laptop."

As a result The Last Vegas were ready to hit the ground running when they met up with Ashba, Frederiksen, and Sixx to record the "I'm Bad" single. "We all first got together at Marti's studio to help the band rewrite the song," says DJ Ashba. "We also recorded the drums and most of the vocals the first day at Marti's studio. The second day we came over to my studio and recorded all of the guitar tracks."

"Nikki really liked the first song we played at the Whisky during the finals," says Adam. "He helped us expand the chorus and make a new song out of the seed of the idea we had. It was great to work with real pros who are quick with ideas. The ideas just flowed back and forth. They really made our song take shape."

"When we first got together with the band in the studio it sounded like they knew what they wanted to do," says Frederiksen. "Chad was really easy to work with and very fast with ideas. He was willing to try whatever it took to make the song come out as good as it could be."

"It was exactly how you'd want an experience in the studio to go," says Chad. "We knew what we wanted to do right off the bat. There's a good chemistry between all of us. Nikki and I are both freaks. When we started working on the song, we just clicked. He's like a long lost big brother that I never had. I'm learning Nikki's style of writing. I've listened to Mötley Crüe records since I was a kid, but sitting in the same room with him is an entirely different experience. I'm really starting to understand his flow."

Frederiksen and Ashba's studios are both fully equipped with Digidesign Pro Tools HD 3 Accel rigs. Frederiksen tracked Chad's vocals using the time-honored classic signal chain of a Neumann U87 mic running into a Neve 1073 mic preamp/EQ and Universal Audio 1176LN compressor/limiter. "Since recording the single I've been bypassing the 1176 and doing compression on vocals after the fact with plug-ins," says Frederiksen. "For vocals I'm using the compressor on the Waves SSL Channel Strip, then I go into Digidesign Smack and Waves Renaissance Vox."

While Frederiksen often uses Antares Auto-Tune to make minor pitch fixes on vocal tracks, he notes that Chad was one of a handful of vocalists he's worked with that Auto-Tune couldn't track. "I worked on Meatloaf's last album and his voice was the same," says Frederiksen. "Auto Tune just wouldn't pick up Chad's voice, so I had to pitch a few things manually by ear with the standard DPP-1 pitch processor plug-in that comes with Pro Tools."

Vocalist Chad Cherry takes in the latest mix.

Instead of recording live drums, which would have taken too much time to set up, tune, and place mics in front of, all of the drum parts for the single were performed on a MIDI drum kit and programmed using samples from the producer's mammoth sound libraries, which include the Sonic Reality Ocean Way Drums Platinum Edition, various East West collections, and even sounds from recording sessions that Frederiksen and Ashba produced in the past.

"We get a live performance, but we can tweak any tone at any time without the tedium of something like changing a snare drum 50 times to get the right sound," says Ashba. "I use Reason and BFD a lot for programming drums on projects that don't have a drummer, like the Sixx A.M. record. We'll fly in a lot of different drum tones even while we're mixing. It makes the recording a lot more consistent."

Ashba took a similar approach when recording guitar tracks for the single, relying exclusively on Digidesign's Eleven guitar amp modeling software plug-in. "I love Eleven," says Ashba. "I use it on pretty much everything I do. I sat the band down and told them that I had no problem setting up mics for 10 different stacks if they wanted me to do that, but as soon as I pulled up the tones that I get with Eleven they all got it. You can still get some great tones miking an amplifier, but you end up doing a lot of grunt work that isn't necessary when you have a plug-in that's packed with incredible sounds like Eleven."

Using Eleven allowed John and Adam to focus on providing a great performance and perfecting their riffs instead of concentrating primarily on tones. Ashba layered the guitar tracks, using a variety of different tones and textures to make the guitars sound as huge as possible while still retaining plenty of in-your-face raw power.

"I never pick just one sound and use it on everything I do," says Ashba. "I'm all about finding what's right for the song. I know how to get the tone that I hear in my head pretty quickly, and we just roll from there."

The guitar solo, played by Adam Arling, features the only "out of the box" processing on the entire recording – a Morley wah pedal. "It really fit the song," says Ashba. "It needed that sleazy feel. Adam and John are both great lead guitar players, and either one of them could have ripped a lead as well as the other. But for certain songs one be may be better than the other. It's nice to have the option where I can try both guys out. At the end of the day I let the band decide which solo they feel is the best. When you capture magic it doesn't matter as long as the guitarists don't let their egos get in the way. It's all about what's best for the song.

"When you're working with some of the greatest bands out there, everybody is on board to make the best song," continues Ashba. "It's a team effort, not about the individual egos. Each player knows to do whatever it takes to make the song its best. It's music and it should be fun, but it's also a business. If you don't have a great song, you really can't run a business."

Chad checks out some serious studio mics.

"It's great to get feedback from pros who have been doing this a long time and who have worked with all kinds of different bands," says John. "We had a lot of common ideas, probably because we're inspired by a lot of the same bands. When you get in an environment where everybody knows what's going on you can focus on the music instead of distractions that can confuse the writing and recording process. We didn't have a lot of time to get it done, but it came out great."

In fact, the management was so impressed with the results of the single that Ashba, Frederiksen, and Sixx are all getting together with The Last Vegas in January to record a full-length album with the band, which they hope to complete before the Mötley Crüe tour kicks off in February. "We're going to dive right in," says Ashba. "The Last Vegas is a really good band, and we had a lot of fun working with them. They're super nice guys and they've got a lot of really good ideas and cool songs. I think they have a really good future."

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

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