Nate Arling Of The Last Vegas: Living With Bad Decisions

By Jeb Wright, November, 2012

Nate Arling sat down with Classic Rock Revisited’s Jeb Wright to discuss the band’s latest album, Bad Decisions, as well as the history of The Last Vegas and the differences between how America sees them and how the rest of the world sees them.

The Last Vegas is a band that is very much influenced by the heavy metal era of the 1980’s and by the classic hard rock of the 1970’s. They also mix in their own sound, making them a unique band that is both raising the flag for good old rock and roll and pushing the music we love into the future.

Jeb: People think of The Last Vegas as a new band, but you’ve been a recording band for the last ten years.

Nate: It has been quite a while.

Jeb: With each album a band should try to grow. What was your creative process like concerning this new album?

Nate: When you are writing and recording a new album you don’t try too hard to make it one thing, or another. With this one, we have matured as songwriters and as a touring band.

We had a little more time to do it, as we recorded it in Chicago. Johnny K produced us, who we’ve known for a long time. It gave us a lot more freedom.

A lot of the other records, the early ones, where we had no money at all, we would have to go in and bang them out in like a week. This time, we had more time and the songs developed in the studio.

Jeb: A lot of people say The Last Vegas is a 1980’s throwback, but there is a lot of ‘70’s in your music as well.

Nate: For sure, we were influenced by a lot of different bands. Everyone in the band is a songwriter and we each have different influences, as well. We don’t have just one or two songwriters, which helps our diversity. Our influences are everything from Chicago blues to heavy metal. I think that comes through on the record.

We are from Rockford, Illinois and Cheap Trick is from Rockford, so they are in there. I think every band should have some influence from Cheap Trick.

Jeb: Chicago is a musical city with a great history.

Nate: Two of us are from Rockford, and two of the guys are from Michigan, and we all ended up in Chicago about ten years ago. We all love and are influenced by a lot of the bands around the Midwest, along with bands from the whole world.

Chicago, as a city, has an attitude to it. It is still Midwest, but it has a big city attitude to it. It is working class, but it has a lot of advantages that you can only find in a big city.

Jeb: The music industry is not like it was. You are really hands on with your marketing and you are very involved in the business end.

Nate: We are all very driven and we have a goal to keep pushing forward. Through the rough times, there are a lot of fun times. We just keep making records that we are proud of and we keep touring. We love to travel.

Things are getting harder with the industry and money. In blues and in old rock and roll there were not always the big budgets. You have to work harder to get it out there, but good music can come from anywhere. You can hear a good song on a street corner played on an acoustic guitar and people can get into it and relate to it.

Jeb: You do put your own sound into the music, although it does have a retro feel. Some people pigeonhole you as only a retro band.

Nate: It’s funny, but the only people that really do that are in America. We are leaving tomorrow for Canada and we did a bunch of interviews up there and they call us more heavy metal. The European people don’t talk about retro either. We don’t really define ourselves from any past generation. We feel we are a modern take on our influences. We don’t really pay too much attention to what other people say. We don’t have the goal to just repeat what happened in the past.

Jeb: You’re a band that is fun and likes guitar solos, so people just assume. There is a lot of stuff now that is just like everything else that is out there. You guys are different.

Nate Totally, when people hear a ripping guitar solo, then they thing of the ‘80’s, but people have been playing guitar solos many generations before the ‘80’s.

Jeb: I love the album cover.

Nate: We were sitting in the studio with the producer and we just came up with that thought process where people so often make bad decisions. A lot of people can relate to it and we’ve been through a lot as a band and we’ve made a lot of bad judgments. We are not above admitting that.

Jeb: Whose kid is that on the cover?

Nate: We couldn’t find a midget, so we had to find a kid. There are a lot of them around.

Jeb: I love your remake of “It Ain’t Easy.” You rock the hell out of that.

Nate: That is our cover tune. David Bowie has a famous version of that song. We were working with producer Roy Z in a session in Chicago and he told us to pick a cover. A week before he was coming to down, we were at a party at our singer’s house and we were listening to that and we just all agreed this was the song. The producer had the idea to slow it down and give it that groove. I love that song. It has a ‘70’s Aerosmith and Zeppelin kind of vibe to it.

I will tell you a cool thing about that song…I am pretty good friends with Willie Dixon’s grandson and his family owns the old Chess Records. They let us go in there and record some of the vocals there, at the classic 2120 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago. It was very cool for us to be able to go there and do that.

Jeb: “She’s My Confusion” is a great song.

Nate: Our singer brought that to the table. It pushes us in a more New Wave direction and I get to stomp the drums out in a fun way. It was fun to record that song. We’ve been getting a lot of compliments on that song and people are loving it.

Jeb: I think “Evil Eyes” is one of the best on the album.

Nate: That was written more like a Motorhead punk song and we slowed it down and gave it a stomping grove. I think that song has a lot of attitude on it.

Jeb: How did you get the name The Last Vegas?

Nate: To tell you the truth, years ago we had a gig and we needed a name. We were spitting out names and we were eating pizza and we had a gig that night. We were kicking out names and one had to do with Garcia Vegas, which is a drug reference. It was one of our good friends, who does a lot of tour photography that said, “Go with that.” Its rock and roll, so we didn’t think about it too much. You just go with your gut and the rest follows.

Jeb: You won Guitar Center’s On Stage, Your Chance to Make Rock History contest opening for Motley Crue. You went on tour with Motley Crue and now you are expanding your base worldwide.

Nate: A lot of artists are never really satisfied and you always want more. That is the mentality that we have. Once you achieve one hump, then you just start going up another. A lot of the bands we are playing with have been around for twenty, thirty or forty years. I think it just comes down to drive, vision and a little bit of that pissed off attitude. We want to put our name on the map and we want to spread the music of The Last Vegas.

Jeb: The Crue tour must have opened your eyes.

Nate: It was great. You can’t go wrong going on a two month arena tour. We got to play Madison Square Garden and we got to hang out with the Crue guys.

We had been really busting ass before that playing every club in the world. It was funny when that happened; we already had a tour booked on the West Coast that we had to cancel. The promoters understood and we were able to cut our teeth on the arena circuit. We were able to watch them every night and we had a big bus and it really felt like a payoff for all of the hard work we had done.

Jeb: You opened for Guns ‘N’ Roses.

Nate: We just were in Vegas all weekend and we played a couple of shows with Axl’s Guns ‘N’ Roses. We stayed up for about a week and we didn’t get any sleep. We played at The Joint at the Hard Rock. They are all really good guys and they play a three to four hour show.

Jeb: You got to see them several times this year. What do you say to the people who don’t want to accept the band because only Axl is in it?

Nate: To be honest, we were probably in the same boat a few years ago saying, “What is this all about? It’s not the original lineup.” Now I can say that as long as he and the band are going on stage and giving 110% and putting on an amazing show, then I don’t see how anyone can knock what they are doing.

Jeb: Like GNR, you guys have a hell of a live attitude. There is a place for a stage show, but it has to be about the music first.

Nate: I agree. Most bands, on a bigger level, seem to use backing tracks and stuff, which we do not. We know a girl whose father is from Australia and he used to see AC/DC in ice skating rinks back there. He says those shows were the best shows he has ever seen. It was when they were cutting their teeth and Malcolm and Angus’ older brother George Young was managing them and he made them play anywhere and anywhere. They are still great, but I wonder sometimes if one of those old shows were even better than they are today.

Jeb: Most of the interviews we do are for the bands you open for. What is is like coming up now to watch a following being built?

Nate: It is exciting. We work hard and we see things progressing. It is all about the fans. We see more and more coming out to the shows and they tell us comments of how much they enjoyed the show. It is really rewarding. We are not just in this for money. We enjoy writing songs, but first and foremost, we want to provide people with a show that will help them forget that their job sucks, or that they are fighting with their girlfriend. We want to give them a release. I think that is what rock and roll is about.

Jeb: Do you develop the songs as a band?

Nate: Sure. The more you do any art, or craft, then you get better at it. We’ve worked a couple of records that were independently produced, but even now, when we work with a producer, we are very involved. We pick up a lot of things from touring with these bands and seeing what they are doing.

I have listened to Guns ‘N’ Roses a thousand times, but when you see they live then you see so much more. We don’t copy these bands, but we are influenced and inspired by them.

Jeb: When you get together to write does it come fast?

Nate: It all depends. Sometimes, when you least expect a song to come out, it can come together in ten minutes. Other times, you can work on a song for ten months.

We all live in a big band loft in downtown Chicago and we have a studio there. There is no real set way to do things. Ace Frehley would write songs on the subway, you know what I mean? A lot of songs have been written in very unconventional manners.

Everyone in the band is a writer. Usually, someone will bring in an idea and we will all put our two cents in on it. Sometimes we just look at each other and say, “Wow, that really works.” There is no right or wrong way to do it. Doing it a lot is very important because you never know when inspiration is going to hit.

Jeb: Do you turn down some original stuff because it is not right for the band, or is anything fair game?

Nate: It all depends. We have around 50 songs and demos that we didn’t finish. We have a catalog of back stuff. I think the sky is the limit, as long as we respect it and think it is good. We won’t do any Indi Rock [laughter].

Jeb: Have you put out a DVD yet?

Nate: We actually have not. We are thinking of doing that in the next year or two. We have a lot of different video we have recorded. I think you will see a DVD from us in the near future.

Jeb: What is next for The Last Vegas?

Nate: We leave for Canada tomorrow. We are in Michigan right now, at our tour manager’s house. We leave for 12 days and then we come home and begin songwriting at the loft.

Next year, we are playing a lot of European shows, as the record is coming out on a German label. We don’t have the tour lined up yet, but we will be playing Europe and we will be playing Japan.

Jeb: Europe and Japan seem to be more open minded to new music than America.

Nate: A lot of it is because radio is not powerful in Europe. Writers and press people, people like you, are keeping music fans informed over there. You have the magazine Classic Rock, which is great.

I am not saying anything bad against radio people over here, but writers are more apt to listen to a new band. Radio people don’t even listen to whole records; they just listen to a song or two. A writer sits down and listens to the record multiple times and then decides if they are going to support you or not.

It is different over there. I think, in general, the difference between America and Europe is that America is more about big business and Europe is more independent when it comes to rock and roll.

Jeb: Last one: Bad Decisions is an album that keeps you coming back to it and it really does rock.

Nate: We appreciate the support and if we come around your area then come and say hello. Tell everyone to check out The Last Vegas.