Rockers TESLA have been playing for their die-hard fans for four decades. TESLA is currently on tour with show dates spanning across the nation this summer.
The band recently sold out their spring residency at House of Blues at Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas, so they’ve added five fall residency dates. These shows will take place September 29th-30th, October 4th, and October 6-7th. Tickets start at $59.50 plus fees and can be purchased here.
We caught up with bassist Brian Wheat to talk about the first round of the Vegas residency, life as a foodie, traveling and advice he’d give bands just cutting their teeth in the industry.
What’s been the highlight of the Vegas residency so far?
I think the whole thing’s been a highlight. I mean, the fact that we’re able to do five nights in Vegas where typically before we’d only do one is the biggest highlight of it all.
Have you had any favorite spots to hang out or visit in Vegas?
The House of Blues at the Mandalay Bay. (laughs)
Have you gone out and done anything fun in Vegas during your time there.?
Yeah, I’ve gone out for some great meals. I got friendly with Sebastian Bach, who lives here, so I’ve seen him a couple times socially. I went out and saw the Beatles Love show last night, which I’ve seen like six times.
It’s always different every time you see it, depending on where you sit. They change things up all the time. I have seen it from when it first opened and five times since; it’s been different each time. And there’s amazing food here as well.
What are some of the best restaurants and chefs that you prefer in Vegas?
I’m a foodie. I did go to the Golden Steer Steakhouse, which was pretty incredible. That was the highlight of my food tour this time.
It’s like the oldest steakhouse in Vegas and the old mob guys used to go there. The Rat Pack, Elvis, you know, everybody. Sammy Davis Jr., Muhammad Ali. And their steaks are really good.
Do you ever get tired of playing “Modern Day Cowboy”?
Nope. No. I don’t get tired of playing any songs. I put myself in the same position as a fan and that’s one of those songs that they expect to hear. You play it, they go crazy and we feed off of each other’s energy. So, no I never get tired of playing “Modern Day Cowboy”.
With music, has your gear setup changed over the years?
About the last ten years I’ve been using Ampeg SVTs. I’ve always played Gibson Thunderbirds and Hofner basses. So that’s the same, but the last ten years, I’ve been playing through Ampegs.
What’s the longest you’ve gone without playing bass or guitar?
Oh, I don’t know. Maybe a week. I’m not one of those guys that sits around and practices my bass. I did that when I was young. I’m kind of like a situational bass player or even a situational musician.
I never wanted to be a virtuoso bass player. I wanted to be a songwriter. I always pick up instruments if I’m working in the studio. I produce, engineer and manage bands. I do all kinds of things. A lot of people call me a Renaissance man, I guess.
So, when it comes to playing my bass, it depends on if I have to re-learn one of our old songs, if we’re making a record or rehearsing or playing on tour. If I’m in the studio producing somebody, I’ll play as well. But to just pick up the bass and sit there and go, okay, I’m gonna practice some scales today…nah, I’m not that guy.
I’m sure if they listed the top 100 bass players in rock, I wouldn’t be on the list, but that’s okay. That’s not what I want to be remembered as. I want to be remembered as a guy who wrote a couple of really good songs, was in a great band, that was honest, and who put together that band with Frank Hannon in the garage. That’s what I want people to remember me by. Not by how creative a bass player I was.
Having said that, I’m not selling myself short as a bass player. You know, I can play in any rock outfit, I’m sure. I couldn’t play the Chili Peppers because I don’t play like that. But if it’s straight ahead rock and roll, I can handle that gig.
You recorded a version of “Time to Rock” at Full Throttle Saloon in Sturgis. What was your craziest Sturgis experience?
Well, Sturgis is kind of crazy, period. You’re going to see naked women, naked men, you know, fights. All kinds of crazy shit. I don’t know. There was this chick riding a bike on a tightwire one time. That was kind of nutty. One time we played there when it was really stormy and this wind gust came and blew down all our amplifiers.
Did anybody get hurt? That’s scary.
No, no one got hurt, thank God.
You’re from Sacramento originally. What is the perfect day there?
Well, I don’t live in Sacramento anymore. I moved, but I lived there for 54 years.
A perfect day in Sacramento would probably be in October. I’d get up in the morning, I’d go out, walk out my door, go down the street, have a coffee, come back, go to the studio, write a great song, come home, have dinner with my wife, and play with my dogs.
For people traveling to Sacramento, what should they do?
Sacramento has amazing restaurants. One thing I would say is that you want to stay in the old part of Sacramento, the historic, downtown area. In that area you’re going to find probably 300 amazing restaurants, art galleries and nightclubs. Everything’s there. It’s got amazing rivers and lakes. It’s got amazing bike trails.
The weather is fucking amazing. It’s the best weather in the world. I have three houses now. I live in upstate New York in the Finger Lakes, I live in Italy and I live in Florida. But Sacramento, by far, has got the best weather of anywhere except for my house in Tuscany. They’re almost on the same plane.
When you look at the Napa Valley growing grapes for wine, it’s very much like the Nevada County in Italy, where a lot of the wine comes from. Sacramento is a great place. I have nothing bad to say about Sacramento.
I live in Auburn, New York, now which is right outside of Syracuse. There’s a really upscale town the next town over, there’s Lake Skaneateles and Jason Newsted lives there. Right where we live, you have Jason Newsted, Joey DeMaio and me. Three famous bass players all live within a few miles of each other.
Do you hang out? Do you have bass hangs?
Hang out with Jason? Yes. And I hang out with Joey, both Joeys from the band Manowar. There are a lot of musicians up that way.
You worked with Phil Collen from Def Leppard over the years as a producer. Do you have any highlights from that experience?
It feels great. I loved working with Phil Collen. I think he did a great job on the Shock album. You know, me and him personally worked really hard on that album together. I was kind of like the driving catalyst of that. I think there’s some great songs on there.
It’s funny that album, though, with our hardcore Tesla fan base it’s kind of like 50/50. They either love it or they absolutely hate it. Phil made us do things we had never done before and we tried them. Some of them worked and some of them didn’t. I think it was a great experience. I loved working with Phil, and I personally would work with Phil any day of the week.
You mentioned earlier you are producing and managing bands. When you work with younger bands, what advice do you give them in the studio or just about the business in general?
I try to keep everybody grounded in reality about what the music business has evolved into. I mean, today I’m in the t-shirt and ticket business. There’s not a lot of young artists making money off selling music because with these streaming platforms, they’re not getting paid like I did. When I started out, we were selling a million and a half records at a time, and we did that five records in a row. That’s kind of unheard of today.
Now, no one sells like that unless it’s Taylor Swift or maybe Harry Styles or something. But in the rock genre like us, I mean, if you sell 200,000 records, you’ve done extremely well. My advice is that you create a brand, that your band or solo project is a brand and you’ve got to go out and you’ve got to play to the people. If you connect and you’re true to what you do, because people have very good bullshit detectors, those fans will stick with you. I’m living proof; they’re here 38 years later.
And like I said, it brings us full circle. That’s why we’re doing five nights in Vegas. That’s a testament to our fan base, the quality of the work that we did and always try to do. That’s the advice I give them.
And, you know, don’t get married. If you’ve got a million dollars in the bank while you’re a young kid and you get married and your wife gets pregnant, 99.9% chance you ain’t going to make it. Life’s going to kick in and you’re going to have to support that kid and that wife or you’re going to have to make so much money to pay a mortgage or whatever the case is.
When a lot of older guys starting out come to me and say, well, what do I do? I tell them the truth. They don’t like to hear it. It’s not that their music isn’t good, but financially it’s not going to be feasible. They’re not going to be able to get in a van, tour the country for six months, sleep on the floor and eat McDonald’s if they have a wife, a kid and a mortgage. You gotta pay your dues if you want to sing the blues and you know it don’t come easy.
It’s very hard business right now, for sure.
It is. And, you know, it’s not so much that it’s a young person’s business. But the reason its mostly young people is because when you’re young, you don’t have the responsibilities, mainly the financial responsibilities, that you have when you’re 28 or 35 and you’ve got two kids, you know what I mean? You gotta get a job that’s guaranteed pay and there’s no guarantees in this business.
This business is intangible. I’m lucky I’m sitting here today at 60 years old from something I started when I was 18 years old. So, you do the math. It’s 42 years. Me and Frank Hannon have been together. Jeff’s been with us 39. We paid attention to the brand Tesla, what that meant, how special and valuable that is.
I assume you guys are friends, but some bands that have been together this long are not. What’s the secret to keeping the band together?
Well, we’re all brothers. I mean, even though two guys aren’t in the band anymore from the original five, me and Tommy Skeoch are still buddies and brothers. And hopefully, one day, me and Troy Luccketta will still be.
We’re all brothers. We all have gone through this. It’s like guys who’ve been in the trenches together.
Sometimes your paths kind of alter from each other and I’ve always been on the path of what’s good for the greater good of Tesla, not myself personally. I think that’s the secret, that you’re all going down the same road. Do we argue about whether we should turn right or left? Yeah, but you know, we’re all on the same path.
You’ve toured and lived all over the world. What’s your favorite place to go or travel?
Well, if you asked me where my favorite place to live would be, it would be at my house in Italy. I would live there and just travel back and forth just because it’s beautiful. It’s good for my psyche.
The way of life in Italy is a lot less stressful than the American lifestyle. But that’s not going to happen because my wife doesn’t want to go there full-time and live. So, I spend a couple of months there.
I spend the winters in Florida and I spend the rest of the year in upstate New York. And I love them all, but if I had to pick one, it would be my place in Italy. At this point in my life, you know, like I said, I’m 60 years old. I’m not looking for the party anymore.
What’s your perfect vacation?
My perfect vacation? Well, I’ve been all over the world, all this has been without Tesla. I think people are under the misconception that, you know, I see all these places when I’m on tour. When I’m on tour, I see the bus, the gig, the bus, the gig, the hotel, the bus, the gig. You don’t get a lot of time to go out and see places.
I have this friend, Ross Halfin, who’s a famous rock photographer, and me and him have been really good friends since 1986. He likes to travel a lot as well. Me and him just started going places together. He started inviting me along. I’ve been to Burma, I’ve been to Vietnam, I’ve been to Thailand, I’ve been to China, I’ve been to Australia. I haven’t been to New Zealand yet.
I want to go to Easter Island. He just went to Easter Island. I’ve been to South America. I’ve been all over Europe. The perfect vacation is just one where I enjoy myself and I don’t get killed. I mean, going to Burma was pretty intense.
I’ve been to Burma. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
Yeah. I was in Rangoon. It was the water festival at the time I was there. It was kind of interesting for me. I’ve never been to India. I’d like to go to India. I want to go to Russia. I’ve never been to Russia. I want to go to Saint Petersburg and go to the Hermitage. I want to see the Kremlin in Moscow. There’s always new places I want to go.
I love Bruges, Belgium I think is amazing. Obviously, I love Italy. I’ve spent more time in London and Italy than anywhere else besides America. If I were to buy another house, it would be in England somewhere, maybe the Cotswolds or something. But I mean, as long as I’m safe, everything’s good and I don’t get food poisoning, I just kind of get immersed in what’s happening around and try to be respectful of the culture. I love it all.
What are your must-have items to pack or travel with?
My medication. My tranquilizers to get on the airplane because I don’t fly without tranquilizers. I saw a plane crash when I was about eight years old and it really traumatized me. So, I don’t like flying, but I take a couple of these things called Ativan.
If I’m flying from New York to London, I’m asleep on takeoff and I’m waking up right before we land, and then I’m ready to go. I get my rental car, drive from Rome to my place up in Tuscany, then I fall asleep for the rest of the day. I always take a little music box so I can listen to music from my phone. My passport.
I kind of just roll with it. I’ve got the airports down to a science. I’ve got my global entry. I wear flip flops every time I fly in case I have to take off my shoes. I’m not one of those dudes that’s going to sit in the security check line and be pulling off belts and asking questions. I got it down.
I also don’t fly first class. I rarely fly business. I mostly fly coach and it’s because I’m knocked out. How am I going to justify spending 12 grand for a first-class ticket when I’m going to be knocked out on tranquilizers? Right. Keep your shitty caviar and your filet mignon for $12K. I’ll buy 20 meals in Italy while I’m there, fly coach and drool.
I usually also take my Jack Russells (terriors) with me. When me and my wife, Monique, go to Italy, we take our Jack Russells and they fly on the plane with us because they’re emotional support animals. Service dogs, wink wink.
Well, you are scared of flying.
I am scared of flying and having my Jack Russell with me helps. The funny thing is, I was going to Rome one day. I think I was going from New York. And I had like this Italian model siting next to me in coach. She looked at me and I’m sitting with Spanky on my lap. Next to me is my wife, Monique, and she’s got Louise and then our assistant at the time, Brett, had Alfalfa next to us.
We always sit in the back so our dogs don’t bother anybody. They’re pros at it. She was in the aisle and we were all in the middle. She looked at me and she said, is he going to be here the whole flight? And I said, “Well, what do you think he’s going to do, get up and go in the cockpit or the cargo hold mid-flight? Yes, he’s going to be here.” She went, “Oh, my God.”
And I said, look, do me a favor – pretend he’s not here. So Spanky, who doesn’t take any tranquilizers on the plane, went right to sleep on my lap. We landed in Rome and she was like, I have to tell you that’s the best dog I’ve ever seen in my life. And I said, yeah, do you want to pet him? And she said, “Oh god, no.”
Spanky had a couple sets of wings that plane captains gave him. My dogs are really cute. He just died about six months ago, but he was an amazing dog. I miss him.
I’m a Jack Russell guy. So I’ll leave you on this. If I was to ever hit the lottery, the 500 million, whatever, one billion. The only thing I would change in my lifestyle is I would have my own plane solely for the purpose that my dogs could fly with me without any hassles. I wouldn’t buy a Range Rover, nothing elaborate. But I would like to have a plane one day that can go from New York to Rome nonstop. A jet, not a propeller plane.