January 26 marks the Third Annual Inland Empire Music Awards, held in the Key Club inside that fabulous desert monolith known as Casino Morongo. There’s something to be said about how this little awards shindig has made it to three years, considering how vast—and, let’s face it, jaded—the IE can be about local music. But the show’s glass-half-full producer and founder, Martin Brown, sees the IE as a fairly healthy scene with nothing but room to grow. This year, the IEMAs received submissions from some 150 bands and musicians, who each pay a $25 entrance fee, which covers the cost of renting the Key Club, event promotion and marketing, producing the compilation CDs available at the show, and the manufacturing of the actual trophies. Still, Brown—a British expat who divides his time between Orange County and Spain (he also operates music award shows in Orange County, Toronto, and several other cities)—isn’t doing the IEMA for the money, and says they won’t turn a profit anytime soon. So why the hell do it? Is he a complete nutjob?
IE Weekly: Why the hell do you do this? Are you a complete nutjob?
Martin Brown: Because its fun. If you do things that are motivated by having a good time and from the heart, they’ll usually become successful. If you do things that are motivated by money, they won’t be. I think there was a need for something like this out here, because the IE has such a negative rap for almost everything. It seemed like something positive to do. And I’m just motivated by the feel-good fuzzy feeling.
The musical mix has changed a lot here, just since 2005.
Yes. Our first year, it was almost all hard music. Now there’s very little. We don’t have a punk category this year because we didn’t get any submissions. It’s like all the bands have progressed musically, and now they’re playing jazz or something. In our live showcase finals at the Vibe, everyone was different—reggae, jazz, classic rock. That first year it was almost all growler bands.
What bands have stood out for you while you’ve been doing the IEMAs?
Certainly Conspiracy of Thought. They won last year and they’re performing this year. They deserve a lot of attention, and they take strong political stances not enough people in this godforsaken country are taking. Also Souljourners—half of them are still in high school, but they play this classical progressive rock that makes them seem destined for stardom. Also Antonio Pontarelli, from Temecula, a rock violinist—he’s just 15, but he’s amazing, rolls around on the floor. He’s doing session work this weekend with System of a Down.
What do you think the IE music scene could use more of?
Good venues, for sure. The record industry, as sick and twisted as it is, needs to pay more attention to the bands out here. I still think there are a lot of bands deserving of attention, but I don’t think the IE gets looked at because it has such a sordid reputation. Bands need to support each other more and not look to LA or OC as a place to get recognition. If they want that, they have to play LA, which is all pay-to-play, and it takes them two hours to get there and their fans don’t want to go that far. The media needs to support it more—I don’t think the mainstream media here pays any attention at all.
Plus, people just need to get up off their asses and go see live bands. TV is shit, and why anyone would rather stay home on a Friday night is beyond me. People are just conditioned to stay at home. I don’t know if they’re afraid they’ll get shot to death by the government if they leave or what.
The 3rd Annual Inland Empire Music Awards at the Key Club at Casino Morongo, 49500 Seminole Dr., Cabazon, (800) 252-4499; www.morongocasinoresort.com. Friday, January 26. 8 p.m. $15.