The Emperors Win us Over with High Energy, Humor

With an average height of over six feet, the members of the Inland Emperors form more than just another group of “college band”-mates to look up at. They proved this distinction Thursday, Feb. 7 with a mini-performance and interview on my radio show at KSPC followed by a full-length live show (and two encore songs) in Doms Lounge that night. The band consists of Alex Cole PO ’15 on bass and vocals, Reece Denzel PO ’15 on drums, Wes Haas PO ’15 on guitar and vocals (and sometimes ukulele), and Lee Owens-Oas PO ’15 on guitar.

Haas describes the band’s influences as “the Foo Fighters, Chili Peppers; we also dig back to the Zeppelin days … loud stuff! Like fun, high-paced, high-energy rock. That’s what we like to do.”

Their name originated from lead singer Haas’s asking himself, “Is there an Inland Emperor? Is there someone who’s in charge of this vast land of prosperity known as the Inland Empire?” The rest of the band members commented that, in fact, it turns out there are several people, with Haas concluding, “It’s us.”

The Inland Emperors (minus Owens-Oas, who had class) took the special opportunity to play their songs on the radio for the first time to cover The Ramones’ “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg” and play an original entitled “Malifornia” with Haas on ukulele, Cole on guitar, and Denzel on a snare drum. Afterward, they joined me in the studio for a short—but hardly serious—interview. The three present band members were just oozing snark, sass, and swag. I had to stifle laughter behind the microphone. Still, they got to show off their personalities a bit, which is an important factor for putting on enjoyable live shows. Bands need to be able to interact with their audiences, charm them, and make them laugh. The Inland Emperors haven’t even been a band for a year, and I’m already impressed by their ability to do all these things better than some professional musicians I have seen perform in Los Angeles.

When I asked what the band hopes people get out of their music, Haas responded, after a pause, “Mild entertainment? The very minimal amount of enjoyment that makes people listen more than once.”

Then the band started to joke again, as Denzel said, “I’d say self-actualization, actually.”

“Really, when we write music, we’re just trying to epitomize the human existence in everything that we do,” Haas said.

“Which we thought really long and hard about and decided it’s a reality TV show. So we want people to listen to us and think about Snooki,” Cole added.

When I asked about any pre-show rituals, Haas said, “We do this really funny thing before every show. Before every show, we have to move all of our own gear,” a reference to their only current real ritual, “besides the goat sacrifices and stuff.”

I then asked which band they would each like to tour with.

“The cantina band from Star Wars,” Denzel said.

“Literally the sound of silence,” Cole said.

“Bjork,” Haas said, adding, “Matching swan dresses is just another bonus.”

Later that night, their level of energy remained high as they jumped around onstage and gave a rambunctious performance to a rambunctious audience that packed Doms Lounge for The Boot, sponsored by Sigma Tau. The Boot featured another student band known as Pomo Erectus, which includes San Antill PO ’13 on guitar, Drew DiPalma PO ’13 on drums, Ben Murphey PO ’13 on bass, and Laura Warburton PO ’13 on electric violin. They kicked off the night with energetic music, including a crowd-pleasing cover of Justin Bieber’s “As Long As You Love Me.” The Inland Emperors then played ten songs including covers of “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg,” “Mad World” by Tears for Fears, and “Fat Bottomed Girls” by Queen, which quickly developed into a head-banging crowd favorite. They had an encore song planned, an original entitled “Get What You Need,” but the crowd wasn’t done yet. They kept cheering.

Haas came back to the microphone to announce that they had played all the songs they knew, but he then decided with his bandmates that they had one more left. When the Inland Emperors closed out the night with their popular cover of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel,” the crowd attempted a mosh pit, and the band looked like they couldn’t have been happier. They had just played a show to an audience of people who love them (most likely including a lot of their friends), who danced, and who just really wanted to have a good time (which may or may not have had something to do with the free beer).

The Inland Emperors will be performing next at “Pomona’s Got Talent” this Saturday in Little Bridges Auditorium from 2 to 4 p.m., which will feature the winning acts from previous talent show rounds across campus.

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