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Partially hidden behind palm fronds and gurgling fountains, the Green Room is working its way through a nine-song set on the patio of Piccadilly Gardens. The tropical landscaping of the design district restaurant/lounge that hosts Saturday night's PopLife might obscure the band from sight, but the sound system is impeccable. Frontman Jorge Mejia signals frequently for the man at the board to adjust levels on the live instruments and on a looped-in sequencer, leading listeners through a rock soundscape as lush as the setting.
Keyboardist and vocalist Mejia slips into a sleeveless, camouflage, Rambo-style T-shirt and begins talking to the audience about bombs. It's a simple, clear-eyed briefing, no trace of irony or cynicism, a way to introduce the bomb-themed opening song. "A Lullaby" begins as a sweet-sounding piano tune then builds into an all-out jam. The rest of the set veers away from U2-inspired consciousness-raising to atmospherics reminiscent of the Cure.
Although the Green Room varies styles, Mejia will not compromise on sound quality. "There's a lot of great bands out there, but half the time you can't hear them properly," Mejia complains. "That's not good for music, for the local scene, for the songs, for the musicians. I think it's bad PAs, no compressors, no limiters, no actual gear, which is expensive. But wouldn't it be great if we got great sound like that everywhere? Then we could judge people on their artistic merit."
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"I want people to come out with a good sonic experience, and I'll do my damnedest to get that," says the determined Mejia. "It seems that the kind of sound you have for the live gig is gonna be your vehicle for how you communicate with people. Economically it's impossible to play with great sound every time. So the compromise I'm doing is [performing] once a month, twice if I'm fortunate to find good enough sound." That schedule even allows the Green Room to fly drummer Nomar Negroni down from Boston, where he attends the Berklee College of Music. With the amazingly smooth flourishes of Negroni's drums filling the air, it's easy to appreciate the extra steps taken on the part of the band's leader.
Such limited appearances for a band formed just this past September with the release of their first CD, Alive, has many club owners and local scenesters, and even the band's own promo sheet, asking "Who is the Green Room?"
The answer is Mejia, mostly, the primary force behind the Miami band. The Colombian-born musician began his piano training at the New World School of the Arts, followed by a year at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, then finally a degree in classical music at the University of Miami. Now it's the school of hard rocks.
"If I'm using my classical background, it's only to help me -- I kind of know what I'm doing when I'm doing it. But rock and roll is its own thing; you gotta start from scratch there too," explains Mejia. "To me technique -- how complicated, how cerebral you are -- has really nothing to do with the power and effect you can get through a good song."
Obviously his imagination was captured less by the likes of Chopin or Brahms, than by Bono, U2's lead singer. "The best concert I've ever seen in my life was the Zooropa tour, and I can honestly say that that concert was, is, one of the driving things to get me doing what I'm doing," Mejia enthuses. "It's just the raw energy of all that amount of attention focused on that single point, and you're right next to it. After that concert, I was like, there's no questions about it, this is what I'm going to do. It's all vanity you know, but at the same time, it's a very powerful thing."
For all the passion Mejia has a curious day job: regional coordinator for Sony music publishing Latin America, a gig he's had for the past five years. It's an interesting perspective from inside a business seen by musicians as both evil empire and holy grail.
"Initially it's heartbreaking for a musician or an artist to work at the big machinery, because you realize it's product," says Mejia. "I'd like to say it hasn't affected me, but it really has. It's forced me to become tighter with what I'm writing. It's made me realize there's five billion other artists out there who all think they're the greatest, and it's kind of humbled me. I'm just one of those guys trying to do something, and hoping that it's gonna sound good to enough people."
"And also, getting signed by a major label is not the greatest thing in the world as a new artist. It's like, Okay, we have five million dollars for 'N Sync and $50,000 for you.' You're gonna get lost in the shuffle. And if you sell 50,000 units, there's a good chance they'll drop you," Mejia warns. "My expectations are all direct for what can be achieved with what I have right now. I'm just looking to be able to do what I love to do, and communicate to enough people. [It's enough] that I can just do that."