Jorge Moreno Talks Winning the International Songwriting Competition

Jorge Moreno's "Thank You" is a gently unfolding, deceptive pop-rock paean to life's simple pleasures. Its earworm tendencies come on slowly. The more you play the track, the more it reveals new flourishes -- a roots-rock guitar lick here, a Beatles-esque wall of backing voices there. It also pays off in the best possible way for its genre: a louder, anthemic build-up of the chorus into a dramatic end. In other words, potential radio rotation, for sure.

But we're not the only ones to think so. Moreno's tune recently grabbed a semi-finalist nod in the International Songwriting Competition.

The annual event is no run-of-the-mill vanity contest -- instead, it's a New York Times-lauded, Grammy-style event, in which winners are chosen by votes from industry legends. Among those on the judging panel? Peter Gabriel, Tom Waits, Kings of Leon, Jeff Beck, and Robert Smith, among many others.

The lo-fi video for "Thank You," however, did one better by winning ISC's Best Video nod over all.  The clever clip was the brainchild of Moreno and longtime pal Fernando Perdomo, who is releasing Moreno's new material on his own Forward Motion Records.

For weeks, Moreno carried a marker and paper with him, asking friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers to make and hold up a sign spelling out things for which they were thankful. Again, the message is that it's the little things in life that bring the greatest joy.

"The video, 'Thank You,' is a heartfelt and inspirational montage that makes you think about what is important to you," Candace Avery, founder and director of the competition, said in a statement. "It made me laugh and, at times, even well up with tears. Although it is simplistic in concept and execution, it is meaningful and thoughtful in spirit. I loved this video, as did the ISC judges."

It's no surprise that Moreno was able to capture these kinds of universal pop truths so easily. As the son of the late Latin music mogul Antonio "Tony" Moreno, young Jorge grew up in the industry, displaying his own musical talent early. His Spanish-language material won him a Latin Grammy win in 2002 for Best New Artist, and another Grammy nomination the next year for Best Latin Pop album of the year.

After a few years out of the music spotlight, Moreno returned last year with "Thank You" and a handful of other new songs in English. You can hear it all, as well as older favorites, tomorrow night at Bardot, where he headlines a FilMiami networking shindig that also marks the launch of the summer Bombshell-ter show series. (Bombshell-ter, organizers say, is "a safe environment where downtempo, chill-out, lounge, electronic, acid jazz, trip-hop, hip-hop, hot pop, hot rock, hip house, and other selectricities are strictly enforced.")

Crossfade caught up with Moreno earlier today to chat about the competition win and his return to music. Here's what he had to say.

Crossfade: What's the origin of the song "Thank You?"

Jorge Moreno:
Where it came from is where all my songs come from -- I have no idea! They're out there in the universe and I just pull them down. Some songs come in days, some take me months, and some come in an hour. This one came in about an hour. I think it has a lot to do with my kids, Romeo, who's three-and-a-half, and Rio, who's going to turn two at the end of next month.

How do your children typically inspire your creativity or songwriting?

Typically they don't! Typically they're screaming or pulling things or hindering my creative process. But in this instance, I think they were behaving and being good and I was looking at them and thought, you know, they're so wonderful. Then, pow, the strike of lightning and the song starts.

How did you hear about the ISC competition, and why did you decide to enter this particular song and video?

Well, I'm not really one to enter competitions and stuff like that, especially when it comes to my music. But this one, specifically, I knew I was doing this video, and I knew that the song in my little peer group was getting a really good response. It's a feel-good song, one that everyone can listen to across the board, but it's not too sappy. It's not religious, but it does have a spiritual tone.

So it's cool across the board, and I figured it would be the perfect song to enter into this kind of competition. Then the video, I had just finished it at the time I entered, I think, and I knew it was just like the song -- a feel-good type of video that everyone could relate to and like. It's just the right amount of coolness, and the right amount of sappiness.

Who encouraged you to enter the contest?

I've known about this contest for years and years, and have always thought it was really cool. I've always liked the winners. This time, I just saw an e-mail one day and I thought, "You know what? If I'm ever going to enter this type of thing, this would be the song to enter it with."

It was all voting by judges, right, rather than online fan voting?

There were three different processes, I think. There was a Grammys type of thing where you're judged by actual musicians and artists, and then they had record company executives and so forth listen. Then they had an online component, but I don't think that actually affected winning or losing, it was just for a people's choice type of category.

Did it feel better to have won it knowing it was picked by industry people rather than other contests which rely on social networking?

Oh yeah. If it had been based on online voting, I wouldn't have won. Those things are so unpredictable. I could be a band in Iowa with a fan base in Iowa and get all my friends vote for it, and win it that way without actually being the best song. I definitely would have lost that way, because though I can send a hell of an e-mail, I'm not the best Internet guy in the world. But the judging from artists, that's the accolade there, the really cool part.

You mentioned your friend Fernando Perdomo earlier, who of course owns Forward Motion Records, with whom you're releasing new material. How long have you known him, and how did you get to signing with the label?

Well, Fernando, as everyone in Miami knows him, is a band slut. He's played in every band known to man that's come through Miami. He's really one of these crazy virtuoso musicians. He can play every instrument, and he's basically played every instrument in my band at one point.

He started in my band on keyboard in 2002 or 2003, and then he moved to bass, I believe. Then he moved to guitar, and on some of my tracks he's played the drums. So he plays every instrument really well, and I feel really silly next to him because I can hardly play the guitar.

So I've known him since then and we've remained really good friends, and he produces all my English stuff, because for my Latin stuff, I have another producer, A.T. Molina.

So how did the idea for the "Thank You" video come about? Did you two collaborate on it together?

Well, I had just finished the song and I knew I needed a cool video, so he was like, "Why don't you just walk up to random people and ask them what they're thankful for?" I took it a step further and got a bunch of blank pieces of paper and some Sharpies and just carried them around with me wherever I went. So that's how it came about.

Did you know all the people, or were there any complete strangers?

There were a lot of complete strangers! I was going to New York to perform, and the girl that sat next to me on the plane, I think she's one of the first people that comes out in the video. There are some people in a restaurant I bumped into, and people at a party I went to in New York.

There's a model named Sara Mutch in there who was doing a shoot down here for Ocean Drive. There's Cindy Taylor, from Wild On E!, who was a friend of a friend. There were a lot of people I didn't know besides meeting them on the spot.

Besides winning overall in the video category, the song also placed as a semi-finalist in the "adult album alternative" category. For the average music fan, what does that mean exactly, and do you think that's an appropriate label for your sound?

Well, it's an accurate label for this song, but not for my sound. I'm still trying to figure out what an accurate label is for my sound. The show I'm doing tomorrow at Bardot is my English sound, my American sound. But then I'm doing a show 15 days later which will be my Spanish sound, my Latin sound, and I won't be doing any English songs. I have a split personality, basically.

Some of the songs vary within those styles. In Latin, some of them are really old school Havana, and some are modern-day tropical. Then in the American, some are like "Thank You," where if it was a movie it'd be G-rated, and then I have songs like "This Town," which are more like indie/alternative and won't play on mainstream radio.

Obviously, you have a really great track record in Latin pop, with the Grammy awards and nominations. Why do you actually switch your musical styles along with the language, rather than just switching the language in which you happen to be singing?

It's really interesting. That's a good question. One answer is that I was doing Latin when I started in the record business, recording in Spanish because my father ran a Latin record company. I grew up in the company, running around in a warehouse with all the records and all that stuff.

Then a good friend of mine in high school, Javier Garcia, was also a musician, and we thought it would be cool if we did a Latin type of Beatles sound. Little did we know there were already a bunch of people in Argentina and Spain who had done it! We thought we were creating this whole cool Latin rock sound.

Coming from a Latin record company background, I figured if I showed it to my dad, something would happen. But he thought I was completely insane, so that didn't work out, and I just started shopping it around. Years later, I got a bite from Madonna, and I signed to her label [the now-defunct Maverick Records] and I did Latin stuff.

But then in the Latin music, I was doing this kind of rock-ish sound until I realized I was kind of wasting it. The audience wasn't big enough then; it was mostly Latin pop. So I had a mixture of all these sounds, but I figured if I did the rock and roll alternative, I would save it for English. So I started branching out into English.

You took a break from music for several years. What were you doing, and what made you come back to the industry? And also, your latest new tracks have all been in English, so what's behind that?

Well actually next month, I'm releasing my first new Latin single in quite some time. But yeah, I stopped music for about four years. Well I didn't stop, of course I was still playing at home. But I had just gotten off a college tour in the U.S., and it was really exhausting. Then I had a baby, Romeo, my son. I was at a crossroads, where I thought, did I want to see him grow up, or did I want to be on tour fucking up hotel rooms and partying with my bands?

So I made a decision to chill out a little bit, and that was in combination with the music industry going in a nosedive and trying to figure out how to save themselves from MP3s and illegal downloading. That was also in combination with the Latin record business, which four years ago was all reggaeton.

I was battling every radio station changing its format to the music I hated most on earth! Well, it's not that I hated it, but everyone on earth suddenly switched to reggaeton. Even my friends who were artists started putting out reggaeton mixes. I thought it was the cheesiest thing I'd ever heard, and I got kind of grossed out.

So I started a production company called Beached Pictures, and I started diversifying. I said, okay, I love music, but I figured I would do all the arts I loved, like TV and even interior decorating! I stared buying properties and fixing them up.

So what brought you back to music?

=Well, one, reggaeton is out, for one! The stations are starting to change their formats back. And I just got to a point in my life where I'm comfortable where I am, and I don't really give a shit about the whole industry. I don't need to make a record to survive financially, so I figured I'd do whatever the hell I want.

So I'm going to make some records that are fun and commercial and danceable, and make some others that are trippy and that someone might like artistically, but won't play on the radio. So I started to record these things, and here I am.

Besides the new Spanish material coming out, what are your other plans for the near future? Is "Thank You" intended as part of a future full-length album, or are you going to be just releasing singles for a while?

I think singles are the new way to do it. It's so funny how in the record industry, singles are how it started, but then it turned to albums in the '60s and '70s, and now it's back to singles.

I think I'm just going to release an EP. I have enough material for an album, but what for? Why throw a whole album out there at once when I can spread it out? Before, you used to have to release an album in May or February, or November for the Christmas season. Nowadays, there are no rules any more.

I mean, if you're Shakira or something, release it in November so you can sell a million right before Christmas. But I'm not Shakira, so I don't care!

Jorge Moreno. With Nico XO and DJ Mike Sike. 9 p.m. Tuesday, June 28 at Bardot, 3456 N. Miami Ave., Miami. Age 21 and up. 305-576-7750;

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