Behind the mastermind of Helado Negro is singer-songwriter Roberto Carlos Lange. Brooklyn based, Ecuador born, and Miami raised, Helado Negro expresses his multi-faceted cultural influences through his tribal and progressive house sounds. He came through Indy this Tuesday for a show at the Hi-Fi, and PATTERN chatted with the musician about his upbringing, collaborations, and visual performances. Read the interview to see why he was featured on Rolling Stone’s 10 artists you need to know this month.
Aubrey Smith: You say that growing up you were always a little offbeat.
Roberto Carlos Lange: I think everyone is in terms of coming of age. There’s a certain level of insecurities of who you are. What made me emphasize or amplify a lot of it was this duality of culture — having one life at home with my family, being in another country, and then having going to a school with kids who grew up in a different culture. That becomes the offbeat aspect. You’re switching gears and trying to fit in as much as you can.
AS: How did that translate into your songwriting and music production?
RCL: There’s not a direct way to talk about it. It’s not ambiguous, but when I’m making music, I’m not trying to create a conceptual tie in. I’m not even thinking about the process. I’m making music, and it’s coming out more as an expression. A lot of the tie-ins come with the lyrical stuff, maybe more so in the titles.
AS: Would you agree that your multi-cultural background is your biggest artistic influence? Has it changed over the years?
RCL: My background is a foundation, but everything that came from that foundation that I’ve had experiencing with like here in the United States. There are so many amazing experiences I’ve had through music and art that were born here. Things that my parents weren’t aware of. It’s just all a percentage. It’s evolving because I’m meeting younger people that are making music with a similar thought process. And we’re all having more of a conversation, so I think it’s super dynamic. It changes more now because we have people making that conversation.
AS: Conceptual lyrics with underpinning context is a not so hidden theme throughout your writing process. Is that intentional?
RCL: Most of the good things that I’ve found are accidental. Intention ends up leading to the accidents. You see something that happens and are like ‘oh man, I love this.’ When I’m writing the lyrics, sometimes the theme appears through the words. Like Young, Latin, and Proud and It’s My Brown Skin, there’s maybe some literal motives. Whereas other songs may be heavier or a little more cryptic.
AS: How do you achieve the balance between simplicity and density in your recording process?
RCL: I don’t have that much pride while I’m working. If I worked on a sound for two days, I’m more than happy to throw it out. It’s like going shopping. You see what works and return what doesn’t. Or just figuring out how it serves the music.
AS: How do you motivate yourself in doing another collaboration if it didn’t turn out how you intended it to?
RCL: Yeah, that’s hard because you leave a lot of your energy to push forward. I think there’s a moment where I don’t know how much I’m into this anymore. It’s not that I think collaborations are bad, I just know the possible outcomes as I’m doing more and more of them. So there’s less and less time that I’m committing to something that I already experienced in similar situations before I will even jump into it. It’s not really about motivation, as much as now I’m just way more cautious and picky.
AS: So you’re just seasoned. Tell me about your thought process behind your stage presence. Do you mix it up for different audiences?
RCL: I’ve been working with the Tinsel Mammals, something that I created with my wife who is a visual artist. When I do festivals during the day, it’s not that it’s less appealing, but day-time can remove the drama that the visual part provides. There’s this intensity because of the darkness. So I was trying figure out something that would work in parallel with that. Something shiny and shimmery.
AS: You seem to have a lot of ideas going on in your head. What have you been pondering on lately?
RCL: Just working more on newer costuming. Visually, trying to figure out how to evolve some of the visual parts of what I do. It’s a slow process. It’s a tough time to be involved in music right now because it’s harder to make a living out of it. But I think it’s a really exciting time because there is no standard. People that are even making commercial music are inspiring people making underground. There’s a complete mishmash right now. I just listen. I listen to what other people are doing more than anything.
Photos by Christopher Wilson.