Helado Negro: “I am constantly navigating how to sustain a healthy creative life and my relationships with the music industry”
The last years saw a long necessary turn of our societies towards a discourse about equality, social cohesion and fair representation. Something you find deeply enrolled in the work of Roberto Carlos Lange ever since he started his musically career. In 2015 he released his until now most popular song “Young, Latin and Proud”, a beautiful empowerment for the Latino communities around the world. Since then a lot changed, the pandemic hit us all hard, Roberto Carlos Lange left New York behind and resettled in a more calm social environment, and he also changed labels – from RVNG Intl. to 4AD Records, where he just released his new album “Far In”.
Roberto, do you remember the first music that touched your heart?
Helado Negro: I do! I feel like the first time I listened to John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”– it blew my mind.
I must have been in 7th grade around christmas time, my cousin gave me this CD.
Even tho I am a writer now for close to 30 years and making a good living with that for something like 25 years I still think it is crazy that I managed to make my hobby a – as Americans would say – career? How do you feel about that? Did you always want to become a „professional“ musician? How did you experience the path so far?
I never imagined doing what I do now. I definitely have privilege and access more so than ever but I’m still swallowed up in debt from school and more. So it’s precarious when I make decisions about how to make money with my music. I am constantly navigating how to sustain a healthy creative life and my relationships with the music industry. Luckily I work with people that are supportive and loving.
Did the last two pandemic years have an impact on this path for you?
Yes! Since 2014 I´ve been touring non-stop and 2020 was the first time I didn´t play. I lost a lot of income and was under a lot of stress about what I would do but also felt a huge weight lifted from me and that there was an opportunity to rethink what I could do. One of the first things I did was move from NYC to Asheville to have more mental and physical space to give these thoughts room to grow.
And besides strategic and maybe also economic aspects, do you think that you cultivate a different approach in your songwriting for the new album than for the ones before cause of those massive changes in the world around you?
I wanted to focus on creating more full expressions (sonically) of what my work is. So many of my albums are small slivers of what I do, but this one is the first one where I feel like Im in the place I want to be, for now.
You did spend the beginning of the pandemic with your partner, artist Kristi Sword, in Marfa, Texas. By chance I have been visiting Marfa during a USA trip in 2017. Quite a surreal place as there is on one side this massive presence of art in the twon and on the other side also a kind of sceptical part of the local community towards that. How did you experience Marfa as you stayed longer there? Do you feel that in such a small and by that encounter-rich community the pandemic leaded to more social exchange and interaction between the people?
I’ve been to Marfa a few times before last year. 2010, 2018 then last year. Each time I was able to see different parts of how its grown and what the community embraces there in terms of art and culture. The thing about us being there last year was that it was empty, everything was closed down, so there wasn´t much interaction with the community. We mainly stayed alone or with the people we worked with at Ballroom Marfa. It was a unique experience because it is such a tourist town.
It seems the pandemic arrived at a time in your life when you were quite exhausted from the four first decaded of your life and the high energy artistic lifestyle of the last decade with intense touring and recordings processes. That said: do you feel that reflecting on your life and the path to go from here on worked out different in the end than it would have without the pandemic being the surrounding set up?
Definitely, a whole new mindset moving forward.
One of my favorite songs on the album is „There Muste Be A Song Like You“. Whom did you write it for? And can you go deeper into the idea behind that song?
This song is an abstract feeling. Its about someone and about everything. It’s kind of searching and hoping to find an answer through a song.
In general your song titles already open up a vivid world of imagination. They are very pictorial. How come?
I like working with a visual vocabulary, it’s the language I learned first while learning to make.
I ask this as the lyrics themselves are more mystical to me – maybe also a result of you signing not only in english. Can you describe what you search in your lyrics?
Words are sounds and they find company with the other sounds in each song.
Your uprising was settled in Florida in the 1980s. How much would you say that your geographic and by that social environment there and the Zeitgeist of the culture of these years shape your own artistic style?
It´s definitely living in my subconscious.
Are you able to take me by the hand and describe the way you write songs? I ask this question specific to understand how technique and mood and narratives are connected in the world of Helado Negro.
It’s all case by casee. Song by song sound by sound. Im never trying to write a song when I am making music. I spend a lot of times exploring sounds and recording improvisations. Using instruments and my voice. Lots of times Ill fiind a loop and build vertically sonically on that loop then find melodic piece to assemble around it then spread it out over time.
Other times I find somee chords on a piano or guitar and a progression appears and there it is. Maybe boring and simple but im always trying to start in a place that isnt thinking about what it should be but what it is in that moment. If its fun then i keep going.
It may sound weird, but I was very surprised to see you publish an animated clip to „Gemini and Leo“ (by Jcob Escobedo). Somehow I expected a fade-out 8mm clip (talking about the cliches in the mind of the listeners, haha) – what can you tell me about the wayy you chose the images to your songs in general in in this specific case?
I wanted the visuals to represent non human forms something from a different world. Shapes and colors.
What is your favorite song right now (by another musician)?