Roberto Carlos Lange is one busy guy. Years ago, Lange moved from his home in south Florida to New York where he turned the dial up on his artistic endeavors. However, it wasn’t until about four years ago when he put much of the painting and sculpture to the side and focused solely on his music. The result of that output is five albums, tours across the hemisphere, videos, and collaborations galore.
Lange, who performs as Helado Negro, will be in Austin this weekend to perform songs from his latest album, Double Youth, and others. I spoke with the prolific artist by phone who explained why he has no filter when it comes to releasing his unique type of electronic music (seriously, just try to pigeonhole it), why he considers each concert a unique experience beyond being in a different city with a new crowd, and how he composes songs in English and Spanish.
You’re a busy guy!
Lange: Well…you know, you gotta do something.
Is that your philosophy in life? Because you’ve published a lot of material in recent years.
Lange: Umm…yeah! I would say so. I make music because that’s what I enjoy to do. I’d rather spend time doing that than spend time not doing that.
Yeah, didn’t Invisible Life come out last year?
Lange: It did. It came out last March.
And now you have another full-length album released last month too.
Lange: It’s not like this is rare or anything. I would say, in reference to musical history like in the sixties and seventies, groups used to put out albums every year. That was a pretty common practice. I don’t think it’s that rare personally. I’m not trying to belittle the work that I do but it’s definitely…it’s just keeping up with my own ideas and I’m lucky to work with a label that wants to keep up with me. It’s a good back-and-forth between them and the people I work with.
It’s rare for a label to do that too, isn’t it? Usually they want an artist to release an album and follow it up with a lengthy tour before they even think about writing something new.
Lange: Yeah, there’s definitely that and I think there’s different philosophies behind that. There’s no good perspective on that in terms of what works and what doesn’t. Everyone sculpts their own path on how they make music, how they want to release it and how to share it. For us, it’s kind of like we’re always adapting or mutating to what the music is. That comes first and then deciding what I want to do show-wise and, for the label, they’ve been really supportive and they’re not pressuring me to feel or shape or do specific things.
It’s wonderful how open they were with your Island Universe EP-trilogy project.
Lange: Making that series is parallel to the albums. It’s as steeped in tradition as making an album is but…more experimental in the economies of what music is and sharing it and it’s really about what it is now. It’s a lot more prevalent to share a lot more stuff in abundance and, I think, we’re just finding different vehicles through that series and make a lot of music, so we’re just constantly exploring how to share it, more than anything, and give people access to music. The exciting thing is, for me, I’m giving people who want to listen to my music the option to plug in whenever they want to plug in. It’s nice to have context with what I’ve done in the past but you can just dive in at whatever point you want to. That’s what that series establishes for me.
You’re going to perform music from that series at a special event in Minneapolis next year. That sounds exciting!
Lange: Yeah, it’s not so much performing that series specifically. What it is is a part of that series. The idea of the series doesn’t mean it’s just the release. The part of sharing music is also extended into performance of the recorded music into however you can experience it. It’s just another extension of the idea than anything. That night in Minneapolis is going to be a series of reinterpretations of music I’ve created that are songs from that series but also of songs that are on different albums and a couple of newer things but it’s all reorganized and rearranged.
How are you interpreting Double Youth and other songs on this tour?
Lange: I tour and play on stage by myself so it’s not that I reinterpret it but I just try to figure out a way to make sure there’s enough of what I want people to hear musically. It’s just me, my laptop, and some electronics and I sing. It’s really straight-forward and I also work a lot with creating a stage atmosphere to have a visual representation of my songs.
I saw your performance at Vive Latino in Mexico City this year and your setup was very elaborate. It looked more like a play complete with actors in costume.
Lange: That’s awesome that you were there! I made those costumes specifically for that concert. That was a catalyst to keep moving forward and figure out how that can be elaborated on. I’m using this tour to better study what it means to be in a performance and better interaction with the crowd and working our these ideas. It’s interesting because people interpret it in different ways. It’s almost like a distraction for your eyes to disorient you and, as you’re bring disoriented, you’re listening, and as you’re listening you’re getting lost.
So you get to create a unique experience for each show you perform.
Lange: Yeah and I get volunteers in each city to come in, so that’s exciting, to meet some people and figure out ways to talk to people about it and it’s really cool.
You’ve collaborated with LOTS of artists. What is it about collaboration that you enjoy?
Lange: It’s always a challenge and I know that’s probably a cliché but it’s a challenge in that you have your own sonic expression when you want your sound to be arranged and other people hear things so much differently than you do so finding those bridges between yours and theirs ends up being the exciting adventure. Sometimes it’s a disaster, sometimes it’s amazing, sometimes it’s just really dull. When it’s extreme, it’s really exciting and that becomes a really interesting thing more than anything. A lot of my music isn’t written or performed in a traditional song format…it becomes like sonic architecture. You’re building parts, you’re building rooms in a building and you’re figuring out how everything is going to flow together.
Is there someone you really want to work with that you haven’t yet? Like, a dream collaboration?
Lange: A lot of people ask me that question and a lot of times I’ve answered that with my favorite is to collaborate with people that I know, and not just people that I’ve known but people that I’ve gotten to know. In a way, recently, I’ve wanted to get to know a few newer people and people that I’ve been interested in their music. There’s a Japanese musician named Harry Hosono who started that group Yellow Magic Orchestra. His trajectory is because in the sixties he was making the music of that time, then all that changed in the eighties when he was doing Yellow Magic Orchestra and now he just makes pretty bizarre music. It’s cool because you can tell he’s seeking it out. You can tell he’s looking for something. Those are the people I really want to collaborate with, the people who are trying to find something. That’s exciting.
This new album has a pretty even mix of lyrics in English and Spanish. I didn’t even notice it at first because it comes off so naturally. Did choosing which language to sing come naturally or did you have to work on it?
Lange: It’s very much a flow of words and sounds. A lot of times when I’m shaping the lyrics for the music, I’m mouthing words phonetically and when I do that, that shapes words in English or in Spanish. Then I start building words and I’ll record that and sometimes it doesn’t make any sense. Then I’ll start making more sense of the content I want it to be. There’s a song on the album that’s called “Our Game” and, the most literal example of what I just said, I say the words “blanco, negro, azul” and those were the words that built the melody. It didn’t have any context and I used that as a way to start building the song and build the lyrics. That created a really small, contextual underpinning, “blanco, negro, azul” as the color of bruising and the progress of it.
Watch the official music video for “Invisible Heartbeat” from Helado Negro below.
*Helado Negro performs at the Empire Control Room this Sunday, Oct. 26. Buy tickets here.