Roberto Carlos Lange, better known as Helado Negro (“black ice cream”), is an Ecuadorian American musician whose mellow sounds and bilingual lyrics create a dizzying array of sonic experiences that range from psych to electronic and beyond. His presence ties together such diverse songs as the gently grooving “Pais Nublado” from 2019’s This Is How You Smile, the post-disco dance track “Gemini and Leo” from last year’s Far In and the haunting “Young, Latin and Proud” from 2017’s Private Energy. There are a multitude of ways into Lange’s universe — both within a given release and across the catalog of records he’s been releasing relatively steadily since 2009.
Lange will be performing at The Basement East on Wednesday night with Dream Wave opening. For his first tour since The Before Times, Lange has plenty of new material to perform on stage, including songs from Far In (his latest for 4AD) and a new single called “Ya no estoy aquí” that was released a few days after we got on a video call.
Do you like touring?
I like playing shows and I like playing shows that are fun. I do like traveling and I don't like terrible days, and I do like the easy, cush days. So yeah, there's like a lot of give and take with it. There's a lot of beautiful moments and then there's a lot of really hard moments. It seems like a healthy balance, but sometimes it gets very unhealthy.
Do you have a favorite venue that you'd like to play at?
That's hard to say. I will say this, years ago I opened for Sylvan Esso at the Ryman and that was a wild, wild — it’s very memorable. I'll never forget that. I did love that for sure.
How does it feel touring now that the pandemic isn’t necessarily over, but calmed down?
I feel good, for sure. I feel positive and excited to do it. I think I'm just navigating it as much as everyone else is. There's a large amount of confusion in kind of like, what is kind a patient way to approach a lot of the confusion. I think that is what I'm really trying to navigate, and not necessarily feeling frustrated about everything that's going on with the disappearance of COVID mandates within larger spaces or smaller spaces — so I think it's been hard to kind of navigate what the right thing to do is.
Your latest album Far In is interesting because it's one of your lighter records, but it came out during a pretty heavy time. Was that a conscious decision?
I think in a lot of respects it's a lighter record, maybe in tonality, maybe in sonic aesthetics. But I think, content and context … there's a lot of heaviness. There's a lot of feeling of gravity, grounded onto the earth, moreso than ever before. I actually think a lot of the other [records] are maybe more light, in the sense that they're living in these amorphous clouds that … shapeshift, and I feel like this record is me finding a very specific anchor to where I'm at.
It's funny you say “clouds” — when I think of your music, I think of clouds. I know that you pay quite a bit of attention to visual art alongside your music. Do visuals ever play a part in your songwriting process, or does that all come afterwards?
Yeah, I think there's always some kind of — whether it's something concise, like a photo, or a movie, or poems or some words. Sometimes it's a little bit more deconstructed, like, just colors. And I think it kind of finds its way into my lyrics, where I'm thinking about colors a lot in respect to the words — and then maybe some symbolism — but also how they could reflect a parallel to texture and sound and music.
You recently moved from Brooklyn to Asheville, N.C. Has the change in your surroundings affected your songwriting at all?
I think so, but I don't know yet. I mean, things are just starting.
What are your thoughts on genres? Do you feel like they're helpful in describing music or do you feel like they're limiting?
Seems like it's helpful for some people, not for everyone. I think the worst question anyone can ever ask is, “What kind of music do you make?” But I understand where it comes from. I think it's like, there's an expectation of context, and what people know and what they don't know.
I feel like people who make music know about music. And then people who don't, don't, and so they're kind of only working from the specific amount of knowledge that they've kind of been given through retail stores or playlists. Let's say, like, college study music. … “Do you make college study music?” [Laughs.] You know what I mean? So yeah, seems like it's good for someone. But whenever anyone asks me, I'm usually the worst person to ask — I’ll give you a link. You listen.
So you've been in Nashville before, you performed at the Ryman and you've played other venues here as well, correct? Is there anything particular you like about Nashville?
Yeah, Exit/In and [The End,] the joint across the street from the Exit/In. And I used to play at William Tyler's house when he used to have house shows. And then when him and his sister had The Stone Fox, I played there. I’ve been to Nashville a lot of times. … People are so warm there. People have always been very inviting and great. So I'm excited to see people again.
Is there a song or album that you've that you made that you're particularly proud of?
There's something I made while we were in lockdown called Kite Symphony, Four Variations and it's a project I made with my partner, Kristi Sword. She's a visual artist and she made these drawings that we interpreted as graphic scores. I worked with two local musicians in Marfa, Texas — Jeanann Dara, Rob Mazurek — to create this four-song piece that was commissioned by an institution in Marfa called Ballroom Marfa. … So yeah, I think that moment in time and that that record was really special for me.