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Helado Negro brings deep listening from ordinary life to his latest album

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Roberto Carlos Lange is a name you might not have heard, but if you've ever heard his music, you probably can't get it out of your mind. Lange performs and records under the name Helado Negro in both English and Spanish in an eclectic mix that ranges from electronic to folk.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEST FOR YOU AND ME")

HELADO NEGRO: (Singing) Quiet light, pushing too far. It's all gone.

MARTIN: That is "Best For You And Me." It's from his latest album, "Phasor," his eighth, and he is here with us now to tell us more about it. Hello. Welcome. Thanks for joining us.

HELADO NEGRO: Hey, Michel. Hello. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Well, it's really nice to meet you finally. I mean, you've been around this for a while. As I said, this is your eighth album. You've been here for a Tiny Desk concert back in 2017. Do you have a sense when you go into a project what you're going for?

HELADO NEGRO: I'm not a traditional singer-songwriter. I don't, like, sit down and, like, come up with a series of songs that I know that I'm going to go record in the studio. So I kind of just, like, live in, like, a sound world where I'm finding sounds and then thinking about them and then find melodies and harmonies like that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEST FOR YOU AND ME")

HELADO NEGRO: (Singing) What's best for you and me, what's best for you and me is all wrong.

And when I'm making something new, I try not to think about what I've already done and just really try to be naive about it. Just be like, what was it like when I first started making it? What made me want to make stuff? And I think the answer that I always come to is like, how can I make an idea interesting and fun and just exciting for me in that moment without it being attached to, like, the career aspect, meaning like, what's this going to be live, or what's it going to be like on a record, just, like, make it and have fun.

MARTIN: What was the spark for you? How did it start? Give us Helado Negro 101. Like, how did it start?

HELADO NEGRO: Right. I feel like I was just always curious about things being different. You know, I grew up in South Florida. My family's from Ecuador. They grew up in New York. And then we moved to Florida. And I think maybe always, like, having this, like, duality of, like, cultural backgrounds and then, like, always hearing sounds that weren't on the radio in my house from Latin America, and not just, like, dance music, but also pop and things that were just, like, more mainstream down there. Knowing that there was another world always kind of enticed me to be like, well, there's got to be more than just that, too, here.

MARTIN: On the latest album, "Phasor," there's one track I want to play. It's "LFO." Let's play a little bit of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LFO")

HELADO NEGRO: (Singing in Spanish).

MARTIN: So first of all, fun, just super fun, but a lot going on here beneath the surface. I mean, the actual title of the song is "LFO (Lupe Finds Oliveros)." So there's that. And it sort of pays homage to Pauline Oliveros, who is an experimental composer who coined the term, or at least it's attributed to her - the term deep listening. So do you want to say a little bit about how her work inspired you?

HELADO NEGRO: Once I started really digging in and listening, it really started to affect me in such a positive way, just thinking about this idea of deep listening and how you can kind of connect in a deeper way, not necessarily just like listening to music, but just how - where you are and your surroundings and how that can be a form of meditation and also a connection with yourself. It's been helpful for me to kind of like think about that. You know, I've been doing music my whole life, but I was also doing foley. And I don't know if you know what foley is, but it's like when people are doing real, live sound effects for film where, like, you're walking with, like, shoes to match the shoes of, like, the screen. And it's a really unique experience 'cause you're dissecting the sounds of life, and it just made a huge connection to think about that a lot more and to kind of try to practice it as much as possible.

MARTIN: So the album is called "Phasor," and, yes, I had to look it up, and this is what I found. Phasors are rotating vectors having the length equal to the peak value of oscillations and the angular speed equal to the angular frequency of the oscillations. They are helpful in depicting the phase relationships between two or more oscillations. OK, so help me out here. How did this inspire your album?

HELADO NEGRO: I guess the thing that I kind of abstracted from this was, like, this idea of, like, how we overlap and we connect and we have these, like, phase relationships with people. We're like, these, waveforms that are always overlapping with something. And I felt like that's something that I was thinking about. How do we measure, like, our relationships and these experiences of relationships with the world and other people?

MARTIN: I don't want to give the sense that your album is, you know, unapproachable or something. It's actually really warm. To that end, I want to play a little bit of the track "I Just Want To Wake Up With You."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I JUST WANT TO WAKE UP WITH YOU")

HELADO NEGRO: (Singing) Walk slow, dance fast, let's turn around now 'cause all I want to do is hear you say my name again.

MARTIN: If it's not too personal, what is or what was the inspiration for this?

HELADO NEGRO: It's definitely an ode to domestic life, but it's also, like, an ode to the things and people you love. You know, kind of like these comfort - the things that you want to wake up to, not just like somebody, but all the things that you kind of like enjoy in life.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I JUST WANT TO WAKE UP WITH YOU")

HELADO NEGRO: (Singing) Just want to wake up with you. I just want to wake up with you. I just want to wake up with you.

HELADO NEGRO: What do you want to wake up to in your life? Like, yeah, I want to wake up to me every day. That's cool. Like, it's a new - you know, I'm happy about me right now. And I think that's what I was thinking about. I am happy about me. Like, I feel good about being me. And I'm good with that.

MARTIN: Well, we're glad.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Well, thanks for talking with us about the album. Any particular track you want to say goodbye on?

HELADO NEGRO: The song "Colores Del Mar" is a good one to say goodbye on.

MARTIN: Oh, the colors of the sea.

HELADO NEGRO: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COLORES DEL MAR")

HELADO NEGRO: (Singing in Spanish).

It's such a strange song, but it's literally about kind of just minding your own business, being in your own world, kind of like disappearing and being like, you know, I don't want to be found, but I want to just be loved.

MARTIN: Ah. Well, that's true.

That is Roberto Carlos Lange, who performs as Helado Negro. And his latest album is called "Phasor," and it's out today.

Roberto Carlos Lange, Helado Negro, thank you so much for talking with us.

HELADO NEGRO: Thank you so much, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COLORES DEL MAR")

HELADO NEGRO: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Lilly Quiroz (she/her/ella) is a production assistant for Morning Edition and Up First. She pitches and produces interviews for Morning Edition, and occasionally goes to the dark side to produce the podcast Up First on the overnights.
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Devan Schwartz is an editor for NPR's Morning Edition. He is an experienced audio professional who, in addition to his work with NPR, has worked with such organizations as BBC, Slate, the New York Times, and various public radio stations.