Helado Negro's seventh studio album, Far In, is something of an hour-long meditation — true soundscapes, inspired by an extended stay in the austere Marfa, Texas at the beginning of last year's lockdown. Weekend Edition host Scott Simon talks with Lange about the new album, the vagaries of astrology and the endless artistic reserves residing in nature.
(SOUNDBITE OF HELADO NEGRO SONG, "OUTSIDE THE OUTSIDE")
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Playing in the shade, watching ants, dancing under a disco ball - those are some of the scenes that are narrated on "Far In," the new album by Helado Negro, the name under which Roberto Carlos Lange performs. "Far In" is an hour-long journey into meditative soundscapes. There are gentle, dreamy chords and thumping bass and emotionally resonant lyrics that seem to enfold listeners in a kind of audio hug.
And Roberto Carlos Lange, of course also known as a Helado Negro, joins us. Thanks so much for being with us.
HELADO NEGRO: Thanks for having me.
SIMON: You've said this is the album you've always wanted to make. What lets you do it now?
HELADO NEGRO: Maybe time, age, maybe the time off last year - like, I was in Marfa, Texas, last year for six months. We're only supposed to go there for two weeks. It was with my partner, my wife, Kristi Sword. We'd been invited by the program's director of Ballroom Marfa to work on something for Ballroom for two weeks. And then two weeks turned into six months. And I was lucky to be there with the person I love. And we had an opportunity to just exist there in a place that, if - not a lot of people have been there. It's in Far West Texas. And it's isolated by design.
SIMON: Yeah. I want to listen now to a song called "Gemini And Leo," which are the star signs, if we could.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GEMINI AND LEO")
HELADO NEGRO: (Singing) Gemini and Leo dancing on the floor all night, Gemini and Leo dancing on the floor all night.
SIMON: Tell us about this song.
HELADO NEGRO: Yeah, Gemini and Leo was inspired from Kristi and my astrological signs. She's a Gemini. I'm a Leo. And I was writing some music. And I was like, oh, that'd be really funny, to just sing Gemini and Leo. And it stuck. And there was a hook. And there was a melody. And I'm like, oh, damn, now I have to write a whole song, 'cause I really liked it.
SIMON: Forgive me. I don't know astrological signs very well. My wife and I are both Pisceans.
HELADO NEGRO: OK.
SIMON: Gemini and Leo get along?
HELADO NEGRO: We do.
KRISTI SWORD: (Laughter).
SIMON: OK, you do, even if the signs don't. Yeah, my wife and I are the same. You're Ecuadorian American. And your past projects have taken up themes of identity. And I'm thinking of songs - "Young, Latin And Proud" and "It's My Brown Skin." This project feels - not sure I mean different, but for lack of a better word, it's something else, isn't it? - universal themes.
HELADO NEGRO: Absolutely. I think in the previous records, those are universal themes for me in my own universe.
HELADO NEGRO: Those were me contacting me. And I'm not trying to speak for anyone else, but then, ultimately, this record is also a feeling of, like, trying to let go a lot more and to open up more forms of expression for myself and not necessarily sitting in one theme.
SIMON: Yeah - want to listen with you now to a song called "La Naranja."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA NARANJA")
HELADO NEGRO: (Singing in Spanish).
SIMON: Chorus translates to only you and I can save the world. Tell us about this song, if you could.
HELADO NEGRO: Yeah, "La Naranja" is - means the orange in Spanish. And I grew up in South Florida. And the orange - well, oranges were everywhere when I was growing up, so much that, like, it would just fall on the floor and then rot. But it was kind of like a little bit of a commentary on this abundance that we're kind of living in. And we're at the cliff's edge right now in terms of, like, access. It doesn't feel like we're going to have this much access for this much longer, in terms of just having anything that we want whenever we want it. And it's thinking about that, for me, at least, meditating on being hopeful that we can at least try to change, like, our minds on how we can approach the world. And that's my hope for me, is just to not be so, I guess, wasteful and care more about what we're doing with ourselves as humans.
SIMON: And what do - how can music reach into our lives to help elevate our vision, maybe?
HELADO NEGRO: Yeah, I think it can always sneak in, right? I think sometimes you can use different aesthetics to change people's minds. Like, tenderness can be - it's a pretty different approach to actually have meaningful change, instead of shouting at somebody. A lot of tenderness can go a long - a lot further. And that's my hope - I think changing the way you talk to folks and changing the way you think about it. And I think music does that. Music has, like - it just has different ways of attracting and...
HELADO NEGRO: ....Telling people how to do something - or even teaching.
SIMON: Yeah. Music reaches into people in a different way, doesn't it?
HELADO NEGRO: Absolutely. Yeah. And it does for me. And that's what I know. And that's the best form of expression that I can kind of communicate these things.
SIMON: Yeah. We are speaking with you in Asheville, N.C., where you have recently relocated from New York - big change?
HELADO NEGRO: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, New York is my favorite place in the world. But sometimes you have to just change. And I've said this a few times to some friends, maybe other places, but the world is beautiful everywhere. And I think that's kind of part of what I was feeling when I was making this record in my time in Marfa. And it's just, like, knowing that one place isn't the ultimate place. And there's so many other places to kind of experience. And Asheville's just beautiful. I mean, honestly, it's remarkable.
SIMON: What song would you like us to go out on?
HELADO NEGRO: One of my favorite songs on the record is a song called "Aguas Frias." It's a really special song for me because that was the song that kind of reopened my imagination to start writing again in a different way. And it was a response and reaction to nature in general. It was, like, a really, truly spiritual awakening and response to a place I had gone to in Texas.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AGUAS FRIAS")
HELADO NEGRO: (Singing in Spanish).
SIMON: It's a beautiful song. We said that your music could make people feel like they were being enfolded in a hug. We could all use that long about now, couldn't we?
HELADO NEGRO: Definitely. I mean, hugs are pretty outstanding.
SIMON: Well, thank you for giving us these. Roberto Carlos Lange, he writes and performs as Helado Negro. And his new album is "Far In." Thank you so much for being with us.
HELADO NEGRO: Thank you so much. I'm so honored.
(SOUNDBITE OF HELADO NEGRO SONG, "AGUAS FRIAS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.