Rollo & Grady Interview :: Roberto Carlos Lange


I’ve never been a fan of karaoke; I’ve always thought it was just for drunks who wanted to see how bad they could butcher “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” Talking to Roberto Carlos Lange changed my perception of it. The South Florida native learned how to make music by experimenting with his parents’ karaoke machine.

Lange grew up listening to Latin American pop songs with his Ecuadorian parents and their friends during festive parties in the late 80s and early 90s. He left Florida for Savannah, Georgia – a “completely different world” – to attend Savannah College of Art and Design. He then went on to collaborate with famed music producer Guillermo Scott Herren in Savath & Savalas and Prefuse 73, and also worked with School of Seven Bells and Bear in Heaven.

His latest project, Helado Negro, combines his Caribbean musical influences with computer synthesis, record samples, and mellow Spanish lyrics. His debut album Awe Owe is one of the most refreshing and unique albums of 2009.

Awe Owe

R&G: What’s up Roberto? How are you doing?

Roberto: Doing well, thanks.

R&G: You’re from Miami, originally, correct?

Roberto: Yeah, well, I was born in South Florida, so I grew up in Fort Lauderdale and Miami, in a way. I lived in Fort Lauderdale, but I was back and forth most of the time.

R&G: Tell me about your experiences growing up in South Florida.

Roberto: There’s a huge Latin American community down there. My family’s from Ecuador. Most of our time was spent with the types of parties and cultural events and the general sense of community of Latin American countries. When I was growing up, my family had parties almost every weekend. There was always a lot of dancing and singing. My dad would have his friends come over and play instruments, and they would play dance songs, or late night they would play really slow folk music, like South American stuff or cover songs.

R&G: Did you play or just observe the adults?

Roberto: I was little. I would learn a song and then my dad would make me stand in front of all his friends and sing and play guitar.

R&G: Was it embarrassing?

Roberto: [Laughs] Yeah, it was really embarrassing, but I was just doing it. It had nothing to do with anything other than having fun.

R&G: Sounds like fun.

Roberto: My parents would also record each other singing on a karaoke machine. Then, like an hour later, after they’d been drinking some more and hanging out, they would listen back to the recording. It was a lot of entertainment for them, you know?

R&G: So experimenting with the karaoke machine was the first time you learned about sampling music.

Roberto: Yeah, I thought I invented overdubs. I was sitting there and I thought, “Oh man.” I played one guitar line and laid another one right over it immediately. I was like, “Holy Crap!” I couldn’t believe I could do that and just kept doing it over and over and over again.

R&G: Why did you choose to perform under the name Helado Negro?

Roberto: Negro was my nickname growing up; Helado is my girlfriend’s favorite food, ice cream.

R&G: In celebration of the release of Awe Owe, you took a weeklong tour of the five boroughs of New York. It’s a cool concept, how did the idea come about?

Roberto: The idea itself stemmed from a conversation I was having with Michael Kaufman, who’s the manager at Asthmatic Kitty. We were just discussing, “Oh, we should do a record release.” A lot of times, record releases become pretty much the same thing over and over again. You go to one and you’re like, “Great.” It’s not too eventful, unless it’s like dance music or music that fits the environment. The idea was to bring the music to other people as opposed to saying, “The party’s here in Brooklyn,” or “The party’s here in Manhattan.” It was a little bit of an adventure as well and kind of intended to break out of any mold or shell. It’s easy for people to say that the music sounds like where they know you’re from, so, for example, if you live in Brooklyn that means you’re making indie sounds.

R&G: How do the songs from the album sound in a live setting?

Roberto: They sound completely different in one respect. For all these shows, we were a six-piece band. We had a vibraphone player, an upright bass player, guitarist – everybody’s playing guitar – baritone guitar player, a drummer, a percussionist. We’re recreating a lot of the ideas but also creating a new energy with the live band. I think you can really experience it a lot more – at least that’s true for us, creating the songs like this as opposed to writing them as a band. There are no rules, essentially. It’s just like, “Let’s make this sound as amazing as it can be. Let’s add things.”

R&G: Are there any musicians you would like to collaborate with on your next project?

Roberto: That process is a lot more organic for me than it is soliciting people I’m fans of or things like that. Everybody I’ve worked with, I’m a fan of. They’re my friends and they also inspire me. We contribute to each other through the things that we find in each other. I don’t necessarily go find people. It just happens organically. You come across them and you’re like, “What are you doing? I’m going to buy you some food and hang out. I want to see if you want to do something on this,” and they come up with some ideas. Most of the time they’ll take off and I’ll finish organizing it, consulting it, and it’s either come back to it or not.

Helado Negro is playing the Lit Lounge in Manhattan on 10/23 (more info)

Helado Negro – Verceremos
My Brightest Diamond – Brightest Outro (Roberto Carlos Lange Remix)

Helado Negro – Awe Owe (eMusic)
My Brightest Diamond – Shark Remixes, Vol. 3: Roberto Carlos Lange – EP (iTunes)

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