Helado Negro turns to far out inspiration for ‘Far In’ cut

Of his recent career upswing, Roberto Carlos Lange said, ‘I set my expectations in a different dimension. I’m all right whatever happens.’

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Helado Negro (aka Roberto Carlos Lange) headlines Thalia Hall on May 9.

Helado Negro (aka Roberto Carlos Lange) headlines Thalia Hall on May 9.

Nathan Bajar Photo

Roberto Carlos Lange, who performs as Helado Negro (Black Ice Cream), seems as chill as his stage name. His otherworldly music, sung in English and Spanish, swirls through many genres, including Latin, electronica, roots, ambient and rock. He often filters these eclectic sounds through a prism of pop-culture influences.

“Wake Up Tomorrow,” the first track from his latest disc “Far In,” takes its inspiration from a “Twilight Zone” episode. Trained as a visual artist, he also incorporates elements of performance art in his concerts, where he often appears with dancers he’s dubbed “Tinsel Mammals,” modeled after Cousin Itt from the ’60s sitcom “The Addams Family” (but covered in silver fringe instead of hair).

Helado Negro

Helado Negro
With: Slauson Malone

When: 7:30 p.m. Monday

Where: Thalia Hall, 1807 S. Allport St.

Tickets: $25+

Info: thaliahallchicago.com


Lange remains unfazed by the success of “Far In,” his seventh studio release and the first for the influential indie label 4AD. All Music, NPR and Pitchfork named “Far In” one of the best of 2021, the latter declaring, “Far from shutting others out with an inward gaze, the album is an invitation into his orbit, a beacon of light beamed out into the universe, drawing you in toward its warmth.”

Of his career upswing, borne out by his biggest tour to date (with a concert Monday at Thalia Hall), Lange said, “I set my expectations in a different dimension. I’m all right whatever happens. I’m lucky that I can do what most people can’t” — pursue their dreams through art.

Born in South Florida circa 1980 to Ecuadorian immigrants, Lange absorbed all sorts of music, from roots to experimental. Though he’s often labeled a Latin artist, his music comes from all corners, and he thrives in the genre dissonance.

“What I grew up listening to was variety,” he said. “I heard Beatles songs in Spanish before I knew what they were. [Latin music] has always been a broad spectrum.”

For Lange, that spectrum stretches from niche sounds such as the electro cumbia of Ecuador’s Polibio Mayorga to chart-toppers such as Brazil’s MPB (música popular brasileira) singer-songwriter Roberto Carlos.

“I grew up listening to him,” Lange said of whether people ask about the other Roberto Carlos. “He’s a huge pop star who made the jump from singing in Portuguese to Spanish, which was a big deal. I love his music, and I love his writing partner Erasmo Carlos [no relation]. The only place where I get ribbed about it [the name] is in South America, where it’s very common.”

Though the Latin music label can be constricting, he embraces it.

“The common perception is if you’re singing in Spanish, you’re part of the Latin music universe,” he said. “The Latin music label is more of a marketing thing, that’s all it is.

“The cool thing is the aspect of representation. I wanted to see people like me who were making music like me.”

Helado Negro | Nathan Bajar Photo

“The Latin music label is more of a marketing thing, that’s all it is. ... the cool thing is the aspect of representation. I wanted to see people like me who were making music like me,” says Helado Negro.|

Nathan Bajar Photo

Based the past decade in Brooklyn, Lange moved last year to Asheville, N.C., near the Blue Ridge Mountains, an area not unlike the setting of “Come Wander with Me,” the 1964 episode of “The Twilight Zone” that inspired Lange’s “Wake Up Tomorrow.” In the episode, a folk-rock singer (Gary Crosby, son of Bing) heads for the hills in search of his next hit. He spots a backwoods siren (Bonnie Beecher); she lures him with a plaintive ballad, which leads to his doom. (In another instance of six degrees of pop-culture separation, Beecher has been married since 1965 to hippie activist Wavy Gravy, once dubbed “the clown prince of ’60s counterculture.” That coincidence deserves its own Helado Negro song.)

For “Wake Up Tomorrow,” Lange recruited indie vocalist Kacy Hill to provide a wordless background hum.

“What’s interesting about that song is that I heard it a long time ago, then I saw that ‘Twilight Zone’ episode,” Lange said. “I would have bet that Kacy had never heard of that song [‘Come Wander with Me’] before, but she plugged right into its vibe. The haunting feeling of that episode is there, but ‘Wake Up Tomorrow’ is not just that.”

The song’s scenario sounds tailor-made for Lange’s Tinsel Mammals, which he introduced at the 2014 Vive Latino festival in Mexico City. Intended to provide visual movement “that interacted the sound and music of the performance,” the Tinselites evolved into stage mascots. “They are almost like guardians for me, and I’m their keeper.” (At Thalia Hall, Lange will perform with a full band but no Mammals.)

The man known as Helado Negro revels in his quirks, especially his stage handle.

“I don’t get tired of the name,” he said. “It’s interesting to have a separation from the name of your parents. There’s a lot of power in that. To have another name for other uses — it’s important to live in it.”

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