Latinx Files: The unwavering, working-class chill of Helado Negro

Roberto Carlos Lange, or Helado Negro, smiles slightly in a dark theater.
Ecuadorean American producer and songwriter Roberto Carlos Lange, better known as Helado Negro, poses last month at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles.
(James Carbone / For De Los)

Roberto Carlos Lange was inside a car somewhere in Portland, Ore., when he dialed in to our scheduled Zoom interview.

It was late February and Lange, better known artistically as Helado Negro, had wrapped up the West Coast leg of his tour promoting “Phasor,” his recently released eighth studio album, the night before. But instead of taking the 8:30 a.m. call in his hotel room, Lange was out and about preparing for his next work trip.

He would embark on a transcontinental and transatlantic journey to Estonia later that day, the first stop in a two-week run through Europe. Before heading overseas, however, he needed to ship out bags containing gear, personal items and merchandise that couldn’t be checked at the airport.


“That’s what I’m dealing with this morning,” he said. In the background, you could hear the female voice of the GPS giving directions to the closest shipping center in Spanish.

If Lange was stressed or frustrated, his voice didn’t show it. Rather, the same comforting warmth found in his music was present throughout our conversation. He came across as someone who had done this before, someone who understood that handling the logistics of touring comes with the territory of being a working artist. It was part of the job, just as talking to a reporter in admittedly less than ideal conditions was. (This is entirely on me; I had to reschedule our in-person interview last minute, and Lange was graciously accommodating.)

He was as Zen as one could be.

“I’m fine with things happening,” he would later tell me. “Being more open to that creates more possibilities to be excited about the work I’m creating and the potential of where the work can go.”

“Phasor,” released by indie label 4AD, is a testament to this mindset. The album was made after Lange and his wife, artist Kristi Sword, relocated from Brooklyn to Asheville, N.C., in 2021. It was a move born out of necessity.

“I didn’t have the means to keep jumping around apartments,” Lange said, noting that he and Sword kept their studios at home and it became cumbersome for both of them to work and live in the same space. He wasn’t particularly sentimental about leaving. After all, many people uproot their lives and make somewhere else their home all the time. His parents, who left Ecuador for New York and then South Florida (where Lange grew up), certainly did.


In Asheville, Lange has found space to breathe and create. “It’s kind of like the most invigorated I’ve ever felt,” he said. That energy was channeled into the making of “Phasor,” a nine-song album that’s just over 35 minutes long. Lange claims “Phasor” contains the highest beats per minute he’s ever had in an LP.

Much of that increase in tempo can be found in “LFO (Lupe Finds Oliveros),” the album’s opening track and first single. Released in October, “LFO” made it into former Times columnist Suzy Exposito’s list of best Latin songs of 2023. It’s a rollicking jam that pays tribute to avant-garde composer Pauline Oliveros (she coined the term and practice of “deep listening”) and Lupe Lopez, a Mexican American assembly line worker at the Fender factory in Fullerton during the 1950s.

Very little is known about Lopez other than the fact that she soldered the wiring of certain guitar amplifiers and would sign her name in pencil on a piece of tape stuck inside the chassis. She’s achieved a somewhat mythical status among diehard collectors, who swear the amps she worked on are among the best ever made because of the tone they produce.

Lange stumbled upon the legend of Lupe Lopez in an online forum, coming across a photo of her sitting at her work bench, diligently assembling these devices by hand.

“It resonated with me, thinking about the people who are always behind the scenes,” he said, pointing to the workers in his own family. “I always love seeing these stories that can permeate through time. She probably wasn’t like ‘My amps are going to live forever!’ but it’s cool that they have. It’s fun.”

It’s easy to understand why Lange was drawn to Lopez’s story. She was (is? So little is known about her that it’s unclear if she’s still alive) someone who paid attention to the little things, bringing a level of craft to her work that made the creation of the sweetest sounds possible.


The same can be said about Lange. His keen attention to detail is found in the lush sonic tapestries he assembles in “Phasor” and in his past work. “I Just Want to Wake Up with You,” the second track from the album, is the latest in a long list of gentle songs that nonetheless hypnotize the listener with a chorus that doubles as mantra — past examples include “Gemini and Leo,” “Running,” “Please Won’t Please” and “Young, Latin and Proud.”

And what’s next for Helado Negro? More touring: The band wraps up the European leg today and will return stateside for a month and a half break before picking up again, this time hitting up the Eastern Seaboard and the Midwest.

Despite the grueling schedule, Lange says working with session musicians like Jason Nazary and Andy Stack (one half of indie rock duo Wye Oak), people whom he deeply admires, has been joyous.

“I’ve never had the opportunity financially to hire people in a steady way. It’s always been something here, a solo show there. It’s been a slow build to make this the thing that it is now,” he said. “It’s the kind of show I’ve been dreaming of performing for a long time.”

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Latinx Files
(Jackie Rivera / For The Times; Martina Ibáñez-Baldor / Los Angeles Times)

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