Songs from a Room: Helado Negro at The Standard Spa, Miami Beach
THE STANDARD: Do you have family in Miami? What’s your relationship to the city?
HELADO NEGRO: I grew up in Ft. Lauderdale. I lived in Coconut Grove for a while. I go back quite a bit to see my family, a lot of holidays. It’s nice because it’s a different kind of lifestyle down there—being with family, and having that kind of time that’s outside of everyday life.
Does it feel like the city’s changed a lot?
Totally. It’s way different, for sure. But that’s just with anything. You get older, and you see the change, beside the more commercial aspect.
How does the reception to your music differ from New York to Miami to LA?
Those three places, and Chicago, are all similar, just because the make up of the people that live there. A lot of people are Spanish speaking people from Latin America or the Caribbean or Mexico. There’s a huge relationship and bond. But at the same time, it’s always different. There’s no way to predict it.
You were just on tour in Europe. What was the reception to your music there?
It was definitely interesting. In all the cities I went to, people were just into stuff in general, in places that were not Spanish-speaking places. One of the more crazy experiences was in Poland. I played at a festival in front of 3,000 people that were really quiet, like, you could hear a pin drop. It was pretty wild and surprising. There was a feeling of attentiveness that I’ve never experienced. That’s a good thing about music—language shouldn’t ever be something that creates some kind of block or disconnect for people.
In terms of your stage show, how has that come together and evolved over time? What made you want to build that out?
It’s gone through a lot of different evolutions. I went through a pretty wild transformation in terms of figuring out different ways to present myself. The music I make is always made electronically via computer. There was a period when I started going out by myself, and I really wanted people to have a complete disassociation from instruments. I had a philosophy at the time that I didn’t want people to see guitars or drums. I didn’t want to make it easy for anyone in the audience to see the instruments, and be like, “I know what this is, I feel comfortable.” My approach was trying to make people uncomfortable in the sense that I wanted them to try to listen and figure it out a little bit. In that same process, we evolved this idea of costuming. The costumes are a collaboration with Kristi Sword who’s an artist and a jewelry designer. And then, over the past three or four years, I started designing choreography.
Whose idea were the tinsel figures?
I wanted to make these kind of Cousin It-looking things, and Kristi Sword was like, “Why don’t we make them out of tinsel!"
How do you think about navigating your way between “latin” music and “indie” music?
The goal has always been freedom and to not be thinking or over-strategizing, and letting the process be exciting. I think when it comes down to that aspect of how it interfaces with different communities, that ends up being something that just happens, and there’s not really a lot of intention in terms of how I conceive it. It just starts with something that I like, that’s just for me.
What’s the deal with the “Young, Latin, and Proud” merch you’ve been making? It seems like that has really resonated.
It’s really simple. “Young, Latin, and Proud” was a song that I made, and just out of necessity, I made shirts and they sold a whole bunch. People were really digging on it, but you never know with these things. It’s such a crapshoot. And that’s the exciting thing when people do respond to it.
Since Helado Negro translates to "black ice cream," have you tried any of the black ice cream trend?
I haven’t, but I’ve seen it. Actually, the first Helado Negro tour, my friend made black sesame ice cream for the merch table. So we were there first.
Who are some dream collaborators?
Ah, man, there’s too many. I could hop around different countries. In Japan, Harry Hosono. In Ecuador, there’s this musician who has made music since the late fifties, Polibio Mayorga. In Brazil, Caetano Veloso, of course. In the United States, I love Shabazz Palaces. So many people, man!
What’s a place that was especially inspirational and productive for you in terms of making music?
When i went to art school at Savanah College of Art and Design that was a special time. Just the frame of mind I was in. It was a very conducive environment for me.
What’s a dream project you’ve always wanted to do?
I know there are so many dysfunctional business aspects to this idea, but I always wanted to eliminate food deserts in low income areas, and create these, like, fast food joints that are secretly really healthy and well-maintained, and there’s a whole process to it that deliberately creates a different environment and culture.
Do you mean like Locol in LA?
But I feel like it should exist not in LA or NY or Chicago. It should exist in smaller cities, like St. Louis or Louisville. That’s my dream.