Kiltro Explores Transience and Wanderlust on Sophomore Album ‘Underbelly’


Denver-based artist Chris Bowers Castillo — better known by his band’s creative moniker, Kiltro — recently sat down for a conversation with 303 Magazine ahead of his band’s sophomore album, Underbelly, releasing this Friday, June 2nd.

As Kiltro, Castillo and his band — which features Will Parkhill (bass), who helps produce and write some of the songs, Michael Devincenzi (drums) and Fez Garcia (drums) — tells stories about the inherent disparity of life to elicit the beauty that can be found when lost in a place both strange and familiar. By pairing melodic and literary songwriting with rich sonic textures formed from luminous Latin strings and intricate syncopation, their music evokes transience and wanderlust, the feeling of being on a journey without end.

Castillo describes himself as a “Colorado native” with Chilean roots. His mother is from Santiago, the Chilean capital, and he described growing up as “sort of back and forth,” with time split between South America and Colorado. This allowed him to be exposed to Chilean folk artists and activists such as Victor Jara and Violeta Parra, who Castillo said are huge influences on Kiltro’s sound today. While his parents aren’t musicians themselves, they are music lovers and exposed him to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and even Don McLean at a young age, effectively instilling a life-long passion for music in Castillo. 

READ: Music In Limbo: The Strange, Ambient World of Kiltro

Kiltro“I’ve always loved music,” Castillo said, recalling fond memories of singing in the car and dancing around the house when he was about six years old, a fun fact Castillo’s mom often reminds him of. Eventually, he asked for piano lessons, but after a few solid years of practice, Castillo’s musical education was put on pause as he changed schools. Instead of giving up altogether, he found his father’s old guitar and started learning something new — he’s never looked back since.

But Castillo wasn’t really sure what the life of a full-time musician looked like until he discovered his piano teacher’s daily schedule. What he saw were mystical days filled with music.

It was all coffee shop, restaurant gigs and small venues, nothing glamorous or lucrative. Yet he understood this was what making a living playing looked like, and he was perfectly content with that. “That’s the first time I remember being like, ‘I want to do that,’ Castillo said. “Not even the big star thing, but working tirelessly, playing shitty gigs. I could do it all the time.” This early dedication to the purity of creation is reflected in his approach to making music, which he described as “sincere and authentic.”

The name “Kiltro” came about while working as a tour guide in Valparaiso, Chile. The word is Chilean slang for “street dog” or “mutt,” which wander the streets in Valparaiso day and night. It’s a word that represents many things for Castillo. The initial inspiration came from the many different kinds of people he met as a tour guide, from homeless and drunks to tourists and artisans. It allowed him to see a disparity between humans while also recognizing the ties that bind us all together such as location, shared experience and emotion. He began to work on the pieces of a song titled “Kiltro.” But as he worked, he started to recognize the term as representative of how he was feeling internally. “Little by little, it just became the moniker,” Castillo said. “But it also took on another meaning for me.”

READ: Kiltro Talk Creatures of Habit and Existential Dilemmas

“When I was in Chile, it was sort of hard to figure out my own identity. I had a friend who told me ‘You’re never going to be fully Chilean or fully American and I don’t know why you want to be either so badly.’ I think a lot of kids have mixed heritage childhood experiences and don’t feel fully in one place or the other and are insecure about not being, in my case, Chilean enough. So, ‘Kiltro’ being a mixed breed dog felt empowering.”KiltroKiltro, as a project, has evolved greatly since its inception. On the 2019 debut album, Creatures of Habit, the stories came externally, largely from observations Castillo made while living in Valparaiso. “The idea with Creatures of Habit was definitely to tell a multitude of stories from different perspectives,” he said. “Sometimes I find it easier to write about things that are happening in my life if they’re happening through a character. It gives me strength to have honesty and indulge a feeling that may feel irrational and situate it differently.”

In the earlier days of Kiltro, it was just Castillo, a looping pedal and his guitar, along with a bunch of other effect pedals. He described these looping days as fun but stressful while emphasizing the freedom looping can give an artist. The artist creates soundscapes that serve as structures they can build on, adding layers and improvising over.

But Kiltro is no longer a one-person project. In addition to Castillo, the band now features Will Parkhill on bass, who also helps produce and write some of the songs, and two drummers, Michael Devincenzi and Fez Garcia. Castillo described the interaction between the two drummers as “super dynamic and very intricate” and a lot of fun, given their propensity for improvisation. The band has helped elevate Kiltro’s already powerful performances, accentuating the ability to “create a space where people can feel immersed in the music.” It allows Castillo a stronger sense of “confidence that if we’re locked in, we’re feeding off of the audience and off of each other” leading to a greater sense of immersion.

The addition of the band is not the only evolution that has occurred. Castillo referred to Creatures of Habit as Kiltro’s “extroverted” album while Underbelly is their “introverted one.” The album’s inception came from a wish to depart from certain techniques and tools he’d come to rely on and what he described as a “changing of interests.”

Castillo wanted to look inward for Underbelly, searching forwhat happens when everything falls away.”

“What you’re left with is all this internal noise and the landscape of your own mind and imagination. Meanwhile, you’re getting these ideas of the world from your phone. There’s kind of a constant buzzing that’s happening, but it’s hard to tell if it’s coming from inside or from outside, and so Underbelly to me feels a lot more introspective and disoriented.”

Kiltro As with Creatures of Habit, Underbelly feels deeply literary. The former took inspiration from the concept of magical realism, a genre developed and popularized by Latin authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jose Saramago. It grounds a story in reality while depicting fantastical concepts as mundane, magic as something completely commonplace like folding clothes or drinking a glass of water.

Castillo describes Underbelly as more akin to Japanese author Haruki Murakami, whose works such as Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles can be difficult to describe. They tend to feature rather innocuous, content protagonists having the rug swept out from under them, which descends into strange worlds beneath the surface of our own.

Kiltro’s music is often paranoid yet darkly humorous, with recurring ideas that encourage the reader to look at the world a little deeper. Underbelly reaches a similar feeling as Castillo takes you with him while he struggles to understand himself and the world he finds himself in.

These ideas are reflected in Underbelly‘s decidedly more experimental and psychedelic approach. The album achieves these ethereal moments that feel intangible, as if Castillo is grasping for meaning somewhere deep within and finding no clear answers. It’s an intensely relatable feeling that’s simultaneously comforting. Everyone gets lost within themselves from time to time. It’s not about finding our way out, but continuing to search within.

Underbelly‘s final single, “Softy” is out now. Check out the track below, and get excited for Underbelly‘s release this Friday. Lastly, catch Kiltro’s upcoming tour, which features stops in Detroit, Nashville and many more.

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