Kiltro's Chris Bowers Castillo: Q&A
Throughout National Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15-October 15, FUV focuses on Hispanic/Latine musicians we admire via a series of Q&As, including Pachyman, Kiltro's Chris Bowers Castillo (below), Omar Apollo, and Black Pumas' Adrian Quesada.
One of the most distinctive bands that's emerged from Denver's music scene is Kiltro, which deftly blends trippy psychedelic rock jams, hazy shoegaze, funk, and a whirl of South American rhythms into a mesmerizing soundscape. That intoxicating sound is evident on their second album, Underbelly, which came out in late spring.
Kiltro's frontman Chris Bowers Castillo and his bandmates — bassist Will Parkhill, drummer Michael Devincenzi, and touring percussionist Fez Garcia — just wrapped their 2023 North American tour on the last day of summer, returning home to Denver for that closing gig.
Castillo, who brings his Chilean-American background into the textures and themes of Underbelly, chatted with FUV for a Q&A about the new album, recorded in the thick of the pandemic, and how bridging Colorado and Chile has played into Kiltro's group psyche:
"Guanaco," from your new album Underbelly, refers to a South American mammal, similar to a llama or vicuna, that spits — and it is also Chilean slang for police vehicles that hose down protestors with water. While Underbelly is not a wholly political album, this single is impactful and important for you. Was there a specific incident that inspired it and what is the challenge of writing a protest song?
I wrote “Guanaco” following the 2019 protests for a new constitution in Chile. The police were extremely aggressive, and I think it took a remarkable amount of bravery to be on the front line of a protest like that, and also a fair bit of idealism. I was interested in that tension between fear of personal harm, which is very inward and isolating, and the solidarity of fighting for a cause alongside other people. As such, I don’t know that “Guanaco” is a protest song so much as an attempt to capture that tension between the personal and the social, which is a theme that I was very interested in during the recording process of Underbelly in general.
There's a dreamy, hazy psychedelia that drifts through songs like "Kerosene," whereas "All the Time in the World" draws on the syncopated rhythms of South American folk. That surreal journey of Underbelly, straddles two worlds — and you grew up between Colorado and Chile. How did that pull between locales and culture shape you artistically? Personally?
The simple answer is that I make what I want to hear. I think that’s the starting point. My personal experience is absolutely informed by having grown up listening to Chilean artist like Victor Jara and Violeta Parra, as well as “western” bands like Deerhunter and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and more recently Moses Sumney. I think Chilean music of La Nueva Canción in particular has such playful dynamism in its melodies, and the lyrics are so wonderfully written and emotive. There’s things I can point to as influences, but I think that when music educates you in some way that a kind of expression is possible, you end up sublimating it in your own writing.
Much of Underbelly was born during the pandemic, when you couldn't tour and work out new material in front of an audience. So how was the birth of this new album different for you? What adventurous spaces were you able to access with an alternate, and more isolated, process?
The recording process for Underbelly was very much informed by the pandemic. We couldn’t bring these songs to public spaces and try them out in front of audiences because of Covid, and so the conversation in terms of the composition and production felt somewhat one-sided. In that sense, I felt a little in the dark about what I was doing, and with too many options in the studio. On the other hand, there’s an incredible freedom to that, because you can follow any idea to its natural conclusion, which makes for songwriting that’s more unusual and unique. I very much imagined Underbelly to be more of a headphone-listening album, because that’s how it was put together.
Although Kiltro began as your solo project, it has expanded to a quartet of bassist Will Parkhill, who also writes and produces with you, and two drummers, Michael Devincenzi and Fez García. Not many bands have two drummers — how does their input make Kiltro's sound distinctive as a rock band and how has it inspired your songwriting?
Will and I have a similar way of thinking about songs in terms of their momentum and texture. We also love to experiment and both have very idealistic dispositions when it comes to concepts and “world building,” especially in that early stages of production. This also gets in our way as we’re painfully perfectionistic. Will is excellent at identifying how something feels in the moment, where I get lost in details and confuse what I’m hearing for what I should be hearing. In that sense, Will helps us find true north.
I love playing in a band. I realized early on that life as a solo artist is somewhat lonely, and at the end of the day there’s only so much that I can contribute to a concept on my own. The band pulls ideas from the music that I didn’t realize were there. It’s interesting to see what their interpretations of sections are, because it often differs to mine and I’m open to songs moving in drastically different directions than I had intended if it sounds good. Also, with two drummers, you never have to worry about the momentum of the song, and it’s such an experience live. During shows, I’ll often get distracted from whatever I’m supposed to be doing by some incredible, complex fill they pulled off together. It’s really engaging.
How did the Denver music scene nurture Kiltro and what do you find distinctive about it?
I’ll always feel indebted and grateful to Denver for helping us come up. From radio stations like INDIE 102.3 to the fans that showed up in the very early days of the band. I think Denver has a lot of music lovers who don’t just go to see the big artists and who are eager to support local acts whose music they enjoy. I think people who move to Denver for the lifestyle also seem to value a sense of community, and that’s what live music is all about. You really feel that at festivals like Underground Music Showcase.
National Hispanic Heritage Month begins on September 15 — is there a particular Chilean musician or writer that has influenced you, whom you don't believe has gotten the accolades that they deserve and why?
Roberto Bolaño. He’s a fantastic Chilean writer who spent a lot of time in Mexico. He wrote a book called The Savage Detectives that was a huge influence on me, particularly during the writing of Creatures of Habit.
Are there any charities or non-profit organizations that are particularly meaningful for you and why?
Also, Joy’s Kitchen. My friend Markus Puskar, who did the artwork for our first album as well as the “Guanaco” single, recently completed a podcast called Candy Jail for KGNU about food waste in the US and the history of the supermarket, and in it he interviews the owner of Joy’s Kitchen. It’s a non-profit that focuses on food waste, and provides food for a lot of people.