In Spanish, quiltro means street dog, a mixed-breed mutt often found roaming city streets. Fittingly, Denver-based Kiltro, which took its name from that word, draws from an array of sounds and musical genres, from Chilean folk music to the ambient stylings of Brian Eno and spiraling prog-rock, creating a sound that's like a mutt itself.
Growing up, frontman Chris Bowers-Castillo split his time between Colorado and Chile and draws inspiration from the bands he listened to along the way, including Radiohead and Grizzly Bear as well as Chilean folk musicians.
“I used to live in Valparaíso, Chile, which has one of the highest concentrations of street dogs in the world," says Bowers-Castillo. "People take care of them, and they’re part of the city’s community. I’m of mixed race, so there’s an aspect of that in the name, but more than anything, Kiltro is about how things blend together."
His lyrics are rooted in Chile; most of his songs tell stories that take place in Valparaíso and real or imaginary cities close to it. "Curicó," named after the town in Chile, follows an unreliable narrator who's convinced he's seen a ghost on his journey into the town.
“Valparaíso is an inspiring place with a mix of so many different cultures," says Bowers-Castillo. "It had its golden age when people were stopping there to get to California during the Gold Rush, so a lot of people settled there from all over the world, built mansions and houses. But then the economy crashed when the Panama Canal was built; everyone left, and there were a ton of artists and musicians left. There’s a lot that imagery built into the bones of the songs.”
When Bowers-Castillo founded Kiltro a year and a half ago, he was its sole member. But as his layered and melodic songwriting evolved, he accumulated two bandmates whom he met at CU Boulder. Will Parkhill came on board to play guitar in May 2018, and Michael DeVincenzi started playing drums for Kiltro late last year.
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“It started out as a solo acoustic project, but I gradually started incorporating effects pedals, looping, ambient stuff and putting percussive elements on top of all that,” Bowers-Castillo says.
And it didn’t take long for his songwriting — which DeVincenzi and Parkhill agree is rhythmic, with bold melodies that can stand entirely on their own — to grow in scale, too.
“I hit a wall with [playing solo acoustic]," Bowers-Castillo says. "I was out hitting the open-mic circuit, but I couldn’t be readily available in an emotional sense [to do that well]. The songs were written in a melancholy and dark way, but I don’t necessarily feel that way all the time. The looping and effects [and eventually turning Kiltro into a full band] were responses to that."
Kiltro says that Victor Jara, an iconic figure in Chilean political music, and Chilean composer and songwriter Violeta Parra inspired him as a child. Both Jara and Parra helped cultivate the "Nuevo Canción" (New Song) anti-government movement in their home country.
"The New Song was a bit more melodic and inspired by Western music, but largely based on genres like cueca, which is a traditional Chilean style that incorporates a lot of syncopated rhythms on the seconds and thirds. It sounds a bit like a waltz, but it accentuates that even further,” Bowers-Castillo says.
All those influences inspire Kiltro to create freewheeling Latin rhythms that include sprawling, densely looped guitars and the ambient noise characteristic of modern prog-rock. Bowers-Castillo’s effervescent vocals bounce between English and Spanish.
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“The whole album is meant to be a variety of different perspectives that exist within the same world, and that’s how the songs were originally conceived," Bowers-Castillo says. "Having Michael and Will in the band has definitely changed the songs and given them more dynamism, and they understand the concept and the drive of the idea so well that they’ve done a better job than I have writing parts for drums or guitar."
Even in its infancy, the band is what the Denver music scene needs: something different.
"We’re starting to see fans showing up at every show, and people have been really receptive to our music," Bowers-Castillo says. "But now and then, our sound is challenging for some audience members, and they have to come to terms with what’s happening on stage."