Kiltro Go Behind the Scenes on Underbelly Track By Track

Music Features Kiltro
Kiltro Go Behind the Scenes on Underbelly Track By Track

Underbelly, the sophomore album from Denver alt-mainstays Kiltro, arrives in perfect fashion. While the earliest song from the project came out as far back as 2021 (“Cuchito”), the last three singles (“Guanaco,” “All the Time in the World” and “Softy”) have done nothing but solidify the band as one of the most exciting acts around. And, by fusing Latin roots with contemporary alternative textures, Kiltro keep themselves bold in the wake of their most-transformative effort yet.

Under the tutelage of singer/songwriter Chris Bowers Castillo, he—along with bassist Will Parkhill and drummer Michael Devincenzi—reflects and presents a world that doesn’t aim to be a political manifesto but an energetic translation of the environment around them. That vulnerability gets translated perfectly through Bowers Castillo’s evocative vision and lyricism, turning Underbelly into one of the most-passionate rock projects of the year. With Underbelly out tomorrow, we caught up with Bowers Castillo about the inspirations, instrumentations and thematic impulses behind every track on the album.

Despite being the first song on Underbelly, “Crazy (In the Absence)” was its final addition. It’s the sister song of “Crazy,” which appears later in the album. I had planned on doing a quick acoustic version of the song for the sake of it, and soon found myself fixated on getting it right until it became its own piece. Will and I decided it felt like a kind of prologue, and that it belonged right at the beginning.

I feel proud of this one. So many of our tracks are unrestrained in terms of the samples, loops and textural details we add, so it felt relieving to work on something more stripped back. The bass line near the end of the song is actually several takes of Will’s bass cut up into individual notes and slides and pieced back together. I ended up losing the entire thing after hours of work and having to redo it, but I’d like to believe I did a better job the second time.

Lyrically, it’s pretty abstract. I don’t want to get too into it as I like to keep it open to interpretation, but it was written late into quarantine at a time where I was struggling to re-enter the world and had become somewhat sedentary and fragile. It mirrors “Crazy” in many ways and feels like the same emotional story told from a different perspective.

For context, a guanaco is an animal a bit like a llama that spits. In Chile, it’s a term also used to refer to police vehicles that shoot water at protestors. I wrote “Guanaco” in 2019 during the Chilean protests for a new constitution, which makes it the earliest Underbelly song. It was inspired by the incredible and shocking images and video that came out of Santiago at the time, of massive demonstrations and police violence. The line “ya viene el guanaco” means “here comes the guanaco,” and I loved how it gave the song a kind of mythological quality, as if some great beast were coming to tear everything apart.

I think it’s difficult to write an explicitly political song without being heavy handed, and that was never the aim. The idea was to capture the strange mix of anxiety and resolve in the face of political opposition and state violence. I feel there is something very personal and inward about the song despite it taking place in a crowd, which I think is an important dimension of it as it anticipates the direction we’d take with the rest of the album. It’s solitary and afraid, but driven by some cathartic impulse to keep marching forward. It felt like an album opener at the time that I wrote it, and while it’s technically the second song, I still feel it’s the true introduction to the events of the album.

Errásuriz is a coastal highway that stretches along the length of Valapraiso in Chile. I used to ride the buses and colectivos (shared taxis) along it on a daily basis. It reminds me of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Swans as that’s what I was listening to in that era. The bay looked black like India Ink at night and there were massive barges with spotlights in the ocean like constellations.

I came up with the original guitar lines quickly, but the song remained nameless for several weeks. The lead arpeggio and bass line gave us a sense of constant motion and wandering. That, coupled with the fact that the song never truly finds a moment of peace, dictated the lyrics, which are about movement and displacement. The lyrics describe a kind of toxic struggle between two people, who may in fact be the same person. One escapes and tries to find rest in perpetual movement.

“All the Time in the World”
“All the Time in the World” took a long time. Not because it was a particularly complex song, but because it existed in a different state for nearly 2 years before it got entirely reworked. It was a headache. The original was much more lo-fi and drone-y, and it didn’t have a chorus. It felt like not quite enough, despite being vibey and interesting. I had to leave the recording alone for months and get back to just playing it on a guitar so that I could familiarize myself with its bones, until it slowly became something else.

It’s a fun song and in my opinion, it’s probably the song that most resembles something off of Creatures of Habit. It was written not long after I’d gotten married, and so there’s a tension there between wanting to stay present to another person while not losing the relationship I’ve cultivated with my own processes and personal expression. Turns out, I didn’t need to choose.

This one is a bit nuts. I originally named it “Crazy” because the demo’s scratch vocals were ad-libbed and had an insistent, absurd quality that never seemed to find resolution. I like to give myself prompts before writing songs, and in this case I decided I would make something quickly and without getting caught up in any kind of mixing or polishing details until late in the process. No stopping or trying to get something to sound technically right. That captured a sort of frenetic wildness that I felt at the time, and it didn’t change dramatically since the initial recording. It’s pent up, dynamic, unlike anything we’ve done before, and I love it.

When I first recorded the demo for “Softy” I didn’t think it sounded like a Kiltro song. We abandoned it for a time and focused on other materials until I eventually rediscovered it and found that it was in fact anticipatory of a shift in style that made a lot of sense in the context of the other works. So much so that it felt pivotal on the album.

I love this song. It feels very intimate to me in that it deals with the contradictory nature of identity, and how the desire for release from our unending internal dialogue and self-critique is undercut by our own addiction to it. I see the line “no further” as a mantra for the shedding of everything unsightly and tragic, but I think it’s also a lament because we’re sad to see it go, and of course, we probably aren’t actually rid of it.

I don’t imagine that this song will be one of our top played but it’s my personal favorite of the album because it’s one of the few things I’ve written that feels deeply true to a moment in time. I had a realization during an anxious period, months into quarantine, that in spite of world events or my own internal discomfort, I’m actually just sitting in a room by myself. The rest of the concept sort of bloomed from there on its own. It deals with “finding the muse” to some extent, but on a deeper level it’s about what comes bubbling up when the world goes quiet. I think that’s a big part of what the entire album is about.

There’s a sample in the song of a screaming voice run through a wall of distortion and fuzz. It just floats like an undercurrent through the entire thing. The song itself is vaguely dissonant but overall pleasant and waltz-y, and the discordance between those two elements made for something unique and personal. If there’s a song on the album that captures the emotional core of Underbelly, for me, it’s probably this one.

“Underbelly” is the narrative center of the album. Will and I very much intended for it to sound like a loud, clanking, cacophony of a city, complete with steam sounds and tires and discordant clattering. Somewhere unreal but lived in. I see it as the core expression of whatever crisis occurs on this album. The pianos were added later and gave it a transcendent quality that I feel complexified the overall picture. So much of this album seems to find resolution in disarray, so it makes sense that the eponymous track would live right on that margin. I’m very proud of all the places this song goes to and the intentionality of its ending.

“What Gives”
“What Gives” is something of an uneasy respite from the chaos. It feels like the calm after a crisis, where you’re left with your own thoughts in an unexpected moment of quiet. I don’t want to dwell too much on the specifics, but from the beginning this track felt like an exasperated sigh, which seemed to lament the fact that after the action, living requires you to merely exist. There is a tired, self-honesty and frankness in that. The second half of the song is something of a flight of fancy that might be catharsis or delusion or escape, or maybe all three. I like the ambiguity of it.

If it isn’t obvious from the album art, Underbelly has a cat trope. It felt appropriate for an album that deals largely with internal landscapes as opposed to a series of stories told in a real, albeit somewhat intangible place, as was the setting for our first release, Creatures of Habit. Stray dogs roam the streets of Valparaíso and encounter people living out their own stories and delusions, and in the context of that first album, acted as a metaphorical vehicle for the interconnectedness of those narratives and perspectives. Cats, on the other hand, are solitary and look around a lot at things that aren’t there.

Cucho is my cat’s name. I watched him sit at the window on one particularly languid afternoon during the pandemic and imagined that his mind also wanders to other places. That place is probably not Valparaíso, but I projected that it was. That said, the song is not exactly about Cucho or Valparaíso. It deals with finding agency in the midst of loneliness and decline. We always planned to end the album on an energetic and empowered note, and Cuchito was the perfect fit. Making it the concluding track seemed to redefine the mood of the song, and by extension the album, and gave it some extra depth and power. It feels like a farewell that is very much forward-facing.

I also just really like it. It’s one of my favorite of Will’s bass lines, and I love that we had set out to make a cumbia song in 7/4, and that this track is what we ended up with.

Underbelly is out 06/02.

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