Pitt’s Chris Kilburg crafts midsummer melodies


Image via Chris Kilburg

Chris Kilburg, a University employee of nearly a decade, recently released his first complete album entitled “Early August.”

By Alex Dolinger, Staff Writer

Chris Kilburg is a man of few words and many talents.

His songs, though they lack words, are still meant to tell stories. His debut album, “Early August,’’ consists of 11 lyricless songs which, when listened to in order, offer a definite beginning, middle and end.

Kilburg released the beachy, acoustic instrumental album, written and performed solely by him, on July 23. The song titles relate to various aspects of the outdoors and nature, from “Cloudburst” to “Octopus Dance” and are the perfect “soundtrack to a summer day,” according to Kilburg. The official album description on Bandcamp refers to it as “part Beatles, part Nintendo, part clouds and sunshine and trees and sky.”

Kilburg has been a musician since childhood, and a Pitt employee for nearly a decade. He has been working on improving “Early August” since he released the first demo version 10 years ago, while also juggling his position as the supervisor of bulk mail services at Pitt and being a father to his three children.

“I don’t get a lot of time to work on [my music],” he said, laughing.

Creating the songs was quite time-consuming, Kilburg said, because he had to write, play and record the numerous layers of instruments featured in each. Everything on the album is his doing, and it’s all homemade — Kilburg’s music setup lives in his dining room and living room, where he records all of his songs.

Kilburg created the recordings with an audio interface on his personal computer. After a song was composed, he recorded each instrument’s part individually before combining them to create a full piece.

Amy Amrhein, 44, a resident of Brentwood, the manager of mailing services at Pitt and supporter of local musicians, said she was excited to support someone she knows and works with. She first listened to Kilburg’s album in her home with her family, asking their Amazon Echo to play it.

“We’re all really proud of Chris,” she said. “I thought that’s cool when you know someone who has music out, and you can just tell Alexa to play Chris Kilburg and there it is.”

Kilburg has been making music his whole life. He began experimenting with the guitar when he was 13 before learning to play other instruments like the xylophone and drums. His musical tastes and the styles he later adopted were inspired by the bands he grew up listening to.  

“I grew up listening to bands like the Beatles, the Beach Boys and John Denver — my parent’s old records,” he said. “I think you hear a lot of the Beatles in some of [my] guitar work.”

Kilburg also grew up with friends to collaborate with, like Tom Esch. The two friends were in a band together in high school, and would practice every Saturday, typically for 12 hours at a time. Esch is an adjunct professor of history and politics but, like Kilburg, has always found time to make music. Esch said the two act as a “behind-the-scenes sounding board” for each other.

“We trust each other so much we inundate each other with parts of the process that we absolutely wouldn’t with other people,” he said.

When it comes to future projects, “Early August” is part of a series of albums Kilburg would like to create about the four seasons. A demo is currently in the works for an album about autumn, and it’s coming along smoothly. But it’s not always smooth sailing with these kinds of projects, and the spring album is a source of confusion.

“I’m having a lot of trouble composing the album for spring. It’s been mysterious in revealing itself to me,” Kilburg said.

When thinking about the next steps in his musical journey, he is mostly interested in getting the word out about this new body of work. Kilburg, like many artists, is chasing the dream of making a steady income from music, and he doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

“I think the instrumental aspect of the music lends it to be used as background music for licensing,” he said. “I’m definitely interested in looking at that route.” 

Kilburg’s biggest dream as a musician is simple and reminiscent of the childhood that created the artist he is today. He isn’t very interested in playing live to giant stadiums.

“I’d love to press my music into a record one day,” he said.

Esch agrees. Kilburg has more music up his sleeve, and isn’t ready to be done with music now that “Early August” is out in the world.

“I want people to know that Chris isn’t just a one-off, he’s got more to come,” Esch said.

Making music is a permanent fixture in Kilburg’s life, and provides him with another outlet of communication and self-expression. His music is a reflection of his own quiet and calming nature.

“I think a lot of the music that I write is sort of like a self-portrait,” Kilburg said. “It speaks for my character.”

“Early August” by Chris Kilburg can be streamed on all major music streaming platforms.