Maritza Núñez, front woman of the band Bitter, catches up with She Shreds on the power of representation on stage.
When Maritza Núñez was 14, she used to sit in her bedroom pretending to play guitar to songs by Joan Jett, Paramore, and teenage Shakira. Her desire to be a musician always grew out of her love for female artists. By the time she reached 15, Núñez started taking her guitar practice more seriously. Now at 22, she’s best known around the Atlanta music scene as the vocalist and guitarist for independent punk band Bitter.
The “punk” part, however, is a label she’s more or less trying to get rid of. Núñez was working on a solo project two years ago when guitarist Nadav Flax saw her perform and asked her if she was interested in starting a band. One self-titled EP, dozens of shows, and a few changes in bandmates later—now with a lineup of Núñez, Flax, Haseena Pera on bass, and Nadir Baaset on drums— Núñez has gained the confidence to move the band in the direction she wants it to grow in.
“I’m definitely less afraid to express that I don’t like something now as a musician, because I used to be really afraid that I’d step on toes and stuff, but I’ve learned now that musicians aren’t like that,” she tells She Shreds. “A good musician is inclined to criticism, because if not, then you’d be playing music you don’t like.”
Whereas in Bitter’s earlier days, Núñez wrote “simple foundations” for the chords and melodies and everybody else added what they wanted to her lyrics, creating the punk sound the band initially became known for, she’s now shifted her focus to a more relaxed, jazzier approach inspired by the likes of Amy Winehouse and Kali Uchis. The one thing that has largely remained the same is her desire to continue making music in both English and Spanish.
As a Mexican-American artist, Núñez, who grew up in Houston before moving to Roswell, Georgia at age 15, culture is an essential part of her musical inspiration and often finds its way into Bitter’s songs. “I like to listen to Mexican folk songs that are really depressing, like Chavela Vargas, even if I’m not sad,” Núñez laughs.
That pain and heartbreak Vargas bares in her songs is a core element of the themes Núñez explores in her own lyrics. And yet, the simple but emotive chord progressions from romantic scenes in “the old Mexican films” are a staple in the way she plays her guitar today. The music she’s making now is meant to be more stripped down than Bitter’s earlier work— “music you could play over the dinner table, but it also has lyrics that are like ‘I was thinking of you when I came,” she adds, alluding to Winehouse once again.
It’s clear that for Núñez, the feeling she is able to get across to her audience is the most important thing, and she harnesses that power in the titillating fluctuation of her voice, which she says will take a more prominent role on Bitter’s new material, coming out later this year. In a single released this summer, titled “Water,” she leads the instrumentation from a delicate whisper to vivacious growl in a matter of seconds.
As Bitter booked shows opening for Julien Baker and Chicanx bedroom pop artist Cuco, Núñez realized she was resonating with audiences on another level, too: again and again, young Latinx people, girls especially, came up to her after shows to tell her how much it meant to see someone that looked like them onstage.
“There’s a huge need for this because people are coming out, and they love it,” she says. “They talk to you after shows and they tell you how much they appreciate it and how blown away they are.”
Being able to reinforce that visibility and show Latinx kids that they matter has become a huge driving force for her both personally and creatively, especially given today’s political climate. This past summer, she started a new band called Ellas with three other Mexican friends—Jacqueline Ruvalcaba Perales and Rosalia and Mireya Parra—to have fun and motivate young women of color to pursue their own artistic passions.
Finding that joy and liberation, says Núñez, is establishing a political presence in and of itself, which is why she doesn’t necessarily want to include overtly political messages in her songs. Instead, she wants to give people of color a space to have fun and break out of the box that if you are an oppressed person, your music has to focus on that oppression.
“If it comes out of you, if you want to be a political band, then you can, but just because you’re a bunch of brown kids that want to make music, you don’t have to make political music,” Núñez concludes. “You can do whatever the fuck you want.”