Q&A — Fruta Brutal Exalts Life & Culture on “Cultura Vampira”

All good things must come to an end. But one good thing is just beginning. Though not yet a staple in the Denver music scene, Martín Better’s project Fruta Brutal is vying for a spot in the gallery with the release of his second single “Cultura Vampira,” released on August 26, from his forthcoming debut album. Honing his craft with Grammy Award-winning, New Orleans-based producer Mack Major, the album is sure to hit to the scene with no small amount of impact. 303 Magazine was able to chat with Better about his music, cultural identity and the impressive-yet-underrepresented Latin music scene in Denver.

303 Magazine: Tell me some of Fruta Brutal’s history — how did the project come to fruition?

Martín Better: Fruta Brutal started in 2018 when, after a year-long backpacking trip through South America, I returned to New Orleans to finish college. During the backpacking trip, I deepened my understanding and exposure to the music of Latin America, which I had grown up listening to during my childhood in Ecuador. Upon my return to the U.S., I had a strong desire to create a bilingual musical project that synthesized Latin American rhythms with indie-rock-pop influences.

In addition to the mixture of musical styles, I also wanted to convey a message of celebration of cultural diversity. Hence, the name “Fruta Brutal” is a tribute to musical movements that emerge as a response to oppression, calling to mind cultural fruits that ripen under brutal conditions. The name is emblematic of the resiliency of the Tropicália movement in Brazil and the rock movement in Argentina, amongst others.

As an Ecuadorian immigrant, I’ve always dreamed about touring North, Central and South America with a full band. I hope that Fruta Brutal’s debut album, coming out later this year, will be the first big step in bringing this dream to fruition, enabling the necessary connections and enough listenership to take a four- or five-member band on the road, and playing at reputable music venues throughout the Americas.

Martin Better of Fruta Brutal

Photo courtesy of Fruta Brutal

Though not Better’s first musical exploration, having dabbled in bands as a teen growing up in Boulder and again as a young adult playing guitar in New Orleans, Fruta Brutal is “the first musical project with a repertoire of [Better’s] original music.” Better took the time to find his unique sound before hitching his horse to the right wagon: Denver producer Danny Pauta, of the Mañanas and Neoma, lent his skills to the debut project.

303: Tell me about what you adore and what you’d like to improve about the Denver music scene?

Better: Though I’ve only recently started immersing myself in the local scene (since 2020), Denver appears to offer an incredible network, filled with opportunities for connection and growth. With festivals like the Underground Music Showcase, Westword [Music Showcase] and others that showcase local talent, as well as various high-quality venues to play at, I find that local artists are well equipped with the necessary tools to get their music out there. I also find the local Latin American music scene to be vibrant, with various established bilingual acts like Neoma, Los Mocochetes, Pink Hawks, the Mañanas, Katiriax, Lolita and more. In comparison to New Orleans, the Indie Latin music scene in Denver is much more alive and “happening,” and I’m glad to be a part of it.

Even still, I do find that a large part of the Latinx population in Denver is not engaging with the abovementioned artists, resources, venues and festivals, and that, collectively, more outreach should be done to get this community involved with the local scene. From what I’ve experienced, for the most part, the local scene consists of predominantly Anglo-white English-language bands, and though Latin American acts are beginning to heavily shape the scene, the greater population of the audience that is accessing the local scene is not Latinx and not very diverse.

303: What’s the story behind “Cultura Vampira”? It’s an immensely fun song and video. However, as someone who does not speak Spanish fluently, I am only picking up bits, pieces and vibes concerning the lyrics.

Better: Wow, I am so glad you enjoyed it! “Cultura Vampira,” Fruta Brutal’s latest single, is about a vampire that has been around for ages and is fed up with his immortality. He organizes decadent social events with his vampire friends to occupy his time and mind, drink human blood, play music, dance with human prisoners and fill the immortal void. Once the party is over, however, the protagonist is left alone, yearning once more for his past life as a mortal. Despite all the power, prestige and lavish life he has acquired as a vampire, he returns to his coffin to begin the immortal cycle again, knowing that “the dance of life is more meaningful when you know it must come to an end” — “el baile de la vida tiene más sentido cuando sabes que se debe terminar.”

I have a fascination with vampires and the immortality, power and sensuality they represent. Though this is my only song about vampires, many of my songs explore the theme of mortality and reference the finite aspects of our lives as humans. It was a great creative challenge to put myself in the perspective of an immortal vampire, and envision the social and cultural situations such a creature might experience. Since culture is an ever-evolving thing, the name “Cultura Vampira” is somewhat contradictory, given the permanence of the vampiric experience. Vampires would need a human element to experience “culture” in its essence.

“Cultura Vampira” is a winding exploration of Latin music at its most intriguing. Combining classic elements such as rhythmic acoustic guitar with an electronic subtext, the catchy tune breathes life into the electric bass as it searches for its next victim. Believe me, you can’t shake this one from your brain. The melody sticks to the mind like meat to bones, but with moments of tenderness interspersed that deviate the track’s sound from other Latin pop.

Pillar-like downbeats punctuate the track, nodding to a dense love and understanding of the roots of this music. Fruta Brutal edged away from his bread-and-butter funk-laden pop to turn out a song with heart, memory and no small amount of blood.

303: In a world where art is often monetized and pumping out content becomes imperative for independent artists, what inspires you to keep creating? 

Better: I honestly couldn’t picture a life without creating music and performing live. In comparison to most artists I know, it takes me a long time to write songs. I have only recently developed a repertoire that can fill the slot for headlining a show. As far as pumping out content, I feel like now is “go time” since I have my sound, excellent musicians and an effective production team in place.

Oftentimes, when I’m feeling overwhelmed by the competitiveness and saturation of the music industry, I’ll reflect on the original desire, which led me to form Fruta Brutal in the first place: to create worthwhile content that celebrates cultural diversity. That’s when I’m able to block out the noise and my fears, center myself on the band’s purpose and message and continue creating. I strive to create content that is aligned with my identity as an immigrant and have fun redefining what this identity means to me while trying to create music supported by visual content that will be entertaining and moving for both English- and Spanish-speaking audiences.

Fruta Brutal performs as a quartet with Matthew Cantor on bass, Michel Stahli on drums, Leo Muñoz on percussion, Ben Weirich on synth and Martín Better Longo on lead vocals and guitar. Stay up to date on future Fruta Brutal shows by following them on socials.