VICE Magazine: We Interviewed Teri Gender Bender From Le Butcherettes
As many times as we’ve heard Morrissey exclaim through multiple songs and various PETA campaigns that meat is, in fact, a murderous act, it’s hard to ignore how cool of a stage prop it can actually be. I mean, who doesn’t like a severed, bloody pig’s head in conjunction with their favorite band? Since 17, Teresa Suarez, aka Teri Gender Bender, founder and guitarist of Mexican garage Punk band, Le Butcherettes, has been using blood and gore for her live performances for reasons that extend far beyond the grotesque, and into the ideals and ethics of the importance of the feminist movement.
With Sylvia Plath, Kathleen Hanna, and Chilean musician and artist, Violeta Parra as ongoing influences. Teri, now 23, has evolved from her days as a teen armed with a guitar and a bloody apron, into a woman who refuses to lose that fiery, teenage angst that continues to spread the word of feminism to whomever is willing to give a shit. Having already completed her sophomore album with fellow band members Lia Braswell (drums), and bassist/The Mars Volta , At The Drive-In guitarist, Omar Rodriguez Lopez, Le Butcherettes’ newest record will be less blood on stage mixed with literary references musically than their debut, SIN SIN SIN, but more references and possible inspiration from living life in a new country on Cry Is For The Flies. We interviewed Teri to find out what’s what.
VICE: You recently played Coachella. How was it?
Teri Gender Bender: It was crazy. We played around 1:55 pm, so it was really hot. I think that the set went by swell. Lia [Braswell, drummer], and Omar [Rodriguez Lopez , who’s on bass now, were fine, the heat didn’t affect them, but the heat got to me. I had a migraine the whole festival and I couldn’t even watch any bands, I had to go lay down in the van and ended up throwing up the whole time, and it happened both weekends.The heat was just terrible. But it was great. I’m not complaining.
Oh man, I’m such a wimp when it comes to the heat. I actually passed out for the first time last summer due to the heat, so I understand completely.
Did you drink a lot of water?
No, and I think that’s why I ended up passing out. I only had one beer, but that combined with the heat was enough to knock my ass to the ground.
Yeah, you gotta keep hydrated.
If I was a water drinker, or more of one, then perhaps I wouldn’t have died temporarily.
It’s hard to be a water drinker cause you’re doing lots of things….
It ain’t easy fitting it into your schedule, but during the time of your own lack of hydration, were you still able to see any bands or were there bands you wish you could have seen??
I wanted to see The Hives and The Flying Lotus. I also wanted to see Doctor Dre and the Tupac hologram. The bodys’ so fragile, and boom, you never know, you just end up doing that. But I got to see a little bit of At The Drive In, but only a couple of songs and then I had to go back to the little van. It wasn’t just a migraine it was one of those pains where even when you smell it would make you sick. And we couldn’t leave right away because I wanted to be considerate. Lea wanted to stay and see some bands, Omar was actually playing with At the Drive In. But The Hives I heard went crazy
Yeah I heard they put on a great show.
So you didn’t go this year?
If I wasn’t really poor and didn’t live so far away (I live in Boston), then I totally would have gone.
Oh, wow, I’ve never been to Boston but it’s one of those places that I would really like to visit someday. I’ve heard it’s really nice.
What? You’ve never been to Beantown? You gotta get out here! You’d like it.
Have you heard of Amanda Palmer?
Have I heard of Amanda Palmer?! Of course!
She’s from there, right? Or she used to live there?
Oh, yeah, she’s from here. I actually grew up in the town right next door to where she grew up. But yeah, The Dresden Dolls started off in Boston and you should make a point to get out here soon, m’dear.
So you were born there then?
I did. I grew up like fifteen minutes outside of Boston and then relocated to the West Coast for a few years. But after awhile I missed living on the East Coast and had to come back. It’s like, if you’ve lived on both sides, you just identify with one over the other and the East Coast is it.
I honestly think that East Coast people lose themselves more in their work than in their life. On the West Coast I have a lot of great friends—and I’m not dissing them—who’ve lost themselves to smoking weed. People move to the West Coast to pursue their career; on the East Coast everything is more motivating. I’d like to live there someday.
It’s a lot more fast-paced than out west for sure. But definitely, you should live out here. I really think you’d like it. But hey! I wanted to ask you another Coachella-related question: Did you really throw your keyboard into the audience?
Yeah, I got frustrated, and it always happens with that keyboard. It’s a little Casio and it’s used to play at shows, and I’ve always had a strong attachment to it because it was a keyboard that I would use in my Mexican days when I would play little shows. At Coachella it started malfunctioning and no sound would come out of it so I said, “Ya know what? Bye-bye keyboard, we’ve had some great times together,” and then I threw it.
Did you take anyone out?
I hope not [Laughs]. I remember throwing it and looking at everyone and kind of being like, “Be ready for this,” because before I wasn’t considerate enough to let the crowd know that I was going to throw something and one time I ended up dislocating some guy’s shoulder (this was in Guadalajara), so the guy didn’t sue me or anything, but from that point on I said, “I’m gonna look at the crowd before I do something over the top like throwing instruments at them.” So this time at Coachella no one sued me.
I imagine it’s no fun being sued, so you’re lucky. But I was wondering, when you were growing up there was a lot of music in your house. Was your dad being a musician a huge motivation for you to become one yourself?
It was definitely one of the big reasons. Unfortunately, he passed away when I was thirteen, but he really got me interested in music like The Beatles, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, ‘cause that’s all the stuff he liked. I wanted to impress him, ya know? A typical little girl trying to get her daddy’s attention, “Oh look at me I’m the best at everything.” But our last days together, I wasn’t doing very well in school, so I felt like I was failing him because I got kicked out of school for doing a prank. Back then in Denver [where she grew up till age 14] there was a zero tolerance for pranks because of Columbine, so I got kicked out of school and I felt my dad was just—I don’t know—not ashamed, but disappointed in me, and before I could ever show him my songwriting he passed away and thats when I felt so guilty. I said, “Ok, the only way to get rid of this illness in my heart is Fuck it! Pursue this band thing that I’ve had in me this whole time.” And it’s been going so well and I’m just so grateful and I think that anyone that pursues or does something with a philosophy for the love of family or for the love of politics or for the love of just writing, he or she will get to their point until you say stop it. You can have an artificial passion in you, if you want, cause I know some people in Guadalajara [Mexico]who would always make fun of me and be like, “Oh, you’re just some girl playing music. You’re just a show off cause you’re using meat and you’re ridiculous; you’re a clown,” ya know? And they’d also have really good bands but their motive wasn’t—and I know this might sound egotistical—but their motive wasn’t as powerful as mine. My motives were my dad passed; we live very shortly; I’m a woman, I just want to love. I want to avoid thinking about death everyday Their motive was, “Oh, I want to get girls into bed because if I play music people will think I’m a hot guy.” I mean, it wasn’t everyone, but just those people in particular who would call me clown and make fun of me.
If you have gotten shit on stage from people, do you pull a Courtney Love and snarl and spit at them, or do you ignore it?
No, that’s the thing, I never confront it. And maybe at first it was a weakness but now I kinda see it as something that’s given me strength. Let’s see, a simple scenario from everyday life: You go to the bank and you’re in line forever and then someone cuts in front of you. A normal person would be cool and be like, “Hey, you’re cutting in front of me, don’t do that. But me? It’s bad for your insides but I keep quiet and I don’t say anything and I know it’s wrong that this person cut in line but I’m too nice. I’m too much of a stepover, pushover, and at the rock clubs where people would make fun of me or look at me in a degrading way I’d just take it in; I’d even apologize to them, I’d be like, “Ok, you’re right, I’m very sorry, I shouldn’t have sang so loud,” but deep down inside I’d be like, “Ya know what? These people are giving me the weapons, the tools; their hurtful words are just making me want to succeed even more. Because if these people—even the person who cut in line in front of me—were all very nice to me, then I probably would have been lazy and been like, “Ok, I’m cool with this. I’m cool with them being nice to me.”
Sometimes it’s just best to let people have their moments.
Exactly. Let them win their little battles. A social elegance, or whatever. I don’t get a kick out of it at the moment, but in my head I always tell myself, “They’ll see. In a couple of years they’ll see whos gonna be laughing.” And I probably shouldn’t be saying this now because people are going to be saying, “Oh, what a huge ego she has,” but hey, let’s face it, we all have that little voice inside of us, just some people choose to ignore it and others choose to keep on beating it, and I kept on beating it. I still have to confront it and I’m still in that stage where I’m trying to stand up for myself in real life, offstage. But that’s a whole other thing. That will help me grow into a woman. Cause, ya know, when you have kids you’re gonna have to learn to stick up for them someday and I just can’t keep on playing Mrs. Nice Girl. You can’t let your kids push you over or teachers push you over, you’re gonna have to say, “Hey! These are my kids.” Or I don’t know, it’s just an example.
How has feminism strengthened you?
Oh, that’s definitely motivated me completely because when my dad passed, I only had my mother to look up to—and putting aside all the books and the icons I admire—my mother, for me, is the true meaning of a feminist, even though she denies it. It’s kind of ironic that one of the most powerful women I know has denied being called a feminist, and I can understand. The term “feminist” is too little to explain what the true meaning of what a powerful woman is. What I’m trying to say is—to me—feminism is the sky and the ocean because that to me is the most feminine qualities that we have on this Earth; the trees, the forest, that to me is true feminism. But even the word feminism (well, this what my mom was telling me), some women can’t relate to it because it keeps them bound, it labels them when they have so much more to offer, when they have so much more in them; when they’re writers or when they’re mothers or widowers, so I can understand why some women don’t want to be related to that word.
I myself, I don’t care if I’m related to that word. I’m proud of whatever people want to call me, whether it be feminist or hypocrite—and I’ve been called a hypocrite—but that’s the thing (god I’m sounding so pretentious right now cause my head’s so jetlagged), but we are living contradictions and I think we should just take praise in that. For me, feminism helped me a lot because my mom was there for me. To me, feminism is my mother cause she brought up three kids (me and my little brothers), and it effects this country. Mexico, it’s beautiful, there’s just so many injustices towards women of the middle and lower class income and she [Teri’s mother] put up with all of that. She would say to me, “Don’t give up on your dreams. It hurts me, Teri, to see you risking yourself going out on the street towards a bunch of narcs where they throw grenades during battle wars on the street.” She was scared to death of letting me go, but I was a little selfish girl and I said, “Mom, I have to do this because somehow this is a way to mourn my father.” She’s very protective, she would never in her life just let me go on the streets and play little shows, but she let me in those times and for that I am forever grateful. That to me is feminism: when you’re not teaching yourself to be a man or a woman; where you’re just thinking of yourself as energy in general. But on the obvious note, I love Simone de Beauvior. I was reading her at the time when I was going through all that in Mexico.
How about Sylvia Plath?
Oh, of course, I love her.
Talk about such an unbelievably talented woman whose life ended so tragically.
She was with a man who didn’t appreciate her for her complete talent because he was intimidated by her talent. He went off cheating and fucking around on her. That just pisses me off so much! If it happens to amazing writers like Sylvia, it happens to everyone else. It’s so unfair. When will a woman be truly appreciated for her essence and her talent? Every single man philosopher that I admired, if you notice, there’s always something wrong with them; they’re all womanizers. Like Freud—I just watched this movie with Keira Knightley, it’s called A Dangerous Method that’s based on Freud and Carl Jung’s life, but they talk about how they took most of their work influence off of a woman and she was the first psychologist to ever start off [in a career in psychology], and of course both men were married and they cheated on their wives with Keira Knightley. I forget the name of who she played and I won’t make it up [its Sabina Spielrein]. Most of these men had affairs and they didn’t treat their wives with respect and I’ll never understand that. The only one that I’m really aware of that treated their women like gold was [surrealist painter] Dali towards his wife, Gala. He’d always mention her in his work and she would mention him in hers and they really inspired one another; so that was really cool. He wasn’t a cheater or a womanizer, he devoted his whole entire love to one woman. But on the other hand, she would cheat on him once in awhile, so the roles kind of reversed there.
[At this point, due to Teri’s jetlag, we decide to talk a few days later when she finally recovers from the evils of travel].
Hey! So how was the rest of of your weekend?
Oh, good, yeah. We were in the studio recording more songs and when you’re in their time goes by fast.
So that’s what most of your Friday and Saturday consisted of? Recording?
Yeah! But we’re getting used to the time now, finally, and the schedule.
So no more jet lag, I presume?
No more—well—maybe just a little bit; not today cause we had to wake up at 8 in the morning to be at the studio at 9, but deep down inside what I really want to do is go back to sleep and have some dreams.
Sleep is amazing.
And it’s Sunday today and I keep forgetting that most people sleep in.
But whatever, you’re up recording music and stuff while most people aren’t doing anything nearly as cool. Which by the way, how excited are you about the new album coming up?
Honestly, I’m more terrified than excited because once it’s out, people are going to be able to criticize the hell out of it, but I’m very excited to be working on the process of the album. It’s good because it allows me to live in my bubble—the whole recording and sitting in the studio—but once it’s out, oohh, you’re going to need more excuses as to why you’re living in your bubble cause when people might say that the album is bad then that bubble will pop, it’ll pop the little cherry that you have.
Does criticism get to you or do you try to avoid it?
I try not to read them, but my mom, she’s a number one gossiper, and she calls me up and says, “Oh, this guy said this about you, and what should we do to get our vengeance,” and I’m just like, “Don’t tell me these things,” cause it does hurt my feelings and you can’t prevent it from hurting you. I mean, if the album I put out is impersonal, then I probably wouldn’t care because it’s not me trying my best—but I’m always trying my best, so it always gets touchy when people say it sucks, but you can’t win them all.
That’s the downside to being an artist. Once you create something and put it out on display for the public, it’s wide open for criticism and ridicule. Yee haw.
The actual action of putting myself out into the world and getting killed instantly. It’s like the constant reaper and the death of it, I don’t know. But it’s an honor, it’s so cool that it gets to be criticized. Criticism or not, it makes us better at what we do.
In terms of Omar, he’s an “official” member of Le Butcherettes, correct?
Yeah, he’s been the producer of our past albums and now he’s the bassist which is weird calling him, “the bassist,” cause he’s so much more than that. He polishes all the songs, and he has patience for me. I’m really slow because I’m not a studying musician, and neither is he, so I guess that’s why we get along. He obviously has way more years of experience and knows what he’s doing with a guitar or the making of an album. I’m in good hands. He’s kind of like a teacher.
And he was the one who really showed an interest in your band in the beginning….
Yeah. Me and the original drummer [Auryn Jolene], we were in Guadalajara playing a little show and he was there for it. It wasn’t his intention to go see us, it was just being there at the right place at the right time. The lights went out—and he was there to see his friends band—but the lights went out during his friends bands show and we were after them, and I told my girlfriend/drummer at the time, “Hey let’s just go out on stage and keep throwing out the electricity,” and he was there for it and that’s what got his attention. We’re the same kind of people, we don’t take no for an answer, we’re gonna play a show, or do anything because of that little motor inside of us. So the next day we had lunch, all of us, the manager that was with us at the time, him [Omar], Omar’s friend (the one in the band whom he went to go see originally, who later, ironically, became the drummer of my band). But it worked out. During lunch we finally got to know each other to see if we were all good people, and if he [Omar] was a good person because you don’t want to be working with people who are just in it for the show. Like I told you the other day, different philosophies that aren’t so strong like, “Oh, I’m in a band cause I want to get into bed with women,” and there’s so many of that around that it’s like Zombies: you don’t want to get infected by those kinds of people; you want to find your own people that think like you.
Does Lia, the new drummer, rule in comparison to all the other drummers you’ve had? And has her style changed the sound of the band at all?
We went through four drummers and it definitely changes the sound when you’re with a drummer who’s not indicated for you. We went through a drummer who played with a double bass pedal and he would play the songs his way, and honestly, it was my fault for letting him do that. I was just crazy and I wanted to be experimental and I wanted to play my own songs with a different tempo and it completely changes everything; it changes the mood, it even changed the people who would go to our shows. There were a lot more bros and dudes at our shows and it was crazy. But we wanted to get back to the essence of the band, which was find feminine energy to compliment the songs, and Lia played the songs the way that they were originally written, which is less is more. We had Gabe Serbian, the drummer for The Locust for a little while, and he’s a cool guy, but he couldn’t play slower, and it’s like a domino effect in that eventually it changes everything .
And Lia’s only 20, right?
Yeah, she’s only 20, and she’s cool, and she’s just a great person to hang out with. It’s good to have that fresh energy where everything is new and you’re on tour and no one’s complaining. When you tour with people who have toured around everywhere (with the exception of Omar who always feels very lucky to be where he’s at), who are older and who have been around in the touring game for years—when those guys were touring with me they were complaining about everything. I mean, maybe it wasn’t against me but it was probably because they felt that they paid their dues. But the energy in the band—we’re in this together in a way, cause I’m only 23, and touring for me is something new, still. I’ve only been at it for one year.
On SIN SIN SIN, there were references to literary authors and their work. Can we expect to hear more of those on the new album?
I’m going to be honest: no. There isn’t one reference, and it’s not because I wanted to get away from it, it just happened naturally. At the time that I wrote SIN SIN SIN with the references, I was in philosophy school and my whole ambiance was full, all my friends were philosophers, and I was hanging out with people who were, oh, I can’t remember, I can’t think of the word in English, but their religion requires that you only wear sandals and being close to god and trees and nature, so that’s why on SIN SIN SIN the influence came on mentioning a lot of philosophers. On the new album, which is called Cry Is For The Flies, I was completely away from all that cause it was just when I was moving to the states and leaving Mexico behind, I felt vulnerable, you know, how you usually feel when you move to a new place; you feel naked in a way and you’re new to everything and you even start to feel ignorant because the culture is so different from yours and the new people you start hanging out with, once you start mentioning your past people would kind of shun me for it and make me forget my roots. The second album had nothing to do with literary references but more of what you feel like you want to jump off the face of the world and not be in touch with anyone. I don’t know. I wasn’t even reading at the time that I wrote this so I felt kind of ignorant when I wrote this, I still do.
Do you think that’ll come across on the new album?
Yeah, I think so, I hope so. We’re definitely experimenting more with the music; there’s organ on some of them. I’m actually trying to practice the guitar more, I’m trying to do a little more soloing, but I don’t want you to expect more. [Laughs]
I’m just a little nervous. I’m over-talking. I get like this when I’m trying to not say how great the album is going to be [Laughs].
I’m so excited for the new album, you have NO idea. Have you picked a release date for it?
It was originally going to be around April but it changes everything when you make plans so right now we’re putting a due date around September, which will be the most realistic.
So when you decide to go back on tour, will the bloody aprons and meat still be apart of the stage antics?
The blood, I overdid it in Mexico. For me, I felt that Mexico was the place where that needed to be done and I did it when I was 17. When I moved out of Mexico, I think that was when I was around 21, I said, “Ok, I’ve been doing this for four years now, I want to do something a little different.” I didn’t want to take the easy route of repetition, most likely, and that’s when I decided to stop using the blood and the meat because I didn’t relate to that anymore, it was a thing of my past, and of course the reason I could do it back then was I was trying to do it for the giggles and the shock value and I was high off of Simone de Beauvoir and Sylvia Plath. I wanted to somehow represent the housewife onstage with the meat, the cooking products, and the blood on the apron. But right now I want to find another way to express that, another way to express women power. It doesn’t have to be a housewife, it can be a woman in a suit. There’s so many ways to express ones angles.
You’re a big Kathleen Hanna fan, as am I, but what other women in music did you look up to? Were there other bands in the Riottgrrl movement that you liked, like Bratmobile for instance?
Oh yeah!! Well, ironically, I met Allison Wolfe of Bratmobile. She went to one of our shows in LA and she was the nicest person ever. She just rooted us on, and when I got off stage she wanted to befriend me and she gave me her phone number. I had a birthday party afterwards and she came to my party and she gave me a mixed CD with a bunch of cool girl bands. She’s always been really supportive of us. Bratmobile, definitely when I was younger I would listen to them, so it was so weird to be listening to Bratmobile when I was younger in Mexico, and then boom!, I’m her friend. It was so cool. So yeah definitely, Bratmobile. I was a huge listener of Janis Joplin, my father loved her, so I thought he must love her for a reason which of course was because she was so talented and her voice was so amazing. There’s this woman from Chile, her name is Violeta Parra, and she died of old age but what she did was amazing because she was a full-time artist; she would paint, she would go on the streets and just start playing acoustic shows and her words were against the government of her city and she would sing for the people. I think even the director, Alejandro Jodorowsky, the one who did Holy Mountain, he was heavily influenced on her and I think one of his movies was based on her. But yeah Violeta Parra, she’s amazing.
So does the fierceness you exude onstage come from these strong women you’ve looked up to?
I think it depends. Some days it comes from happiness from having a great conversation with my mother on the phone and that can inspire me to bring that little thing I have inside out. Sometimes it can just be because I’m in a bad mood and I’m just taking it out on myself onstage which is pretty bad because before I used to think that it was therapeutic but now I’m kind of scared. One time when I was onstage I was really mad and I was passive-aggressive offstage so I wasn’t confronting the people I was having issues with and so when I got onstage with that mood (which is really rare), I took it out on myself—it was during a West Coast tour—and I took the mic and pounded it against my forehead. In the moment you don’t really realize what you’re doing with your adrenaline running and you’re letting yourself be guided by your negative emotions, but after the show, oh my lord!, my forehead had a huge bump and I just started crying and I said, ‘How much is too much?” or “How much will it be enough.” And that’s the bad thing, I can’t keep letting myself go onstage, or before going onstage, with negative emotions. If I want to be who I am up there [onstage], letting it all out, it should be positive. But I’ve been working on it, that’s why we really haven’t been playing recently right now because we want to focus on recording as much material as possible, and I’m just trying to do yoga—I’ve never done consistent exercise before—and I’m just trying to focus on my soul before my outer ego gets to me.
It’s important to take care of yourself first and foremost.
Right now it hurts my ego to put aside all the touring, and it’s also work and money you could make, but I don’t want that to happen again, that one episode I had onstage a year ago. But still, if you’re gonna do your job, do it positively.
So how much of the album is completed at this point?
The album is basically finished. We’re working on more material—just like in the bank, you just want to deposit more money, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re writing more songs for the third album or it could be an EP, we don’t even know what we’re going to do with these songs, but we’re just writing and being silly and having a good time and basically Omar and Lea have become really close to me. It’s like a family: when you’re not with your own, you have the privilege of creating your own little family and your own little group of friends, and with them it’s super chill. When we’re not playing, we just make music, we don’t know what for, whether it’s for an EP, but yeah, it’s just good to have those songs there for later after this album [Cry Is For The Flies] comes out.