In the Moment with Teri Gender Bender

Interview by Kayleigh Hughes

Photos by Carlos J. Matos

Le Butcherettes

Garage punk band Le Butcherettes is well-known for their excellent, high-energy live shows and outspokenness when it comes to feminism and the oppression of women. In the past, they have used aprons, blood, mannequins, and a pig’s head as props to complement and reinforce their message. Currently, they’re touring with the Melvins and playing songs off of their last album, the ferocious and invigorating Cry is for the Flies.

The band is fronted by the inimitable Teresa Suárez, who goes by Teri Gender Bender, a name that she chose early on in her career as a way to push back against the misogyny that she witnessed and experienced while growing up in Guadalajara, located in the Mexican state of Jalisco.

I interview Suárez over the phone in between Le Butcherettes’ sound check and their live show at Austin venue the Mohawk. A manager had mentioned that she’d be squeezing me in, so I prepare for a brief and understandably distracted few minutes of talk. What I get is a long and vibrant conversation with someone who seems as excited to be talking to me as I am to her.

If I were boring sexist writer, which—even as a woman—is a role that is so present and internalized I have to consciously avoid it, I’d say something about how you’d never guess that this woman I’m talking to, so sweet, complimentary, self-deprecating, and bubbly [hypothetical writer’s emphasis, not mine], is the same person who plays viciously confident, aggressive punk music and is known for the amount of blood and anger that once featured dramatically in her band’s live performances.

But I’m not, and it doesn’t surprise me at all, nor should it anyone else, that Teri Suárez is who she is—everything she is, killer guitar player, devoted friend and cheerleader for those she cares about, angry social activist, great conversationalist. Speaking to her, it’s clear I’m speaking to a person with drive, vision, and character that comes through in everything they say. Suárez analyzes and reflects on social issues, the power of art, her personal evolution, and the many beautiful but difficult worlds—Mexico, the music industry—where she’s worked hard to grow and find a strength and optimism to keep her grounded. Below are the meat and bones of that conversation.

Le Butcherettes

On the origins of Teri Gender Bender as an identity and persona:

When I started calling myself Teri Gender Bender, I was bullied at school—I mean weren’t we all? [Interviewer’s note: yes, yes we were.] I was very angry, I had a lot of desire for revenge. And so starting the band helped me out a lot.

At the time I was very into letting my armpit hair grow out, my legs, my moustache.  And I was very discriminated against, not even just at school. Mexico is a beautiful country, but it also has its cons. If you’re a woman, you’re going to get sexual harassment just walking down the street.

So I was inspired by using metaphors like meat products, pigs’ heads, blood—all that stuff represented women’s suffering and oppression. The pig head was “you’re a pig, a chauvinist pig. Because you have no perception, no consciousness of wanting to speak to the other side, the other point of view.” Lots of people were like “oh, you’re a woman in music, you automatically suck.”

On Le Butcherettes’ most recent album, Cry is for the Flies, and art as an emotional outlet:

Well, my father passed away, and I never had closure with it because we ended on bad terms. The last words I said to him were not very nice ones because we got in a fight. I had all that stuff inside and instead of resorting to drugs or taking it out on my mother, or friends, or boyfriends, Cry Is for the Flies is basically the outcome of my loss…of the loss.

The album was recorded three years ago, but I decided to not put it out because it was too much for me. Other things were going on. So I waited, and I feel like I finally have some closure now with my father passing away.

Art is such a good tool to heal because, you know, you’re not drinking and cutting yourself. I sound like an emo now. [Interviewer’s note: not true. And we love emos anyway.]

On the experience of playing songs from Cry is for the Flies on tour:

Since we’ve been playing [the songs] so much live, I feel like the album is completely different from what it is live. Because when you’re in the studio, you haven’t really played those songs at all. You take it from a demo, and then you polish them up and it goes to production…

Le Butcherettes

Le Butcherettes opening for the Melvins at Mohawk in Austin

These interviews and getting to meet people on the road—that’s all part of the process. I think the end result isn’t really the album. It’s really the touring experience, because you make a record or you tour to be able get to know your songs more. At the time, I wasn’t really in the moment in the studio. But when you’re touring, you just live in it. You breathe in it. You’re away from your family and you miss everyone. It completely changes.

I think that when you release an album or you put it out there, it stops being yours. Other people interpret it differently than what you were inspired by to begin with. To some people, they could be great lovemaking songs or party songs when, in fact, these were songs inspired by my dad’s death. But it’s cool because it loses that. Everything dies and starts all over again for other people.

On the plight of the opening band:

Sometimes people don’t want to see you because you’re the opening band and they’re there to see the main band. And I can understand that perspective of being like “Shit, why is this band playing thirty minutes? I just want to see the band I came for.”

I understand that, but you have to think about it this way: if it’s a band that’s opening for a band you like, they’re there because the band you like likes them! People don’t put those equations together. Like, “they’re here because of the people I admire, who admire them.” I can never understand why people are so rude to opening bands.

Luckily the Melvins’ crowd, their public, has been so nice. We’re getting really cool responses.

Le Butcherettes

On touring with the Melvins:

It’s been amazing. These people, they’re in it for the craft. They love the music and they get along well—their whole team is like their family. The guy that does their sound is a close friend of theirs, their merch person is this great artist called Brian Walsby. He’s a legendary comic book artist, and he tours with them and does their merch. Everyone’s just so sweet.

Nowadays bands have the mentality where everyone is out for themselves. Not the Melvins. When they have the bands that tour with them, it’s because they’re truly interested in that band. It’s been unbelievable. Everyone in their crew is so welcoming. And that what I want to aspire to! They’ve been together for thirty years. It’s so motivating. It is possible to keep a project alive for that long because of the people that are in it. They’re good people—that’s the key ingredient to it!

On Le Butcherettes’ upcoming album, A Raw Youth, to be released in September:

I hate to say the word theme, but the theme of it is minorities being oppressed by a society at large. I find it so fascinating how the human spirit can be so resilient against shit. Wars, people that overcome drug addictions at a young age, or sex slavery, or have been raped and beaten and kidnapped and overcome it. Or even young people who are going through terminal cancer and decide to end their own lives. That’s fucking real life situations, and that’s what the album is inspired by. Something outside myself. Because Cry is for the Flies is just completely introspective. It’s about my dad and me, but now it’s completely the opposite.

And the sound is like dark lyrics and—I don’t want to say pop, but it’s different music, too. It’s a completely different album and I’m really excited about it. It’s more electronic—but not electronic in the sense of like, beep beep bawump a boomp a boomp [laughs]. I dunno! Hopefully it’ll be okay. I mean, my mom likes it, so that’s cool.

And Iggy Pop is on the record, and John Frusciante. It sounds like I’m namedropping! I’m not! It’s just, they’re friends and I’m so mindblown that they even agreed to collaborate on the album.

On Ipecac, the record label that will be releasing A Raw Youth and has been working with the Melvins for several years:

One of my favorite labels ever. The people that run it are amazing. Everyone on that label, they’re not quote-unquote “business people.” They’re there because they just want to help the bands they love out.

On her history of dealing with disrespectful crowds:

[Early on], I got the most sexist, stupid banter thrown at me…I would always get mad. And then I’d do more outlandish things! Once—thank god I didn’t get sued—I dislocated a guy’s shoulder because I was so mad. And at the end of the show he said, “Hey I was just kidding! Can I take a picture?” With his arm all dislocated!

So that’s when I told myself to just never expect the worst. It’s a thing that’s going to take time to slowly get rid of, the sexism engrained in our culture. I tend not to get mad anymore and just enjoy the moment. Because life is so short. The way you can have revenge is by having a great life. Best revenge ever: have a great life!

 Le Butcherettes

On allowing her onstage persona to grow and evolve:

When I started going outside my nest and getting to know other cultures, some other cultures were more embracing of—not just women in music—but Latina women in music. In Japan, they support that completely. And that was really cool. So my alter ego—that sounds so weird!—Teri Gender Bender started changing. I stopped using the bloody aprons, and the blood turned into how we are now wearing all red.

There were different phases. We toured in Europe, we wore the purple dresses, hairy legs, and no makeup—nothing! I left all the mannequin heads, I stopped using props, and I focused on the music. If you just stay one character the rest of your life, that’ll get boring. Imagine just repeating the same plate of food every day. You’d get bored. It’d give you diarrhea. And you don’t want that! You want a healthy mind, a healthy body.

On working with Shirley Manson of Garbage on Cry is for the Flies, and why it’s important for women to support one another:

Oh my gosh, she’s super! Very great woman. When someone asks for her opinion, she always gives it straight. She’s very funny, fun to be around, welcoming. At this point in my life, I just want to be around those types of people—people that don’t make you feel bad for being yourself.

She’d say, “Even though you’re very young, Teri, you’re on the right track. Just keep doing it.” She’s very supportive. And that’s so cool! Because there needs to be more women supporting each other! And sometimes it feels like it’s the opposite.

Like the elevator metaphor: you’re on an elevator to get to the top, and then it’s your job to send the elevator back down for other people to go up to the top. But sometimes women in the industry, or just people in general, don’t want to send the elevator back down. They just want the elevator to stay up and it’s ridiculous. Like, no! That’s part of the problem. If you’re doing good, it’s your job to champion someone that’s talented and help them do good as well! We’re all a community. We should help each other out.

Kayleigh Hughes is an editor, freelance writer, and overthinker. In addition to contributing to Ovrld, Kayleigh is the film editor at Loser City and occasionally writes for xoJane. Talk to her about literally anything–she doesn’t have that many friends–on twitter or via email.