From the toquines of Mexico to duets with Iggy Pop, Teri Gender Bender brings wide eyed fire and blood.
Originally Published in Collide Art & Culture Magazine Issue 5, this is the full chat in its first time on the web.
Since their 2007 inception in the Mexican city of Guadalajara, Le Butcherettes have evolved from a nascent force powered by enthusiasm and blood into a surprisingly global phenomenon, performing and collaborating with heavyweights such as Iggy Pop and Henry Rollins and leaving a slew of decimated audiences in their wake. Ostensibly the project of singer and guitarist Teri Gender Bender (nee Teresa Suarez), the band recently released their third album ‘A Raw Youth’ to critical acclaim and a raft of mental live performances. When I called Teri to talk about the early days, anthropology, Iggy and Mexico, that enthusiasm, energy and attitude was like flame to touch paper as it crackled down the phone.
Is it true that as a child you had recurring dreams of playing the guitar and that’s what led to you wanting to become a musician?
Yeah that was crazy. I would always, always dream about having a guitar, I was one of those girls who would constantly nag her father “Please, please get me an acoustic guitar! Please!” But things were tight, he had just gotten a job where he would ride his bicycle to work every night and things were really tight so he wouldn’t or couldn’t do it. So I started to save up my lunch money. Every day. He would give me a dollar a day and I would save that. I was twelve years old and it took me three years to save up, but then I finally had my own acoustic guitar!
Can you tell us a little bit about starting out in Guadalajara? Was there much of a scene there for your music? The song ‘They Fuck You Over’ references those times right?
Yeah, we were 16 or 17 in Guadalajara when I was first getting the band together, in the beginning it was just me and the drummer-just a 2 piece band. I approached her cos she would go to a lot of rock and punk shows, which in Mexico are called ‘Toquines’, like little miniature rock shows. She’d always be there so I approached her and I was like ‘hey I’m looking for someone to drum to these songs I’ve written’ and it turned out right at the same time there was this band from Guadalajara called ‘Lesbian Bitches from Mars’ …
Yeah I know! Its amazing cos they came from such a small mining city where everything’s so conservative and capitalism oriented and they were just these rebels of the punk scene. So they approached us cos they were organising a Ramones tribute event that was going to take place in a week. They asked us ‘Are you down?’ and I thought ‘Holy Crap! Of course I’m down!’ Except we’d never rehearsed or anything! So we had a week to get our act together, learn some covers and some of my own music. It all started from there.
The gig went well and then people started asking us to play at their houses or in bars and like a snowball effect we started getting more invitations to play at events or collaborate on other peoples songs. And throughout the years there’s been changes of lineup but I feel like it’s gotten stronger cos for once I’m at a time in my life where everyone’s in it to serve the music and not their own ego’s. It’s been one of those battles.
What were the influences musically and lyrically when you were first starting out and how do you think they’ve evolved over the past 7 years of doing the Band?
Well I guess cos we’ve been doing it a lot, like exercising or lovemaking you get better at it! Music is something that I have to do a lot, because I get depressed, I’m not gonna lie. I get anxious. It’s not that I’m bi-polar or crazy, it’s just good to have a place to vent your insecurities and your demons. So I try to write music every day. At least one song a day. When we’re getting ready to record a new album I go through all my demo’s and then I show it to the producer which in this case has been Omar (Rodriguez-Lopez) for the past three albums and then he chooses the ones he thinks are the best fit for certain projects so that’s why ‘They Fuck You Over’ is from when I was 15 years old.
That’s one that was never used or never made it before and it fits in with what the album is about- which is people, not only people now, but people throughout history who have overcome personal tragedies or historical tragedies. It showcases how things are animated, that human resilience is very strong and that there’s a reason why were alive on the earth right now. It may not be forever. It certainly will not be forever but at least we’re here for some time, and though there are some of us that are termites and parasites, the angels on this earth make it worthwhile and inspire wonderful art, and very horrible art too! But the point is that people can inspire a lot of good, planting seeds of truth or seeds of alteration. In a way, life constantly makes you better if you’re open to it.
Is that the kind of reaction you want to evoke with your music? In the same way you were inspired?
I think in a way the more you experiment the less prejudiced you are. When I was first listening to music I would only listen to classical music, cos that’s all my father would play. But the thing is, when my father would drink, he would only listen to classical rock, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, so he had that two faced Jekyll and Hyde perspective. I very much wanted to be like that with classical music and classical rock, but then you end up becoming everything you’re against, you end up being closed minded.
When I’m making albums I tend to listen to … like pop music or very heavy metal , things I would never listen to , to try and get perspective or open my mind and make my mind better. For example, working with some of the people on this album, one of their main pieces of advice was always to listen to the music of the past. Listen to a lot of music from the 50’s and 60’s, because a lot of writers now days or in general have forgotten the thoughts from the past and try and focus more on being original, but in order to be original or it has to come from somewhere. It’s not coming out of thin air.
You worked with Iggy Pop on the track ‘La Uva’, can you tell me a little about how that collaboration came about and what it was like working with Iggy?
Well, the literal translation of ‘La Uva’ is ‘The Grape’. In the song? Whoo! It originally didn’t have Iggy on it at all. It was just me and the music.
But then I kinda sat on it for a while because I knew that someday…it’s weird….you know when you do a mantra? Like when you go walking on a mountain or something you do a mantra over and over again? Well one of my mantras was ‘Thank you god for giving me everything I have in life and can I please find someone who is their own person to sing on the track with me’, just repeating that mantra. I believe in magic. I didn’t want a pre-packaged pop singer. And eventually somehow Mike Watts from The Minutemen asked us to open up a show for them and the chemistry was great and there was a friendship found. So he told Iggy about me because he’s also playing with The Stooges, that perhaps we’d be good to open for them. So it’s one of those things where everything is connected in a way like the roots of a tree. You may cut one root from another tree but then you find it comes connected to a tree on this side? I’m sorry I’m sounding like a hippy…but I think that’s the only way I can articulate it.
I believe it! Do you think the time you spent in Japan prior to the writing and recording of ‘A Raw Youth’ had an influence on proceedings? What sort of flavour did it lend to the album?
Definitely. It happens anywhere. It just happens. Even a block from my house, something’s going to happen, some sort of conflict, or somethings going to occur.
But Japan opened up my eyes completely. It’s one of my dream countries to live in. There’s a certain order to it, culturally speaking people are very aware of their surroundings. The streets are completely clean, they’re very conscious of space and there’s so much great architecture. And their history is so vast! It’s like the longer you stay there, the more songs you hear. There’s something in the air I cannot put my finger on.
There’s just this mystery to it that’s so beautiful. It’s like a flower, or a mermaid or a beautiful woman that draws you close and you’re enchanted by it. The closer you get, the more you’re sinking into this quicksand before being able to touch that beautiful object, but I would so live there. I want to be swallowed by metaphorical quicksand. I think it gave me the illusion that I was going to touch that beautiful woman or that beautiful object and so yeah it definitely influenced me.
Anywhere you go you’re influenced by it. Shit, sometimes just by checking your email and you have a reminder that today you have an interview where you’re going to be talking to someone from Australia – just hearing that and going Shit! That’s fucking awesome! Someone’s putting their time into this! As stupid as it sounds that’s how it works sometimes for me!
I wanted to ask you about the name ‘Teri Gender Bender’. What significance did taking on that pseudonym have for you? Is it kind of an alter ego that helps you come alive in a performance sense?
Shit, I guess I’ve never thought about it that intensely. I was fifteen at the time and I was in my classroom. The teachers would go on and on, and I would zone out and just doodle in my notebooks. I was really obsessed with superheroes, especially superhero women. So I would doodle a bunch of superhero women and name them things like ‘Sailor Girl’ like in that anime show from Japan ‘Sailor Moon’, or maybe this one will be ‘The Woman of Light’ and her power could be ‘sound’!
So I came up with what became ‘Teri Gender Bender’ and her power was rocking! I was 15 here! So her power was the power of guitar notes that would break the monsters ear drums! Later on I was becoming very influenced by feminist literature and became interested in the idea of man and woman, and how we’re all a combination of both genders so that’s what I meant by gender bender. I am my father and my mother, I’m the two entities that brought me together. But it’s been so long now I’ve grown used to it so it’s just become a normal name- I don’t know, it’s weird, I guess it is an alter ego in a way. Not to be pretentious about it but if you have to label it then yeah hahahahaha.
The turn-around time between albums has been much quicker this time with only a year between ‘Cry is for the Flies’ and ‘A Raw Youth’. Is that because previously you were occupied with your side projects? Can you tell us a little about your work with Bosnian Rainbows and Kimono Kult?
Yeah a whole series of strange events were happening. We lost the whole ‘Cry is for the Flies’ album! We couldn’t find it, it wasn’t on any hard drive, but instead or cursing myself out and going ‘Ohhh fuck this!’ I thought- okay let’s just go forward and try new things, and it was during that time that Omar was thinking of doing the Rodriguez solo group. He had the album done and the shows already booked and so since I couldn’t find my album anywhere, and because Omar was the producer he was also freaking out a little bit. We just thought- hey let’s just go out on this tour and play some new songs.
So I never wanted it to take so long but sometimes when you think you’re making time life just completely takes you as a puppet and you have to go with it. And sometimes you go with it and it works out perfectly. All the songs that I had written since the first record, instead of becoming Butcherettes songs, some of them became Bosnian Rainbows songs, because when you start working with other people those songs stop being yours. Omar starting writing parts for my compositions and Deantoni added his whole essence to it. If you listen to the original songs they’re just little ukulele demos with distorted, pitched vocals but it worked out quite well. I always record the material and then later put a title on it, like this should be for Butcherettes, or this should be Bosnian Rainbows but the main thing is to always be collecting. It’s probably the same for you, you probably always write and should always write cos you never know what you’re going to use later. There’s no such thing as trash.
You seem to be riding that wave really well. You just finished a US tour with the Melvins yeah? Your music really seems to come alive best onstage. How do you find that the US compare to Mexican audiences? Or European, Australian and Japanese audiences? Does it affect the shows in the way that you feed off the audience’s reaction?
In every country, even in different cities there’s a different audience. Like in Seattle where it’s usually very rainy they can seem from the outside quite gloomy, but it’s just the weather. The weather has its impact on people. Like in Australia people are excited, they seem more cheerful, they have more fun and in Mexico people are much crazier just cos of the way our history is. It’s been crazy since day one when the Aztecs were sacrificing their children’s hearts to the gods in order to have more sunlight!
Again with Japan the audience is completely calm, they’re very observant and they have a great feel for every technical gesture that goes on onstage, then when the final note of the song rings out then there’ll be this immense clapping. They’re very considerate cos they cover their mouths with those mouthpieces so they don’t get other people sick if they go to a concert. But in Mexico? No! If there’s a guy with a fever and he’s about to die he doesn’t care, he still gonna go to the concert! He knows he’s gonna make people sick. He doesn’t care! (Laughs).
But it’s great to see, like a dream. It’s almost like being an anthropologist studying all these different people. But I never feel like I spend quite enough time in any one certain place to feel like I really know…….all the secrets….(whispers)…..of the universe!
You can help Teri unlock the secrets of the universe with the album ‘A Raw Youth’, available now.