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Le Butcherettes

Jul 25, 2019

By Katherine Turman

Teri Gender Bender: Let Go and Re-grow

Photography by Freya Lamont Words by Katherine Turman

She’s fierce and fearless, whip-smart and welcoming. For women, she’s one of us—if we were able to tap into our inner cavewoman and poet, unafraid to thrash and emote on stage, to look inward and then move onward and upward. Teri Gender Bender formed Le Butcherettes in 2007 in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico and though initially described as garage-punk, they—and she—have become so much more across 11 releases and years of toil on tour. 

Born in Denver to a Mexican mother and a Spanish father, Gender Bender (born Teresa Suárez Cosío) grew up among and between cultures, and that clash and influence is found in her music. Guest appearances and collabs with Jello Biafra, the Melvins, Alice Bag, Iggy Pop and the Talking Heads’ Jerry Harrison (who produced the band’s latest, bi/MENTAL) give a sense of both the gravitas and sheer coolness of her musical and lyrical output.

Reaching for personal catharsis that invites the audience to experience hers—and their own—is but one of Gender-Benders—and Le Butcherettes—myriad gifts. Onstage with LA-based, Monterrey Mexico-born drummer Alejandra Robles Luna—who plays with beautiful brutality, as if she was in AC/DC—and guitarist Riko Rodríguez-López and bassist Marfred Rodríguez-López, Le Butcherettes are pure raw power. In this exclusive interview with ALICE, Gender Bender beautifully and thoughtfully muses about mothers, men, and music. 

Would you call bi/MENTAL a concept album? 

It became one on its own, I would like to hope, jajaja, cause a part of me hesitates at the concept album idea, ‘cause it’s hard to pull off (I end up doing it all the time, it’s my way of organizing and storing) BUT especially looking back at it now, unconsciously it was impossible not write about an era in our lives, that influenced the lyrics and the sound without a doubt. Sonically it came through much more redefined after the songs were written, which helped ‘cause I sat down with the lyrics and the songs before deciding on a producer and realized that this record needed to sound like the inner dialogue of a woman in distress….produced by her mother another woman in distress…. only to be afraid to produce a daughter that might be the one that breaks the pattern of distress (hence, hence sweet natural child …. dressed in a matter of speech)… 

In a sense there is a universal law that a conceptual album absorbs all sounds but the concept itself; the concept is, therefore, the sound that it is not. this leads us to a relevant path of truth-seeking. 

Has writing and performing it been cathartic?

Oh my heavens, yes! because it was a meditation. At least for me, it has helped me forget my home life anxieties, only to replace them with new creative ones. You know when we got to the studio to record the songs we were all going through some individual chaotic mind-numbing elements so it’s very impressive to see how music and the communal experience can get you out of your misery even if for temporary. 

It has permitted me to escape my reality, so to speak. I am a coward, being a coward is anti-cathartic, so I push it to the extreme on stage. So there is nothing interesting there really about cowardice, it’s quite simple and cold, but writing the songs helped to accept that there is no control; maybe being a coward is part of the process to find closure but highly doubt it; it’s finding between living in the middle of the worlds of wrath and guilt consumed by freedom when recording the songs. 

You have used the words “stupid evil girl,” which I believe you meant was something your mother called you? Is she “the other”?

For some time I thought it was my mother, but in reality, I’ve come to notice that maybe it’s just her projecting and it was never about me. And in a sick sense I’m relieved, but also just now beginning to understand that it’s not all mother’s fault, maybe “the other” was just the outside world, and maybe her way of protecting me was by holding me back, it pains me to say.  The “other” is also the penetrator, the abuser that made the mother abuse her child. thus creating a never-ending circle of violence within the metric system of family entwined love/HATE. 

Was that statement about a specific thing/incident, or how she felt about you in general? 

Whatever it was I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s nothing different. Nothing new. Verbal and physical abuse, years of torment and of true beautiful bliss because even the torment within home is heaven compared to other people’s lives. 

She has projected her fears onto me and my own on to her and we’ve been very rebellious towards one another, but I quit playing the game and she is not used to me not playing back. I want to play with positivity. She is very capable of it but she has just witnessed a lot of people hurt us so it’s hard for her to let go, for us to both let go. 

Did you believe her? How do you overcome a branding like that?  What does your mother think of this album?

I believed her but (in/the end jajajaja) I only believed myself, even though deep down inside I know she never meant any of it (I hope).

All just like I didn’t mean any of the mean things I would yell back at her. No one is perfect. We are all a piece to somebody’s chessboard. She doesn’t respect me much right now and being on the road and playing these songs live is liberating, but also a loop of reliving the raw emotions triggering me to lose it. This is why I love music. It protects us. I do know that I am however bathed in her love. Mental illness comes from the both of us. Hence the record. She hurt me and I hurt her and I’m finally letting go. That is the first step to recovery to let go and then distance. That is the hardest step, to keep a distance. But it’s harder to keep a distance and not let go. So just save yourself the pain and let go. Time truly heals almost everything except time itself. 

You overcome with laughter and being kind, staying positive but learning to draw boundaries.  

Tell me about your creative collaboration with Jerry Harrison; what were some of the most important moments you had with him, personal or musical, and what did you learn from him?

His creative input and collaboration are what I feel gives the records a strong backbone to stand on. I learned a lot not just musically but on a more real than life type way, he is a kind man, loving husband and father, and an incredible artist. Gives me a vision of how I want to continue to work hard to be able to live my life like that. Very wise man he is. 

Photo by Katherine Turman

Are any of your lyrics inspired by books/reading?

Yes. Books feed the spirit, sometimes more than real-life people. I can’t wait to read a book written by Artificial Intelligence. I hear there are some being written but a fiction novel hasn’t been done yet by one. 

What books have been most important to you in your life, and what have your read most recently?

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

El Salvaje by Guillermo Arriaga

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

Rayuela by Julio Cortazar  

Recently been reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

Tell me about your photo on the cover of bi/MENTAL… your outfit and attitude is powerful. How does it represent the album?

Thank you. Every object in the picture is deliberate of something. 

On “spider/WAVES,” there are times you sound a bit like Kate Bush… is she an inspiration? 

I came to her late in life because a lot of people told that I sound like her, so like the narcissist that I am I said ‘ohhhh I wanna hear her,’ and I was immediately blown away. I WISH I sound at least a bit like her, but with all respect to her that would be an insult to her because I’m not even close. She has definitely inspired me in continuing my path as an artist and that it’s okay to evolve constantly. 

And why did you decide this was the song to feature Jello Biafra?

I decided to have Jello Biafra on the outro of “spider/WAVES” because it fit both musically and philosophically AND…. because I am an admirer of his. His work has inspired me in life. His words and statements and his being gave me a reason to feel like my anger with the system actually mattered and also not only anger towards the system, but the people running it, the corrupt grease that flows in our veins. “spider/WAVES” is about feeling violated; the other wants to get in, regardless of it being the mother, the father, the government, …. you just want to be alone.

Is it important for you always to have a song in Spanish (“la/SANDIA”) on your record? 

It’s important of course but at the end of the day it’s about the song and not the language; it is my pride and joy though to be able to write in Spanish and sing. 

I love the line “You do not owe anything to anyone.” Who is that advice directed to? 

To myself. Also it was advice my mother would say to me all the time while growing up. Lots of people along the way will try to make you feel bad for your successes more than they do when you actually screw up. So chin up, “you don’t owe anyone anything except your landlord.” My mom would also say “they don’t pay your rent, you do you!” So as you can see she was either very supportive or the extreme opposite… and she would tell me you don’t even owe me anything and I gave you life. So if someone wants to make you feel bad cause they “are doing you a favor, etc.” don’t forget everyone makes their own choices. You are not in charge of other peoples choices or decisions; you can’t fix what can’t be fixed, just gotta move on.

Tell me about the lyric “The moors of Tzar,” what does that reference mean within the song?

Definitely inspired off the bible, having grown up Catholic with love for middle eastern culture.

The moors of Tzar gave us a parting gift. It’s a reference of the open minds welcoming the birth of a new spirit, you’re given a tool before you part ways to fend for yourself and your family.  

The moors of Tzar hints at danger… how could these moors be under the same roof as a tzar… what is going on? But who knows, they are special. They work together in secrecy perhaps given the danger involved at the time. The night is red yet here she lays. Lots of sacrifices being made for the girl that was just born. 

Breath” seemed like the only/perfect way to end the record. Lovely, sad, reminded me a bit of the short story “The Awakening,” which ends with a drowning… What inspired your lyrics? And the abrupt ending?

The urge to die. To be left alone. It’s alright sometimes to let go even when the mind doesn’t want to. When I was little I really liked to dunk my entire body in the bath tub and hold my breath for as long as possible, wanted so bad to be a mermaid.

The three ‘Struggle” songs are fascinating. You say as a Latina woman, the battle of “perverted wagging tongues.” Is it particular to Latinas?

It is particular to the white woman that wants to be Latina or a Latina that wants to be a white woman. There will always be a struggle. A struggle of speech, language, body, judgments, shit-talking. In this particular case, I see everything through the eyes of a Latina woman, therefore I feel at liberty to say as a Latina woman I have certainly experienced racist issues other anglosa jones wouldn’t be able to completely understand. It is also so unfair because my whole life I was made to feel bad by white men about my English accent, and at the same time they would try to lick me while demoralizing my mother for having dark skin, and ‘oh my how can I be so fair-skinned?’ etc but then again life is unfair and that pertains to everyone!!!!

In our last interview you told me, people said things like “This whore just wants attention.” “Oh, she only plays two chords, of course, she’s doing well because she probably fucks the men who help her out.” Horrible things. Has that changed with the #metoo movement? 

I definitely feel the positive and more reflective changes in the artistic community, but within middle Mexico and Middle America, there is still so much to be dialogued and left to be done. We need people to awaken. We are living in a very foggy mist of fecal matter that isn’t even our own. Within the bubble of the arts community so much is changing but if you go two blocks from my barrio in Guadalajara you are still going to get assaulted if you walk alone, even if it’s daytime; another example of the bimentality of our world. But women like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez gives me hope.

How do you respond to those comments today versus how you might have responded 10 years ago?

The same I’ve been doing these last decade years. Making the work speak for itself. Although lately I feel like dropping out altogether but there is a gene inside of me or a piece of mind inside of that doesn’t want to give up. I don’t know what it is. 

I loved the Crystal Fairy album… with there be another? 

Thank you! It’s definitely been crazy lately with touring schedules and Omar making movies right now but only time will tell, for now, I’m just happy we all even were able to make one record together.

Who else do you have plans to/would you like to collaborate with?

Selda. Without missing a heartbeat.  I would love to collaborate with her. She is a true rebel and an icon. Would love to continue to make more art with Alice Bag if she is ever open to doing it again! It was so amazing that we both sang on each other’s new records. Never would I have dreamed of such a thing.

I know you were a fan of L7… how did your tour with them come about, and what’s it like to “meet your idols,” so to speak? 

Donita told me that a friend of hers a while back told her that my band would be a good fit for L7, so I gotta thank their trust and willingness to give us a shot. We are so lucky. I remember my manager calling me one day with news that we might be supporting L7 for their tour, and our amazing booking agent held down the reins to make all go smooth. L7 are absolutely amazing. They treat us so well and they are very welcoming and supportive. They give us shout outs every night on the road. It’s so surreal. It’s like I’m gonna wake up and nothing ever happened, and even if that were the case at least it was a good dream.

Any stories about the tour, adventures, funny moments?

I’ve been on a tour where I felt like I was a hostage within it. It was the worst moment of my life, ironically enough having to share the road with someone that thanks to you is traveling, but hijacks the energy in the van and makes it all about the negative. And since I hate conflict I swallow the insults, minus the bear, keep the refrigeration of the element, I know that the truth of the motion is always a virtue. I know that all is good, but that isn’t so funny… maybe it’s dark humor… the funny part is only one is to blame for permitting it to happen. I once would go on tour where my own bandmates didn’t care for my well-being. My violence on stage towards myself wasn’t enough for them; they would make comments like “ohhh, you should do that more often…” “what? bleed?!” It was a learning curve for sure. Make sure you are not anyone’s monkey. I am not my own monkey either, I gotta respect myself, even if you blame that your self-respect was stolen from you at your childhood. You gotta learn to let go and re-grow, especially when you get older. Your 20s are good for wallowing in self-pity and blaming it on the family, but hey wake up girl, you’re 30. Time to step up for yourself. 

What is your personal definition of feminism?

You gotta respect people even people with different aspects. Never talk down to someone. I hate that feeling of having people be talking at you. Feminism is the opposite of that. It gives you the tools to explore the world of opportunity and break down barriers that want to get in the way of that.

What is your definition of success?

Knowing when to show mercy. Still have not conquered success until I defeat mercy’s easy way out.  It may sound cold, and I think it sounds cold, but it is true: if you show mercy all the time people will never let you get out… energy vampires will need more of your mercy until you are drained.

Are you thinking of your next album/project? 

Yes.  Oh yes. I can’t wait for you to hear it. So excited about it. Consider it some of my best work!!!!!  I’m also working on some non-related music things, but in a way, it’s all the same to me because it helps keep me sane. Thank you for keeping me sane this very moment.

What outside of music would you like to do?

I really think both go in hand with one another, music and writing, so I consider it the same thing since I do both. So outside of music and writing, I love to watch movies and televisions series, also I love to go on walks. I also like to enjoy the wisdom prayers of the laughing matters of all kinds of jumping stats without the mother superior geometrics of the system. Yet, still I think that sometimes it’s okay to keep exploring and crafting the possible granted outfit of flirtatious outrage.

When and where are you happiest?

When I’m by myself in an environment that is there to support the area of making music and art and to not be fickle when things get tough,  and with people who feed my spirit… also my husband. He fuels me. I also really much like to be with people who make me feel like it’s alright to be a bit weird without the assessment of pertaining to be a lucky charm. But I’m also very happy when I’m doing what I love doing.  Yet here I am incapable of enjoying the present because in automatic I become a rug. A door rug, and then I step on myself with all the nutrients that you need, and all of a sudden you come to notice that the system is uncomfortable, I am to blame. Fear can cripple people without one noticing. It’s quite strange. Maybe it’s a survival mechanism. 

Is there anything else you’d like to add about your inspiration/motivation/current state of mind? 

I am a mess. A mess is me, but I refused to be a mess. Refuse to be the mess in someone others life or their mess to become mine, why does this have to be sometimes? The moment you feel like you are under the water you come to realize that we are all coming here as adults, and thus you need to learn to be a little adult. I want to be an adult. Being an adult with that youthful innocence. I remember the time was so delicious. I know that good things happen when you keep your head down; I can’t believe that sometimes the body is so sensitive that it strains the back and I can’t wait for you to keep yourself in the middle of the sack.

Find Le Butcherettes on Instagram @lebutcherettes Twitter @LeButcherettes and Spotify Le Butcherettes.

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