By Kamren Curiel
I was a little nervous to interview Le Butcherettes frontwoman Teri Gender Bender (real name Teresa Suarez) last October at her Rodriguez-Lopez Productions record label, which Omar Rodriguez-Lopez runs with Cathy Pellow out of a house in the hills of Echo Park. Her stage presence is intense, so I was expecting her to scream at me for asking stupid questions; or not answer them at all. Instead, we vibed off deep discussions on feminism, philosophy and the healing aspects of nature.
"We were stuck behind this cement truck that wouldn't move," Teri's first words were to me before going in for a big bear hug. "I thought, 'Oh my God. She's gonna think I'm a diva.'"
The Le Butcherettes creator-slash-singer-slash-songwriter is anything but a diva. She bummed a ride off a friend, who was letting her couch surf in Downtown, to tell me her story. She doesn't drive and just got out of a seven-year relationship with her very first boyfriend, who just so happens to live down the street from where we were ("I have to be free...know myself...know different things," she said of the breakup.) She hates social situations and feels most comfortable in nature. Hiking through Elysian Park is her current past time (and mine).
"I like to lay in the grass and just breathe. It's so humbling. I feel like I'm becoming a hermit. I've just been staying away from people. I've become so anti-social. I'm dealing with myself for once," Teri, who doesn't drink or smoke, said. "I feel like you're my therapist."
Born and raised in Denver, Colorado (her parents fled Mexico City after surviving separate kidnappings) to a stay-at-home Mexican mother and a Spanish Mexican father who worked in the kitchen of a prison, Teri moved back to Guadalajara at 13 with her mom and brothers after her father died of a heart attack. Instead of wallowing in her pain, Teri (an emotionally strong Taurus) used her father's death as the fuel she needed to purse her dreams; literally. (At 10, she started having recurring dreams about playing the guitar, but the strings kept melting. She finally talked her dad into buying her one.)
The sexist society in Mexico influenced her screams and vicious stage persona. Warm weather, good food, and family couldn't make up for the constant catcalls in the country's second largest city. Perhaps, it was growing up in a well-balanced household--her dad cooked and cleaned and her mom finished college after having kids--that made Teri, now 22, unable to deal with the unwanted attention being beautiful brings.
She didn't have a trace of makeup, her blunt bangs stuck to the beads of sweat on her forehead, and she wore a nonchalant ensemble of faded black flower-print culottes, a loose navy blue and white striped top, and jogging shoes with black socks pulled up to her calves. You'd never guess this was the same girl that once peed on stage, used nail polish to paint a tampon red at her very first show, and morphs into a cross between Courtney Love and Janis Joplin when she sings.
Teri formed Le Butcherettes in 2007 with her ex best friend and drummer, Auryn Jolene, to rage against Mexico's sexist machine. The original idea was to use the stage as a platform to showcase negative female stereotypes. She used metaphoric props like raw meat to represent the way some men treat women and wore a bloody apron to acknowledge the women who've been killed in Juárez. Inspired by Malcolm X's philosophy on last names--"The real names of our people were destroyed during slavery."--she changed hers to Teri Gender Bender.
"I was like, 'It all has a concept to it," Teri explained. "We're freakin' oppressed girls! We finally have the chance to voice our rage."
She's since taken a more mellow approach to performing, but remains just as badass. She replaced her drummer with Lia Braswell and The Mars Volta's Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, who signed the band to his label and produced and played on Le Butcherettes' debut album Sin Sin Sin, is currently filling in on bass. The band's been on almost everyone's love list, they played Lollapalooza and SXSW, opened for Iggy and the Stooges, Deftones, Queens of the Stone Age, and Flaming Lips, and is no doubt the band to see at Coachella this year.
"I have so many things going on right now," Teri said via email. "I just try to take it in slowly. Thank the Lord Sargent House and Rodriguez Lopez Productions are with us on all this deliciousness. They're helping with the preparation of the sexy desert."
As for what's inspiring the band's follow-up album (lyrics have already been written so expect it to drop soon), Teri replied, "Universal knowledge, Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, the unconscious and unknown, my mother and love." It's this deep take on music that makes Teri such an intriguing musician. Don't miss the magic at Coachella this April.