Le Butcherettes Are Caked in the Blood of Mexico: An Interview with Teri Gender Bender
Stream 'A Raw Youth,' the fourth album from Le Butcherettes, exclusively on Noisey.
When Teri Suarez of Mex-American punk band Le Butcherettes dumps blood on herself, it’s not all for "meat dress" shock and awe. Instead, her garage rock theatrics are rooted in the obscene violence of her native Guadalajara and the morbid history of Mexico’s fascination with death and sacrifice. In Spanish, the word for Teri’s dark sensationalism is amarillismo. In English, it’s punk as fuck. The 22 year-old rocker's relationship to American punk music is direct in a way that mall-goths in Danzig tees will never be. Listening to A Raw Youth—the fourth album from Le Butcherettes—is what it feels like to discover Iggy Pop and Black Flag while your village in Mexico gets torn apart by pyschological terror. As a punk rock teen in fascist Guadalajara, Suarez used music to rally against its ceaseless corruption and bloodshed. For her, punk is so much more than an aesthetic. It's literally life or death.
Over the years eight spent fronting Le Butcherettes, Suarez has transformed into Terri Gender Bender, one of the most visionary young minds in contemporary rock. Even her idols like Henry Rollins, Iggy Pop, and Shirley Manson have repeatedly stuck their tattooed necks out on behalf of Le Butcherettes and Teri's on-stage virulence. Gender Bender's stringent cry recalls an early Karen O as she thrashes around in a bloody apron with guitar leads sharp enough to slice your head off. Noisey is proud to premiere the searingly political and newest album from Le Butcherettes before its official release on September 18 via Ipecac Recordings. Between the piping organs and post-production crunch, A Raw Youth gives a Catho-licked reverance to centuries of punk rebellion. "This is an ode to rebels," Gender Bender explains on the phone from El Paso, after busting open her van to retrieve the cell phone she locked inside of it. We spoke to Teri about her collaboration with Iggy Pop, moving to El Paso, and the power in finding beauty in horrific situations.
Noisey: Hey Teri. Congrats on the killer record. A Raw Youth taps into the youth in general, but you have a particularly interesting story growing growing up in Guadalajara. Could you explain explain what it was like there and how you started writing music in the first place?
Teri Gender Bender: I don’t know how to describe it, but while growing up there, I met some of the most humble and hardworking people I’ve ever met in my life. And it’s so surreal because there’s two extremes: you meet the most humble and hardworking, gracious people that are in no way righteous whatsoever, and then you come across kidnappers within the same block. It’s those two extremes where the essence of good and evil are displayed in human flesh. Looking back in the history of Mexico, it’s just chaotic in every sense of the word.
How do you mean?
Mexico was grown on the blood of human sacrifice. All the pyramids that are down there are aligned mathematically to the sun and the moon. They were built on slave’s blood and that’s why I think Mexican culture is obsessed with death. We celebrate the dead and even tragedy. If there’s someone who has been hit by a car, they display it on the news with no censor whatsoever. The Spanish word is amarillismo, which I don’t know in English, but it's basically morbid media.
I think in English it's called bottlenecking when cars on the freeway slow down to catch a glimpse of the wreckage. It's kind of like horror porn.
Yeah. Violence porn. Horror porn. And it’s very engrained in our culture. It's very intense to put it the least, because Mexico is at two extremes. Extreme ultra-violence and the most religious, faithful people you can find that believe with all their life and heart that there’s something out there. It balances itself out.
What led you to American punk music? You're quite open about your love for Iggy Pop and Black Flag.
I had the kick ass privilege to also grow up in American culture because my Dad had a job in Denver. He moved there from Mexico City after he was mugged. We were all like okay, it’s time to look for something else. Something to offer safety. And he got offered a job to work at a prison cell as a guard man.
Yeah. He was amazing at his job. When I would go to school there, I was surrounded by kids who loved "punk" bands that I didn’t quite buy. They called themselves punk. They branded themselves as punk in every single way and I can understand how it sells and whatnot, but the point is, I wanted something to move me. For me, punk is not just a music genre that you play, but the conviction behind what you are saying. You have to believe it. It can be left wing, right wing, or a song about flowers, but you have to actually believe it and immerse yourself in that world that you’re singing about. Back in Mexico, Dead Kennedys was a huge eye-opener for me. Bikini Kill. I started digging on the internet. I was just looking for some other source of realness because I couldn’t believe what was going on around me.
Iggy Pop is featured on A Raw Youth singing with you in Spanish! Tell me a little bit about that. Does the title A Raw Youth have anything to do with him? I saw it as a combination of Iggy references, from "Raw Power" and "Lust for Youth."
It wasn't intentional but I realized that after the fact! I just feel completely grateful because here's this punk—not just punk but human icon I admire so much. He's so versatile and here’s something interesting: the fact that they’re still supporting let it be just young artists or artists from 20 years ago is so awesome. Not just Iggy but Henry Rollins as well. He just did something with Savages, for example.
Definitely. Iggy Pop's even collaborated with pop singers like Sky Ferreira. He knows what's up.
Exactly. And it’s so awesome to see that they’re collaborating to this day. They’re not just going to be like, oh I paid my dues so I’m going to hibernate in my home forever now. They’re still looking for human connection. They’re sincere genuine people. Also, Shirley Manson is a goddess. She’s one of the most humble people I’ve met. She’s very outspoken and very opinionated. She doesn’t care and always wants to express herself. And that’s very motivating because for me growing up in Mexico, I grew up with women who would hold their tongues and were afraid to speak out against the culture. Generally speaking that is, and at least from my mother’s generation and my grandmother’s generation. Henry speaks about whatever he believes in. Iggy Pop is such a smart and intellectual man.
A Raw Youth sounds a lot cleaner than Cry is For the Flies and Sin Sin Sin. The garagey Le Butcherettes crunch is still there, but it's definitely not as brutal this time around. It's kind of electronic actually.
Omar [Rodriguez Lopez, guitarist for The Mars Volta and At the Drive-In] is one of the best producers I've ever known. We tried really hard not to repeat the same production feel because he knows how to function really well with a tape machine. He's good with analog gear because he’s from that generation. It’s very interesting to see that even when we’re working digitally, Omar still knows how to keep that tape-like feel to the record. That was a leap for Cry is for the Flies and Sin Sin Sin. For this new one, I explained what to him what I had in mind for the story of the record which is basically an ode to rebels throughout history who fought for what they believed in, despite being murdered or having their families castrateded or imprisoned. Omar thought we should balance that with a cleaner production because it’s just more straightforward. The vocals will have much less reverb, almost naked. I showed him all of my songs that I had in mind for A Raw Youth. The song “Less Than Gold” for example that has a very uplifting almost kind of cutesy, farcical melody but the lyrics balance out the darkness. It’s about a woman that lived in the Middle East and was sold to her family because she was worth less than gold. So it’s to balance those things out. It would be kind of boring to always match the music with the human emotion. It would always be pure noise.
I love how much you're playing with balance. It really reflects the parralel dynamics of your own youth. On a different note, you recently relocated from LA to El Paso, Texas. Why?
Lots of things. Lots of things. Death, love, my mother.
Love in the sense because of family. In LA, I was very lonely. I mean, I was surrounded by a lot of people, great friends all the time, but I felt very lonely because I was away form my mother and my brothers. They were in Guadalajara at the time, and a horrible incident happened that led my mom to El Paso. So I’m living with my mother now and that's completely amazing and to have her nearby.
You know what’s an interesting thing about El Paso? I had originally thought, “Oh maybe she wanted to go lock herself up in a barn in El Paso like Karen O did for that last Yeah Yeah Yeahs record." People often compare you and your performance style to Karen O.
Wow. No, I didn’t know she did that. That’s awesome. That actually makes sense because near El Paso there’s this cool studio called Sonic Ranch, it’s like an hour, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs recorded there a lot and it makes perfect sense why she’d want to go there. It’s very beautiful and isolated because the night stars make you feel like you’re in space. It’s so beautiful.
I wanted to talk to you about your live shows because they’re so elaborate and detailed. What you do with blood and costumes is so subversive. When you’re writing your music, do you ever envision how you’e going to perform it? Or is it a separate thought processes?
You know what? That’s an awesome fucking question. Holy shit. I've never even thought about that. It definitely comes in after. Because writing it you’re more picturing the story of the world you’re trying to create. I’m constantly asking and doubting myself like what the fuck am I trying to make here? So I go over the lyrics and try to picture it visually. I’m writing a song about being in a closet with cement dolls that won’t move and I’m yelling at them and praying for them to speak back to me. So the question is, how am I going to write a song about that without being to direct about it? I’m always constantly trying to use words that aren’t so overused but also can be understood by my mother who speaks two languages. I want it to be accessible to people also who don’t speak English as a complete first language. I just make direct spanish sayings into English, and in English they just sound preposterous. Ringo Starr made up “A Hard Day’s Night.” That wasn’t an English thing but Ringo would come up with these hilarious remarks and just make up these saying.
So my last question is kind of a soapbox. What message do you want people to take away from A Raw Youth?
Honestly, I’ve realized lately that it’s good to have perspective, and if you’re going to fight for one side, you should know also how to fight with the same passion on the other side. And what I mean about that is you should always do so much research, investigation, not only in a library type of sense but in life. Like I used to judge my father so much. Like how could he drink so much knowing he had such a loving wife and kids, but then it just hit me: he has his reasons. And if I can’t understand them, and I claim to be a liberal artist then that only just says that I’m really a conservative. I’m just talking about human emotions. It’s good to have perspective. Thank God I’m in music and don’t have to comment directly on oil or any of that because honestly, I’m an ignorant fool. I only write songs for a living. I don’t know what is what. But yeah, all I can say is Oh my God. I’m just so happy I’m alive.
Pre-order A Raw Youth from here from iTunes.