INTERVIEW: Le Butcherettes’ Teri Gender Bender Talks Creative Process, Collaboration, & Cultural Identity

Teresa Suarez, better known as Teri Gender Bender, started her band Le Butcherettes in Guadalajara, Mexico in 2007. Since then, her band has released three full-length albums and half-a-dozen singles and EPs. Additionally, she has collaborated extensively with Omar Rodríguez-López (At the Drive-In, The Mars Volta) on several of his solo releases, as well as their bands/projects Bosnian Rainbows and Kimono Kult. Most recently, she and Rodríguez-López joined forces with Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover of the Melvins to release Crystal Fairy (one of our favorite albums of 2017).  

Currently on the road opening for At The Drive-In, Le Butcherettes seem to eternally be on tour. Doubtless, if you have witnessed the bands’ live performance you walked away a fan. We are grateful that Teri took the time to answer our questions (via email) and can’t wait to catch the band again when they return to Dallas in June.

the void report: When established artists collaborate it’s hard not to draw comparisons to their individual styles. While there are a few guitar riffs that are undeniably Melvins-ish, the album is actually quite diverse and has a sound of its own. I’m curious if there were moments in the writing and recording that maybe the Melvins did something that surprised you, something unexpected?

Teri Gender Bender: I was surprised that they invited me to start a collaborative project in the first place. I was pleasantly surprised that the writing process with them was so fluid and very easy going. It’s very nice when you connect with someone as you go, challenging yourself as you move along.  

the void report: You have a long-established collaborative relationship with Omar Rodríguez-López, so it seemed natural that he would be part of the band. Including the bands Bosnian Rainbows, Kimono Kult, the Le Butcherettes albums he’s produced, and now Crystal Fairy, what is it about your relationship that makes it so productive?

Teri Gender Bender: Omar and I have a lot in common, which I think makes it very easy for us to tour together and especially to socialize as we make music. I am eager to learn and he is eager to teach, though I don’t think he is aware of how much he has to offer in the world, because to be around him [is] to be constantly learning. He doesn’t fuck around, yet he has one of the strongest sense of humor I’ve gotten to come across. We both know the feeling of having grown up in an outsiders environment that has constantly underestimated us, when in reality we both [are] fueled off of that exterior doubt and infuse that energy into this wonderful outlet called art.

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Le Butcherettes Perform Live. Photo by J. Kevin Lynch

the void report: I understand that the next Bosnian Rainbows album has been recorded and is awaiting mastering. Considering your non-stop touring and doing Crystal Fairy, when was this recorded?

Teri Gender Bender: The album was recorded in the year 2013 in Hamburg, Germany (in our producer’s studio called Clouds Hill, I suggest the readers to look into Clouds Hill Studios, it’s a very special place that is in complete service to the artist). In the process of recording the second record with Johann and Rafael (producers), I feel that we all learned so much from one another. Not just on a technical level, but in a beautiful exchange of one another’s cultures.

the void report: Will it come out this year? I know At The Drive-In is touring to support their new album, perhaps next year is more likely?

Teri Gender Bender: It’s in the hands of God. But, with that being said, God has a lot more important things to deal with at the moment. But, a part of me trusts that it will be released when the time is right.

the void report: I also understand that work has started, or is about to start, on the next Le Butcherettes record. What stage is that in currently?

Teri Gender Bender: Our producer is going through the demos and will pick the ones he thinks are fit for the next record, there are over 60 something new demos for him as he goes through. Me, Riko (Rodríguez-López, bass), and Alejandra (Robles Luna, drums) have been playing some new songs on these new runs, except who knows…the songs may transform into a completely different beast once we hit the studio with our magic music man.

the void report: I read that Omar, who has produced each of the Le Butcherettes full-length albums, is not producing the next one. Can you tell us who is and why you decided to go with someone different?

Teri Gender Bender: I am dying to mention who we will be working with, but I can’t now because that’s how early we are in the process. Like when you are barely pregnant, it is of custom not to tell anyone you are with child until you are 4 months within the process.

the void report: Is that a choice of wanting a creative challenge or trying to get away from a formula and see the band new?

Teri Gender Bender: It was a collective and team-like decision. Omar and I will always (as long as life permits us) collaborate in some way or another and none of us take that for granted; yet with that being said, we both think it would be very interesting to work with someone new because you just gotta go with your gut instinct, all planets and stars are pointing towards that direction. It would be a new creative challenge, facing a new adventure and looking forward to actually recording with this current line up in the studio. I guess the answer would be: if a new path presents itself, why not take it?

the void report: I was at the surprise gig in Dallas last month. I could be wrong, but it sounded like there were a couple of new songs played. Is that right?

Teri Gender Bender: Damn! You have a good ear! You are correct! We usually never do that whole announcing “this is a new song” before playing it. If you know the band, you know if it’s something unheard of or not…and it gives the listener a sort of special inclusion. Or sometimes I just plain forget to do that whole talk-talk/speech-speech segment in a concert.

butcherettes tour 2017

the void report: The Crystal Fairy album was written and recorded very quickly, in a matter of days if I’m correct. Do you think that process might influence the recording of the next Le Butcherettes? Or do you prefer to take your time with it?

Teri Gender Bender: I’ve been taking my time with this next Le Butcherettes record, from choosing the demos and then narrowing them down to 60 and then opening myself up and showing Riko and Alejandra. I’d play them the demos in the living room of our rehearsal space while laying on the floor and staring out into space. I really haven’t done that before. I would sort of just show up to the studio with Omar and then show the past line ups the music [and] have them learn it on the spot. This new approach consists in really including my band mates in the very intimate process, like for instance letting them hear naked demo versions of some very bare self-recorded tracks.

If recording something in such a short time lapse results in good music, I wonder what will happen if I actually sat down with a record for a good solid month. I love trying different methods even though it can appear to be quite frightening from the start.

the void report: Journalists often identify you by your Mexican heritage and/or feminist ideals. Obviously, these are things that play a big part in your music and art, but do you sometimes wish you could just be addressed as an artist or musician, not by ethnicity, gender, or politics? If I’m right, I think that was part of the purpose of your stage name.

Teri Gender Bender: With all respect (with my feelings of ego put aside), I could care less what people refer to me. I’m just happy a layer of dust of my work exists. Like many of us, I am on a path of knowing my worth, [I] don’t want to close myself up in labels. In my mind, it is an insult to feminism and to my Mexican heritage to be considered a sort of “face” for feminist and Mexican ideals…because, I am not truly devoted to the entirety of the spectrum’s. There are some feminist ideals that I criticize and that I don’t agree with [and] there are some layers of my Mexican and Spanish heritage that disgust me. I think I would have to be a puritan of both worlds to be identified as such.

When I was 17 years old, I considered myself a die hard feminist, but at the cost of alienating people with different cultural backgrounds that certain types of feminism would be up against…which in my opinion goes against the essence of feminism. All I know now is that I know nothing and that can be a very dangerous vice or a beautiful state of mind.

the void report: While doing research for this interview, I went back to several interviews you’ve done recently so I don’t repeat questions you’ve already been asked. Reading a number of interviews, you’re quite modest, self-deprecating, and seem to worry a little about sounding pretentious (which is almost impossible to do when talking about art). But, onstage you’re strong and fearless. What is it about performing live that brings that out in you?

Teri Gender Bender: All the feelings of unworthiness and doubt have been pent up in me for far too long, before I created Le Butcherettes. I am a very explosive and violent person. It has been ingrained in me because children are like sponges and I grew up in a very….interesting household.

Being underestimated and treated like an invisible worthless object in society can have it’s negative effects on the self. Lucky for me, I was able to drown my sorrows with the hard earned death of my father. In a way his death saved my life, because it made me focus more than ever in our obsession with art (music, cinema, poetry, literature, history, etc).  

I think it’s also in my blood. My mother is the most interesting and complicated person I know in my life…my soul was nourished by her whether I want to admit it or not. There is no denying that I am just a mere copy of a dream my mother bares.

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