An Interview with Frontwoman Teri Gender Bender
Onstage, she's a snarling, feral, angry live wire. In person, she's demure, gentle, and so shy she sometimes stutters. Between a photoshoot in the California desert and a live performance in NYC, MTV Iggy tried to capture the fascinating contradictions of Teresa Suarez. Here, Siddhartha Mitter talks to Teri about the meaning behind all that blood and rage.
Words by Siddhartha Mitter
If you came for the severed pig’s head, you’re too late.
Ditto, possibly, for the blood-stained butcher’s apron — though Teri Gender Bender, the leader and frontwoman of the punk-inspired band Le Butcherettes, has not yet removed that trademark prop from her performance wardrobe. She may still, when she feels so moved, urinate onstage. Certainly, her rants and random pronouncements in Spanish and English and her daredevil dives into the crowd seem destined to carry on.
But by her own reckoning, a transformation is afoot for Teri Gender Bender, née Teresa Suarez. At 22, her music has (dare we say) matured and her creative personality fleshed out, having absorbed more than a little upheaval in the five hectic years since 2007, when she launched Le Butcherettes as a pissed-off teenager who was reading Simone de Beauvoir and feeling trapped by the stereotypical expectations placed on a young woman in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Along the way she’s overseen four total overhauls of the band’s line-up; released a brash, angry 2009 EP, Kiss & Kill; made the big move from Guadalajara to Los Angeles; and put out a stunning 2011 album, the still-raw but more melodic Sin Sin Sin, produced by the protean Omar Rodríguez-López, of The Mars Volta, At The Drive In, and countless other ventures.
All of which has earned Le Butcherettes opening slots for the likes of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Deftones—and recently, the chance to tour with Iggy Pop, one of her all-time heroes.
To the extent that the pig’s head helped promote Teri’s notoriety in the early days—it was real, and gross, and she used to brandish it on stage with abandon—it’s certainly not needed any longer.
But that was never its point in the first place, she says.
“The pig head is definitely retired,” Teri says. “I would only use it in Mexico, because I thought it was only appropriate there: the pig head represents the narco, drug dealer who would kidnap women — and a lot of people saw it as ‘oh, she’s just doing gore.’ It was just my way of saying I’m mad.”
“Plus the fact,” she says, switching tack — this seems to happen a lot when speaking with Teri, who is voluble, candid and a little nervous, worried she’s boring her listener when in fact she’s making perfect sense — “I’d been doing that for five years in Mexico. I can’t do that forever. The stage energy, it’s only a matter of time before… well, energy doesn’t just die out, it’ll be a different kind of energy, the mood I’m in.”
“It’s weird. You create your own self-image and then you have to live up to your self-image because people want you to. I can’t do that. My respect to other artists who do that, but I can’t do that at all.”
Self-image; self-definition. When you name and introduce yourself as Teri Gender Bender, you’re obviously taking charge, to more than a small extent, of the way people see you. And it fits, though only loosely, like an outfit that looks comfortable without being restrictive.
Gender bending is a fluid notion, and by some measures, Teri isn’t bending much gender at all: her presence isn’t particularly androgynous, and her sexuality, while overt (witness the remarkable and highly absurd video she made with Adanowsky for the song “Don’t Try To Fool Me,” which features them stark naked, spilling out of a bedroom into a chase through Paris streets), is generally hetero.
About that video, by the way: that’s another stunt Teri says she won’t be doing again. “Been there, done that,” she says. “And you know, the body with time starts rotting, so I don’t want to…you know what I mean, right?”
But back to gender bending, and Gender Bender. Teri says she came up with the moniker at 16, scribbling it down in her school notebooks. She was in high school in Guadalajara, where her Mexican mother had moved the family back from Colorado after Teri’s father died. He was Spanish, a connoisseur of literature and philosophy, and also an alcoholic, who made a living for the family by working in the kitchen of a prison.
“He’d always take out a bottle of booze and get drunk — of course that was horrible,” Teri says. “But the beautiful thing, the positive outcome, is that he would start ranting and tell me about all these philosophers that he grew up on. And he’d tell me how great it was to read and write and not take it for granted.”