In Arizona in June, Le Butcherettes guitarist/vocalist Teri Gender Bender (bornSuaréz ) reportedly urinated onstage out of boredom. In a performance in Seattle, she smashed her head so furiously against a cymbal that blood began dripping down her face. She's wild, she's exciting, and she's also a talented musician and passionate feminist. In short, she's the perfect interview subject.
"My mum calls me and says, 'Teresa why are you doing this? Are you on drugs? What are you trying to prove?' but honestly I'm not on drugs, I'm not trying to prove anything…there's just something about being up there, it pleases me. I'm not trying to create a monster or destroy myself. I know sooner or later I'm not going to be doing that my whole life because people mature, people grow up, and a lot of people are judging PJ Harvey for being calm onstage but being a part of being a true artist [is] you evolve, you go through rage, you go through your ups and downs, and I guess right now I'm going through that stage where I maybe have the mind of a 12 year old and I'm just trying to find myself. Maybe in a couple of years or ten years I'll be calm but I'm just getting all this out of my system. What am I getting out of my system?" she asks herself, assuming the roles of both interviewer and interviewee. "I guess anxiety to be honest."
In interviews, however, she is humble and often nervous; a complete opposite to the enthralling in-your-face monster onstage.
"All I can say is that I'm myself onstage as well as myself offstage as well, it's just that offstage I really don't have that protection. Onstage I'm free to be myself, well of course there's always limitations, you might fall offstage and break your leg and there it goes - that's the end of it. But offstage it's much more nerve-wracking to be a 'normal' person because there's social limitations of if you're a little too weird or awkward people will get the wrong idea about you but I'm trying to work on my nerves offstage, I'm working on it but yeah onstage it's still me."
Gender Bender formed punk/garage act Le Butcherettes in 2007 and word about their live show spread quickly throughout the Mexican underground music scene. During a concert in which both Gender Bender and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez from The Mars Volta were in the audience, the power was cut from the venue prompting the band onstage to walk off early. Gender Bender, however, saw an opportunity to perform, threw herself onstage and performed a capella with her drummer. Rodriguez-Lopez was drawn to the performance and would go on to produce Le Butcherettes highly-acclaimed debut 2001 LP Sin Sin Sin.
"The Sin Sin Sin record I wrote when I was 17 and since at the time in Mexico no-one really wanted to put out the record because they thought it was risky, and so Omar came and he put it out and Cathy from Sargent House, so that was just something that was waiting there. But [for] the next record, some songs were written two years ago but most of them were written in the now, and I can say that they're different. I don't always want to not take risks and keep doing the same. People would say, 'Oh well you're name-dropping philosophers name, are you always going to be doing that?' and I'm like, 'I wasn't name-dropping'. At the time I was influenced by them, I felt like I could relate, to people I would never meet. But now I'm going through a different time in my life. I'm not proud to say this but I haven't picked up a book in over a year now because I've been blocked - well whatever 'blocked' means. I'm in love with life right now. I'm trying to live my life, getting away from all that. I'm betraying myself but in a way that's helping me grow.
"I think [I'm blocking myself] more on a personal level, definitely. I haven't seen my mum in almost a year," she solemnly pauses. "I don't know what that has to do with anything but I think that has a lot to do with everything at the same time. We're all a bunch of living contradictions and I think it's good to fix your contradictions instead of putting a bandaid on it and trying to ignore it. When I was 17 I was extremely obsessed with feminism, and I consider myself a feminist but a lot of people will take that the wrong way, and if you label yourself then people are often going to label you obviously. And right now I'm…just trying to be. I'm not even going out to parties or anything, I'm just staying in my room and sometimes I just watch movies and sometimes I get like, 'Whoa' and look out the window and I'm like, 'Okay this is pretty cool' and just try to be with myself. I don't know what that's gonna do with the genre when [the album] comes out. We're in the process of recording the second album, Omar is producing it again. That's great. I talk a lot, I'm sorry, I'm wasting your time," she laughs.
I question Suarez about her feminist ideas, and whether or not her music is used as a means to impart a message or simply just an expression of her emotions at the time of writing.
"The concrete base of it is trying to send a message that anyone can do it…anyone can get onstage but not everyone can start a family for example, or even of themselves. The message is that what I thought when I was younger is that you can appear to be someone you are but deep down inside, ooh, you've got no idea who that person is and that could be for good or bad. You think you know someone, you're probably married, ten years later you find that person is not the person for me. I know it makes no sense, now that I'm hearing myself speak out loud, and I have everything unorganised, but you know what? Maybe my mind is unorganised! But back then the message was: 'You can be a woman'. This was when I was trying to send a message to women in particular, which was a mistake of mine, saying that, 'Girls you can do anything. You can get onstage, you can do this and that', but right now I'm just trying to express myself because I would be a huge hypocrite trying to say, 'Oh, women's rights' when all my life I've been my own oppressor so right now I'm just working on not oppressing myself so I can just later be a true speaker of the words I believed in for so long.
"The Gender Bender [name change] came when I was 16. I was obsessed with the punk movement, feminism and not saying that's a bad thing, that was great. It helped me kind of become an individual at the time…but now I realise I did the Gender Bender because I want to be my own character in a way but I'm both Gender Bender and Teresa Suarez. It's really just me. Oof!" she sighs in exhaustion.
Le Butcherettes will be supporting Omar Rodriguez-Lopez for his solo tour of the country and will also play their own headline show at the Northcote Social Club with Omar playing bass for the band.
"I am so excited you don't have any idea. Australia's actually one of the places I've always wanted to go since I was very little. I'm really excited to go, I've never been there. When Cathy my manager told me about this I literally just cried my eyes out, happy tears obviously. I'm a very emotional person."
Le Butcherettes play the Northcote Social Club on Monday December 12. They also play in support of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez on at East Brunswick Club on Tuesday December 13 and Wednesday December 14.