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Le Butcherettes 

Teri Gender Bender is the most volatile woman in rock

Thursday, Nov 24 2011
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See also "Le Butcherettes' Teri Gender on Raw Meat and Sexism in Mexico."

"You love me, you love me and now you wanna kill me!" wails Teri Gender Bender of the band Le Butcherettes, as her long hair rocks violently back and forth. She leans back, farther and farther, until she falls over, still slashing at her electric guitar.

To the violent beat of the next song, "Dress Off," she tumbles backward off the Troubadour stage and into the crowd for a few moments of surfing before she's tossed back up. She sings a torrid and crazed vocal. Then Teri Gender Bender lifts her skirt to pee right on the stage, stomping and splashing the puddle in her fishnet stockings.

click to enlarge PHOTO © 2011 SARGENT HOUSE - Le Butcherettes
  • PHOTO © 2011 SARGENT HOUSE
  • Le Butcherettes

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This show, which happened over the summer, wasn't the first time Teri Gender Bender (born Teri Suarez) has peed on stage. She urinated out of rage, she says, last year in Mexico City, when Le Butcherettes shared a bill with "this French-Chilean singer" who was "treating me like I was just an opening band." And then she did it again in June at an outdoor show in Arizona, apparently out of boredom. "The Troubadour was more an act of love," she insists, and promises it will be the last time. "Pee doesn't have to be bad. It can be graceful. I wanted the last time I peed onstage to be a positive feeling."

Trust that no two Le Butcherettes shows are quite the same. (The group is basically made up of the 22-year-old Suarez, who writes the songs, and an oft-changing rhythm section.) At the trio's record-release party for its debut album, Sin Sin Sin, at the Bootleg Theater in May, Suarez picked up scissors during the set and maniacally clipped her hair into severe bangs. In Seattle, for a club audience of maybe 20 people, she banged her head against a cymbal, causing blood to drip down her face. She continued to play. "In the moment, I tell myself you can't stop," she says, "because it's your life that depends on it."

Still, she insists she wants her stage show to evolve. "If I don't go crazy onstage someday, they're going to be, like, 'Why didn't she go crazy onstage? This is boring.' "

The stage action is a frenzied exclamation point to her confrontational music, which combines melody, lust and noise and mingles the personal with the political. The act's punk-rock bash and howl is as spare and tightly wound as the Kills' or the White Stripes' but obsessed with philosophy and literature, and featuring knowing references to Rousseau and Tolstoy.

On "Leibniz Language," a song named for the German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Suarez purrs vividly and mysteriously: "There is no relation between soul and body / Your heart was my mouth and your mouth was my planet / Help me, put me back together!"

The band played South by Southwest and Lollapalooza this year, earning raves from the likes of Rolling Stone's Chuck Eddy ("rumble-and-push post-punk funk") and the Chicago Tribune's Greg Kot, who called Suarez a "breakout star."

Le Butcherettes will open for Iggy and the Stooges at their rescheduled Hollywood Palladium show on Dec. 7, a dream gig that has given Suarez nightmares of things going wrong. After all, they have before.

"I don't have the patience to tune [my guitar], even though a lot of people tell me it's cool, calm down," she says. "I feel like the crowd doesn't understand that it takes time, so I just keep playing even though it's untuned."

Suarez is the daughter of a Spanish-born father and a Mexican mother but grew up mostly in Denver. Her first musical fixation was the Spice Girls, a childhood pop obsession she's yet to shake. It is one source of the pure pop hooks amid the screams and jagged edges of her songs. Another is the classic rock her father shared during booze-soaked nights at their home. "It was the traumatic experience of my dad being drunk with the Beatles albums blasting in our little house and my mom going hysterical: 'Roberto! You have to turn down the volume! The neighbors are going to call the cops!' "

Her dad died suddenly when she was 14, and the family moved to Guadalajara, Mexico. There, she discovered punk rock, which spoke to her in the form of P.J. Harvey and Bikini Kill, though her own idea of the punk-rock life then was drinking booze and lying in bed, watching MTV.

She formed Le Butcherettes in 2007 as a duo in Guadalajara, with best friend Auryn Jolene on drums. They gained notoriety for appearing onstage in bloodied butcher's aprons over their short dresses, cradling raw, severed pig heads and shouting: "Cerdo machista — sexist pig!" The scene was meant as a radical, feminist message, a cry against the extreme sexism Suarez says they were experiencing.

"If you're doing very well, they're, like, 'This girl must have sucked half of the world off to be where she is now. She must have fucked who knows who,' " she says.

The gore and body parts were also a statement on the slaughter of women and children in the Mexican drug wars, and there were always girls in bloody aprons dancing at their shows, emulating the crazed women on stage. The duo released an eight-song EP, Kiss & Kill, in 2008.

By chance, they were seen a year later playing at a rock club in Guadalajara by Mars Volta guitarist Omar Alfredo Rodríguez-López, who eventually signed Le Butcherettes to his indie label, Rodríguez-López Productions. He later produced Sin Sin Sin.

Before Suarez moved the band to Los Angeles, Jolene quit over what the singer describes as issues of direction, and Suarez's need to be the center of attention.

This year, Le Butcherettes settled into a hard-hitting trio; onstage with her at the Troubadour was drummer Gabe Serbian and bassist Jonathan Hischke. But in the few months since then the band has changed again, as Serbian and Hischke were replaced on tour by drummer Lia Braswell and, for now, Rodríguez-López on bass. Things are still unsettled, and Suarez still isn't sure who will be on bass at the Stooges show.

The band with veterans Serbian and Hischke sounded great, she admits, but never felt quite right, and she says she craved someone her own age beside her in the van as she toured for the first time. (Braswell is 20.) "It might seem like I'm really coldhearted, but it hurts, believe me. I've gone through so many ups and downs."

In the meantime, the act has built an audience of hipsters, teens and Spanish-language fans. At Lollapalooza, she noticed a mother breast-feeding her child while singing along. "That was weird, right? Who breast-feeds their kid at a festival and knows Butcherettes lyrics? That was beautiful. I feel lucky. What the hell do they see in me?"

The group, whatever its composition, remains scheduled to begin recording a new album at the end of this month in Mexico, with Rodríguez-López producing again. They are playing new songs on the road, including "The Devil Lived" and "The Gold Notebook," but whether those will end up on the new record remains uncertain. But when it comes to Suarez, nothing is, and that's makes her seem so alive.

Reach the writer at sappleford@aol.com

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