Friday, July 1, 2016

I'm Queen

I find it hard to articulate... I find it hard to pronounce these words”

She was 12 or 13 when it started, a victim of bullying at a middle school in Denver. One particular boy liked to tell her she was fat — "piggy," to be exact. Without thinking, she grabbed the nearest lunch tray, swung it and connected it to the boy's face. "He was knocked down to the floor, I kicked him in the stomach. I kicked him. I kicked him and screamed at him. The teachers came up to me and pulled me off. "From that day forward people would say, 'You don't want me to pull "the Teri" on you.” An alter-ego was born.

Take Liz Phair's cocksure sexual self awareness, give it a garage punk beat, filter it through the experiences of a young Chicana growing up in Denver, before being abruptly uprooted to Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mx...... mold it into unruly three minute discourses on alienation, displacement and the never ending war against misogyny (in this case the machismo culture that infects Mexican society) and you have Teresa Suarez, aka Teri Gender Bender, the clever, sensual and mesmerizing musician behind Le Butcherettes. She's a unique musical bi-product of clashing cultures, who rages against the machine with rancor and honesty. Teresa sings in her native language... English, though she's equally proficient in Spanish. Her unmistakably American vocals, give away her extensive musical influences.

The Tapatio whirlwind wields a guitar like a cleaver.... all down strokes and slashing riffs (Teri asked her father to buy her a guitar at 10 years old after she had dreams about playing the guitar) On stage she demands your attention. Seeking to satisfy her need to feed your soul, punishing her instruments.... smashing her keyboard, then tossing it aside like an inattentive boyfriend. The uninitiated are taken aback. The divide between her and the audience melts away, Teri stage dives backwards into their midst, arms outstretched. She begs for punishment and finds only admiration, love and an occasional call to “show us your titties” Teri builds to a raging orgasmic climax. The fans eat it up. It's a mental health balancing act not seen since sullied Mexican pop diva Gloria Trevi was titillating the masses. 

"There's so many demons I have inside — they're little gods," she said as she mimed the act of holding a baby when asked about her songwriting approach. "There's a god of evil, the god of good, the god of sex, the god of lust. With music, I tap into those god demons. It's therapy" Los Angeles Times, Todd Martens

Born in Denver to an Hispano American father and Mexican mother, Teri's life changed dramatically when her father died of a heart attack and her mother decided to move back to Mexico. “They considered me different, like a weirdo, because my Spanish was not Tapatío; I had an accent. They called me gringa (slang for American) I felt alienated.” You can only smash so many boys in the face with a lunch tray, Tori quickly learned to channel her seething rage into other outlets such as music. Formed in 2007, Le Butcherettes gained notoriety using visual elements such as meat, pig heads, and blood. “It was a metaphor of the people’s perception of women as pieces of meat, when in reality, they’re the pigs” Teresa's intense demeanor isn't for the faint of heart and eventually it led to tension with her drummers starting with Auryn Jolene, who formed one half of the original Guadalajara duo.

Distressingly, their differing views on radical feminism led to Auryn treating Teresa in an abusive manner. At one point Auryn went so far as to declare to the Mexican media that the band was over.... all of which came as a surprise to Teri, who had no intention of putting Le Butcherettes on hiatus. Teresa may have languished in Guadalajara had it not been for a chance encounter with Omar Rodriguez-López (originally from El Paso, Tx., of At the Drive-In and Mars Volta fame) Omar just happened to be present at a dive club in Guadalajara where Le Butcherettes were one of five acts playing. Just before the proceedings were to get underway, there was a power outage. The bands scheduled to preform opted not to play with one exception.

With bullhorn in hand, Teri Gender Bender literally dragged her drummer onstage. Le Butcherettes played a complete acoustic set. This caught Omar's attention, who was drawn in by the Teresa's "dedication to the spirit of the moment." Rodríguez-López, wasted little time signing Le Butcherettes to his own label. This first break brought about a series of changes. Lia Braswell, blonde and lanky, a drummer from Southern California (she also plays with Gothic Tropic) replaced Auryn Jolene. Lia fit in well, but eventually it was a bit much (Lia admits having been "frightened," when Teri would suddenly start urinating on stage. Onstage their chemistry was captivating, a bit like The White Stripes if Meg White had fronted the band and played guitar with Jack White behind the drum set. 

Next up was Normandi Heuxdaflo. A rather odd fellow, Normandi performs in what resembles a luchador mask made from a leatherhead era football helmet. (Teri claims the mask represents men oppressed by feminism) Heuxdalfo was brought in on a temporary basis after Auryn's departure, but he quickly made himself at home. Teresa explained in an interview how he came to see himself as not just a permanent member of the band (which he wasn't) but also as its front man. While their relationship was contentious, on stage they clicked like clockwork. Normandi's beefy beat propelling the band at break neck speed. After the sessions for the “Sin Sin Sin” album, the palpable strain took its toll and Normandi was sent packing. The split, same as with Auryn Jolene was not amicable to say the least.

Following the band's discovery by Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and their signing to Nadie Sound. Le Butcherettes relocated... first to San Diego and then to Los Angeles, Teri's current home base (her mother left Guadalajara and now lives in El Paso, Tx.) Teri then teamed up with bass player Jonathan Hischke and drummer Gabe Serbian for a series of concert dates, though she's currently backed by drummer Chris Common and bassist-guitarist, Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez, Omar's younger brother. He is best known as the keyboardist and percussionist of The Mars Volta and the drummer for Zechs Marquise. Bosnian Rainbows, a collaboration between Omar and Teri resulted in a well received album release in 2013 and a subsequent tour.

And while the band's fame is of the cult variety, Le Butcherettes has a host of influential fans, including Garbage's Shirley Manson and Henry Rollins of Black Flag notoriety. Rollins, a master of rock intensity himself, praises, Suarez's "powerful intellect" and compares her stage presence to that of Iggy Pop. "She's something," he said. "She's a star. It's like a great character in a movie. You want to know what happens when the movie is over. You want to know the rest of the story with her." Los Angeles Times, Todd Martens

Le Butcherettes' discography is a mixed bag of rage fueled, garage punk inspired rock and self indulgent oddities, combined with Teri's brand of modern feminism... all presented with a decidedly American slant. One thing is for sure, Teresa Suarez has shown a growing maturity and sophistication both emotionally and in her music. This could be the result of Teri finally finding her rightful place in this world. From my own experiences, living between two cultures and two languages has its rewards and pitfalls or as many folks caught in that predicament will attest to: You're neither here nor there. Too gringo for the Mexicans and too Mexican for the gringos. Seeing how Teri is hard wired, nothing comes easy, not for her nor her fans. But, don't be afraid homies, dive right in, she won't hurt you.

“Kiss & Kill” ep. recorded in 2008, released for download on Bandcamp in 2015 is the only recording available from the Guadalajara period when Le Butcherettes was a duo consisting of Teri Gender Bender and Auryn Jolen. “Sin Sin Sin” was the band's first fully realized album, recorded after Teri joined forces with Rodriguez-Lopez Productions. It's also the only recording featuring Normandi Heuxdalfo. “Cry is for the Flies” released in 2014 is another Rodriguez-Lopez Production, features Lia Braswell on drums, Henry Rollins spoken word on “Moment of Guilt” and Shirley Manson (Garbage) vocals on “Shame, You're All I've Got” “Chaos as Usual” is a split ep w/The Melvins released on the Amphetamine Reptile label in 2015 and last but not least “A Raw Youth” produced by Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and featuring Chris Commons, Jamie Aaron Aux, Iggy Pop, John Frusciante, Deantoni Parks(Mars Volta) and Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez, is Le Butcherettes latest release.