A Raw Conversation with Le Butcherette's Teri Gender Bender

Image by Monica Lozano

Teresa Suarez, who goes by the moniker Teri Gender Bender, has been performing as the frontwoman for Le Butcherettes for nearly a decade. The Mexican-American singer has used her position as a musician to communicate the importance of feminism and the attention we must give to unfortunate circumstances that women experience. She recently released her latest album, A Raw Youth, which features Iggy Pop and John Frusciante. Le Butcherette's increasing popularity allows Teri to bring to light these important topics to audiences that may not be as educated on feminist issues.

I interviewed Teri to discuss her album, her collaboration with Iggy Pop, and the important story behind her track "Sold Less Than Gold."

You recently played a few shows with Mike Patton of Faith No More, who you've mentioned before that you were a fan of while growing up. How did you end up touring together?

Oh, that was crazy! We went on tour with them in Scandinavia, Norway, and Sweden. We had the opportunity to open for his shows with his side project, Tomahawk. When we opened recently for Faith No More, the ice was already broken. We already had that chemistry of "Oh, how cool, you're here, welcome!" and they would say hi to us. They're humble people and their crew started helping us out during the tour. I sheepishly would tell them, "No, please, don't help, coño. You're doing a lot for us already!" They would not take no for an answer. They treated us like family.

My birthday was on the last day of our tour and I typically don't celebrate it and don't announce it to anyone. I don't know who found out or how, but the band and crew organized a surprise for me in my dressing room. While we were playing, they decorated my dressing room with balloons, piñatas, posters saying "Happy Birthday", an enormous cake that said "With love from your family of Faith No More," and a bottle of tequila. Once the show ended, I went inside the dressing room, found the surprises and screamed. I opened the door to go out and they were all outside. They sang Happy Birthday to me and we all hugged each other. They're beautiful people. It's like a dream come true. I'm a fan. I don't consider myself a musician; I consider myself a fan who creates music so I appreciated the gesture.

It seems like all your dreams are coming true, considering you also recorded "La Uva", a track from your recent album A Raw Youth, with Iggy Pop.

Yeah, I couldn't believe it. He's another person who is humble and doesn't realize how incredible he is. He focuses more on what occurs in the world and he speaks Spanish very well. He's always been a great guy. He says hi to us even when he's at a festival surrounded by a sea of people, he cares about seeing us eye-to-eye and acknowledging you. It's those details that show you how great he is. It's like he has a Latin vibe. He'll hug you when he greets you. When we were recording in the studio, he'd always be there on time and knew all the lyrics. Besides that, he also took us around the neighborhoods that he considered to be his favorites in Miami, since we had to record his vocals there. Everyone should know how humble Iggy Pop is.

How did you two meet?

It was all thanks to Mike Watt, who is the bassist from the legendary band, The Minutemen. His booking agent set us up with Mike Watt to play a show together. He recommended Iggy Pop, so we could open for him, because Mike Watt also plays base with The Stooges. He took Mike's word and reached out to us so we could tour with him and his band. He was very nice. He invited us to his dressing room and Omar [Rodríguez López] was there. We were all talking in Spanish. From there, we developed the idea of collaborating in the future, writing something in Spanish and he liked the idea. He likes coming up with new ideas, even though he has sung in Spanish before. He's a man of his word and we accomplished it.

You mentioned in a recent interview that A Raw Youth focuses on the theme of the oppressor vs. the oppressed. What inspired you to focus on this topic?

I think that honestly, going beyond the political side of things and all those mamadas, I think it's more introspective because any of us as humans can be oppressors without realizing it. If we realize this and try to change, that to me is like winning a small yet big battle because it helps other people to change when you accept your own mortality. You can also apply this concept to politics, or rather to "The Man," major corporations, Walmart, and exploiting employees. I write thinking more about the emotional side of things. I think we can also be the bad guys at times. I think it's sometimes best to use that inner evil and turn it into hope and fill it up with juice of life.

Do you think you can identify with the concept of people taking advantage of those who are kind and exploiting them?

Yes, absolutely. It costs me trouble to admit that I myself am a victim. That's why I take it all out when I'm onstage. It's my only way of expressing that. If I don't have that form of expression, I don't know what I would do with my life. It's a concept of life or death for me. I'm glad that I'm now surrounded by good people but it was a challenge to be able to get to where I am surrounded by these wonderful people. It's a constant battle. I think it's that way for everyone, no?

You wrote and performed Sold Less Than Gold a few years ago yet released it now in your new album. What made you decide to revisit that song and play it now that the band has gone through so many changes throughout the years?

Omar (who produced A Raw Youth) convinced me that is was a good song, that I should play it no matter how old it is. He is such a good motivational speaker! He told me that a song gets stronger with age and that no matter how many changes a band goes through it is their responsibility to serve a song and it's body. He made a good point.

You've mentioned in previous interviews that you wrote the song after visiting Iran. What was that experience like for you?

The experience was tremendous. There are a lot of similarities to Mexico. Mexico and Iran have the same colors of their flag : green, white and red, and both have an oval symbol in the middle. Iran's national anthem is eerily similar to Mexico's national anthem. Both countries are highly populated. There is a mystical surrealism lingering through the air just Mexico. One major difference is that Iran was actually a leading kingdom and power and was able to have a set regime in place for hundreds of years, being known for at once being the largest empire in the world.

Iran is one of the culturally richest countries I've ever been to. If you put it into perspective, it is one of the most radical and progressive countries of the Middle East, yet just like anywhere else, a lot is to be done for women's rights. Just like Mexico, the sex slave trade occurs. I was able to be taken into local's homes and was able to listen to people's stories. So many injustices and misfortunes but these people come through. Survivors. It reminds me of El Paso in a way. Many women here share similar stories to the women in Iran. I know it may seem like I'm generalizing but there are generalizations for a reason. I'm basing my experiences off of my own eyes and off of what history is. Just like Mexico, Iran has seen a lot of blood, repeatedly over time. Sacrifices, power struggles, scientific breakthroughs...

It's beauty at it's finest. I wish I could live there.

It was life changing and gave me a lot of new perspective. You have to keep in mind that Iran is one of the world's oldest civilizations. So much to learn from, to grasp from, so much inspiration everywhere. What does it all mean? It makes one produce more questions, more thoughts ignite. I wish I could go more in depth but so many of the stories that were shared with me are extremely personal but were enough for me to keep me my head out of the clouds and to focus. These women I have spoken to, some who were refugees from Syria, have lost so much but yet they have their faith. I think it is extremely important for a society to have their faith and their tradition, but a lot of extremists use the name of "faith" and "religion" to their own personal political propaganda and it ends up holding back the potential that a lot women hold.

Iran holds a lot of western standards when it comes to women's rights and there is change happening. It is not a land of savagery like many ignorant westerners have let themselves be fooled into thinking. Just like in all countries there is darkness, but it is actually the beauty in this country that makes one want to stay.

Your songs in this album all tell stories of experiences and hardships people endure. Are there any that you feel you connect with in a more personal level?

I think we can all be victims of our own selves. Sometimes unexpected changes occur and we have to adapt to those changes. While you adapt, you also notice the changes in this adaptation and are conscious of them. For example, if I'm going to someone else's house, I could never be disrespectful towards them. I cannot impose my beliefs or my way of thinking on them because it is their home. I think that nowadays people are losing the respect they have for one another. We should be a collaborative humanity that thinks more about the future of the children. There are people who travel all over the world to give conferences on the importance of girls going to school, a concept which should already be obvious and common. In some countries, girls and young women are not allowed to get an education and are threatened to death, as happened to Malala Yousafzai . Humanity has its evil and its beauty. I think this album is a tribute to good people who fight for something, whether it's a mother who fights for the future of her son or a woman who only does something to please her parents or her family, you know, the good people.