It’s always intense and interesting a conversation with Teresa Suárez, the leader of the Mexican punk rock band Le Butcherettes and also known for her artistic name Teri Gender Bender (you got to love that name). With the recently release of Le Butcherettes’ third album, A Raw Youth, we spoken with Teri not only about the album but also about the surroundings of it: feminism, social injustices, revolutions, cultural differences, and much more.
What did you want to convey with the title A Raw Youth?
Out of every catastrophe that occurs in the world – political, social, or even an emotional relationship – I think that in order to survive and work through it you need to have some type of a very strong spirit, a very resilient spirit. And I consider that to be a raw youth, because that comes from somewhere within, and that’s ageless. For example, when people are discontent with their government and they take it to the streets, like what happened in Turkey, but those are rebels. Out of discontent rebellion comes out, and out of that you have art that starts forming. Basically it’s the will of not necessarily wanting to win but to prevail. The will of not wanting to be squashed down. The will to survive.
It would be good to point out that surviving and living are two different things, and surviving is just the first step. African Americans for many years were just surviving but they were trying to truly live, to have freedom to what they wanted with their lives.
Exactly! They are not indeed the same thing. Because there are many people how are satisfied just “living” and “being”, no questions asked, do what you’re told without questioning. People that are like, “Ok, I’m going to the convenience store and get my Doritos, eat, consume, and process.” I guess this [the album] is basically an answer to people who question what’s outside this golden cage. “What can I do in order to find myself?” Finding individuality and being able to keep my individuality without losing my integrity in this kind of society. Nowadays everything is too politically correct and you have to kind of be careful with what you’re saying. In Mexico you can talk about anything, I feel, while in the US it’s like, “Ohh, you can say this because you’re offending this or that community.” What the hell? Is this just living? Are we, or are not, fight for something that’s almost palpable? I think it’s about free speech that we’re losing slowly because everyone is scared to being trolled, or attacked, or bullied. The sharks are just looking for any type of blood nowadays. Especially with the internet where you can by anonymous and so there are a lot of cowards that are kicking that in the easiest of ways. Like the so called protesters who say that want to fight for the LGBT rights and then what they do is just change their photo to the LGBT flag. That’s nothing, it’s ridiculous.
I feel that they’re kind of “liberal” with stupid shit like this thing with the women’s asses but when it comes to the really important stuff – racial, social, economical, financial problems – they are kind of uptight in a way. There seems to be a lack of focus.
You’re definitely right. It’s exactly how it feels. It’s infuriating. They’re “liberal” in the sense of wanting to legalize marijuana, legalize gay marriage, and other stuff like that but only because they’re not stupid and they see a way to make even more money with it.
What are the differences between being a woman in Mexico and being a woman in the US?
There are definitely small things that I’ve noticed. It’s definitely harder to start something, like a business, in Mexico, because it’s engrained in our culture. Octavio Paz in his book, The Labyrinth of Solitude, analyses this term that we use here in Mexico, which is “la chingada”. He dissects the Mexican culture in “chingada”, which comes from the expression “rapes woman”. Things like that are engrained in our culture and it has a really heavy emotional significance, very heavy baggage. It’s still very poorly seen if you are an outspoken woman, especially if you are a little older. If you are outspoken the older woman will talk horribly about you and they will cast you off as a black sheep. There’s still a lot of prejudice in Mexico whereas in the US I think it’s just colder. No one really cares about you. They’re just in their own world doing their own thing. There’s the hypocritical guideline of it, “Yeah, you’re a woman. We support you but we’re just going to fuck you up like the rest of the lower class people.” In Mexico is more like, “Ok, you’re a woman so we will fuck you up a little more.” [laughs] It sucks! How is it in Portugal?
It’s kind of like in Mexico. I was talking about feminism with Shawna from War on Women, and I was explaining to her that here in Portugal many women don’t even realize they’re being treated unfairly, especially in the small villages.
In Mexico is the same thing. I went to this private school where they made the women to use a dress, meaning show your legs, while the men had the comfortable pants. So, I made a protest and a petition. I wanted to gather all the female students’ signatures to see if we would have the option of wearing pants. And believe it or not some women didn’t want to do it. They were like, “No! Why? I like showing my legs.” I tried to explain that there was nothing wrong with that but we should have the option of wearing pants and not show our legs. Of course they didn’t give a shit because they liked to show their legs and for them not having the option was not really a problem.
So, growing up in a society that has all these things so engrained and that doesn’t celebrates / accepts people who challenge and questions all these things, did you feel isolated when you started to learn about feminism and you started to question everything around you?
Definitely. Ironically enough because my parents had a job in Denver, US, and I also grew up there and I started noticing it there because my mom and my dad would work a lot. My mom would come back home and sometime she would be really, really frustrated. I would ask her what was going on but she would never want to tell me because she was trying to protect me, I guess. But I could hear my parents arguing and I heard her once tell my dad about the driving test she took in order to have the driving license and to have a higher job as a post mail employee, “I tell you, I did a great job at the driving test. I didn’t hit one cone whatsoever and the guy still failed me. What is this?” And it turns out that this guy was later in the new news because he had sexually molested some of women that worked in this… basically this whole Bill Cosby style but a post mail gossip. I remember her saying that some of the people that worked with her were saying that she was crazy. “If you failed the driving test is because you did something wrong.” So, that’s when I started noticing… I was probably five years old and I remember thinking, “That’s weird. Why is my mom battling so much for this?” But also my father, he would come from work and feel frustrated because his boss was an older black man and he hated Latinos and so no matter how hard my dad would work, he would get any raises. So yeah, race and sex issues… When my father passed away there was no more masculine protection. We went to Mexico and that’s when I started to feel intensely because my mom was a widow and so there was a lot of questioning about where was the husband. My mom even had to lie sometimes, “My husband is away at work,” because we were not living in a closed community, it was exposed, so she had to lie just out of fear because people would try to take advantage if they knew that there was not a man there, protecting the house. That’s when I started to turn my anxieties into music.
“… for me this one is just about you getting sick of being too confused and you just want to find an answer just to have more stability in your life. That’s basically what it is, finding your own kind of people, your own tribe.”
The last album deals a lot with guilt and kind of confusion of being a women. Would it be fair to say that A Raw Youth is the next step, in the sense that swallows that guilt and confusion and transforms them into anger, a fighting spirit, and an overall stronger mindset?
That’s a good question. This is what I love about interviews. Those questions that someone asks you but you’ve never really thought about it until the moment you’ve being asked. But yeah, for me this one is just about you getting sick of being too confused and you just want to find an answer just to have more stability in your life. That’s basically what it is, finding your own kind of people, your own tribe. For example, the cover I’m kind of dressed up as… My mom thought I was dressed as a Muslim woman with the red veil, and I guess she’s right because… I love Middle Eastern culture. Most stories that strike me the hardest are from Middle East. The circumcisions, the kidnappings, some of them selling their daughters away for very little money, etc. For example, Malala Yousafzai (Pakistani activist for female education) and the school shootings. When she survived the gunshot to her head… It’s amazing what she decided to do. To speak against this people instead of living in fear. And that’s to me the real… She’s more punk rock than any of these fuckers. That’s “A Raw Youth” right there. Inspirational, motivational, and it gives you faith that humanity isn’t completely bleak. There’s still hope. If only more people would awaken… Sadly sometimes something horrible has to happen in order for us to awake up. When I lost my father… BOOM, I had to wake up and get out of my bubble. Or like my grandfather, when he was eight years old in Spain his father stepped on a mine and was killed instantly. He had to go with his mother and his seven brothers to Mexico and help them. All those things that make you go, “Why is my generation so self-entitled? Why do we think we deserve it all when our parents had to fight and work hard to get where they’re at?” That makes me angry, the “give me, give, give” and “me, me, me” generation”. Regarding the cover, it is also based on this book of short stories based on real life experiences in the Middle East, which unfortunately I can’t remember the name, and one of them tells the story of this woman that lives in a village and for some weird reason they single her out as a black sheep. So, one man of that village corners her and starts raping her, and then he calls his friends to rape her as well and before you know it the entire village rapes her. So, what does she do? She lays low for a while, like Batman in the cave reenergize himself, and when she recovers she starts training herself, teaching herself how to shoot guns and before you know it she goes to the village and kills everyone. And then she – I guess the story exaggerates a little bit – gets on her horse and rides into the open desert. So that’s who I had in mind. In my head I was her, the woman that took revenge upon the whole village that raped her.
You recorded Cry Is For The Flies in just ten days and you confessed that “your mind was in the middle of so many clouds.” How was it this time around?
This one was actually pretty fun to record. I mean, it’s always fun to record because they’re always playing around with different sounds and stuff like that, but this time was really smooth. We recorded the drums… Chris Common recorded the drums, he in this phenomenal band drummer and he was in this band called These Arms Are Snakes, but he’s also an incredible engineer… Plus we all lived together at the studio, at the house, so we just locked ourselves in the studio and Chris recorded the drums in two days and then the rest I started to listen to the drums we had recorded. It was very easy because I guess we were at home, in El Paso, Texas. If it would get really hot, because of the heat here, we would take a break and go to the movies and stuff like that, to then come back and keep working on it. So, it was a very smooth process. The writing process, that was… You know, we’re on the road a lot so sometimes you get bored and so you’re always recording stuff on the computer. I guess once we got a break from one of the tours we did for Cry Is For The Flies I sat down with our producer Omar [Rodríguez-López of bands like At the Drive-In and Mars Volta] and we picked out the, I guess, thirteen stronger songs of all my demos and those thirteen songs all had something to do with being pissed off. One of them, “They Fuck You Over”, was a song I had in the closet for a long time. I wrote that when I was sixteen and that’s when I was in Guadalajara and I was just really frustrated… When I tell people, “This is my band” some of them were like, “Yeah, ok. Whatever.” At the time I didn’t see it as I see it now, but in that moment I was just pissed because I wasn’t being taken serious, because of my gender, and because it was a little different in Guadalajara. So, people that wanted to “help us out” were ripping us off, taking off some money that we would make at shows, or stealing our guitars… Basically all those songs have that in common. A certain type of rage that’s born out of injustice.
“Basically all those songs have that in common. A certain type of rage that’s born out of
Talking about Chris Common… Here you are with another drummer. Are you getting used with the fact of changing drummer constantly?
I’ll tell you something interesting, and may have anything to with this. I just recently found out that my father was a drummer. The whole time he was alive he never really talked much about… well, anything. He was really quiet, very reserved… very loving but very quiet. So, when I was on tour my mom send me a picture of my father in the 60s playing drums. I had no idea, when I saw the picture I cried and I thought to myself, “Oh my god, this makes sense.” No I understand why so many drummers are going through my life. I guess that unconsciously I’m looking for my father to drum for me. I know this might sound kind of weird and maybe even a little creepy but I see my father in Chris. [laughs] But on a more serious note, the cool thing about being in a band is the fact that you can work with all these different people. It’s a blessing even if sometimes it is a little bit confusing and nerve racking. Sometimes there’s a lot of understanding and you feel that you and this other person are on the same page and then with time you see people changing, wanting different things… Well, people acting like people. Recently I saw a friend that I didn’t have seen for 13 years, and now we are reconnecting and hopefully it will stay that way and we will not grow apart again. So, of course you will be scared of recommitting or opening yourself up but you can’t blame that new person for other person’s acts. And I guess that with time you start to know yourself a little bit more and better. At least now I know my boundaries, I know that I have to be clearer, and I know that I have to be rougher… because that’s been my problem in the past. I’ve been always way too nice. One of the first drummers in my band, five or six drummers ago, she was one of my best friends but I didn’t set out a boundary. I didn’t tell her that those were my songs, I was writing them, and that she wouldn’t get writing credits. She didn’t understand that.
How did the collaboration with Iggy Pop on the song “La Uva” came to be?
It started in Los Angeles. We got asked to open for Iggy and the Stooges because of Mike Watt from the Minutemen. We played a couple of shows together and he was so nice to open up for us when we were presenting our first album [Sin Sin Sin, released in 2011]. So, Mike was really into it and he told Iggy, “Hey, you should have Le Butcherettes open” and Iggy said yes because he really like our band. We played three or four shows in California and he was very into the idea of doing something in the future, and… We only speak Spanish when we see each other. He’s really fluent in Spanish and he is kind of like us, he sees the all the bullshit in the American culture so he was in Mexico for a long time. I think there was a genuine connection and so a year or two passed and then we played at the same festival, with my other band Bosnian Rainbows, and we had the chance of reconnect there and I told Iggy, “Hey, remember that time that you said you should do something?” He remembered and he was still into that idea so with the help of his awesome manager – a guy called Henry that’s nothing like the other “big time” managers that you see, the guy genuinely loves Iggy and wants the best for him – we were able to work out the logistic of it. I sent the Iggy the song and he really like the song to the point of saying that he already had thought about four different characters/voices to use in the song. So, when we met up in Miami to record it he was so embarrassed, “Oh it sucks that you are here in South Beach Miami. After the recording I want to show you the real Miami.” He took something like five takes. Me and Omar, we told him that he was free to do what he wanted, to explore as much as he wanted, and… Man, he was so into it. The lyrics were all in his head and it was very professional. No rock star pose or anything like it. He confessed that he wanted to bring a bunch of grapes [uvas in Spanish] and wear a robe but he was afraid of scaring us. [laughs] After the recording we hang out. He showed us the real Miami. He took us to the Cuban barrio and driving us around… It was so sweet. He took around there and the Haitian barrio as well. He was concerned that we would have a bad experience in Miami. “No, South Beach no. Let’s take you somewhere.” I found it so endearing. When the song was mixed and mastered we sent it to him and really liked… I don’t know, it is just very surreal that someone so legendary cannot be aware how awesome he is, because he is so humble.