Jess McCabe interviews Teri Gender Bender of Le Butcherettes and Bosnian Rainbows and wonders about the pressures of creating an explosive onstage persona
A short introduction to Mexico’s riot-grrl-in-chief, Teresa Suárez: She’s the lead singer of Mexican punk duo Le Butcherettes, the band she launched with her best friend, aged only 17. On-stage antics include fake blood, flour, eggs and a real pig’s head. Teresa – or, to use her stage name, Teri Gender Bender – and Auryn Jolene have been known to take the stage in 1950s dress, combined with a bloody apron.
If Le Butcherettes look as if they were inspired by 1990s riot grrl, that’s because they were. Listening to Bikini Kill and L7 inspired Suárez to found the group, her first band, when she was still in school in Guadalajara. The resemblance doesn’t stop with visuals, as Le Butcherettes dig deep with choppy guitars, a DIY feel and feminist lyrics. As Miss Selfridge dredges through its archives to sell another round of red velvet dresses and plaid shirts to a new generation, it’s a relief to imagine for a minute that Bikini-Kill-flavoured-garage bands like Le Butcherettes could make a second coming.
At 24, Suarez hasn’t abandoned Le Butcherettes but she has a new project: singing in a new band, Bosnian Rainbows, with two alumni of The Mars Volta: Omar Rodríguez-López (who was instrumental in propelling Le Butcherettes into global success in the late 2000s), Deantoni Parks and keyboardist, Nicci Kasper. (The name is a metaphor, she explains. “The point is that everything has its beauty. That’s why the rainbow, it’s the future. So Bosnian Rainbows’ something with the future. Something seen with negativity that really is something beautiful.”)
When we sit down for a chat over mint tea, it is clear from Suarez’s first sentence that she is nothing like her stage persona. In fact, the first thing Teresa does is hug me hello. Open and friendly, Suarez is luminous. But when she’s carried on talking for more than a sentence or two, the singer, who eschews identifying herself as a musician, has a tendency to apologise unnecessarily for ranting. On stage, she might be self-possessed, but in person it’s clear she’s still finding her way in the world.
At first, I assume this is because she is nervous about her gig later in the evening, when her new band Bosnian Rainbows are due to play a fiendishly hipster venue in Shoreditch, The Old Blue Last. Dressed for stage already, Suarez is wearing a traditional Mexican dress, beautiful blue and embroidered with flowers. When I compliment it, she smiles widely, before explaining her reaction. “I just felt cool [to hear the compliment], because I felt kinda funny,” she says, before apologising, “I’m so nervous, I’m sorry!”. Her accent is a fluid blend of Denver, where she grew up until she was 13 and her father passed away, and Guadalajara.
This move was difficult for 13-year-old Suarez. At the time, her two brothers were only three and eight. It’s only later that she has grown to understand why her mother had to move back to her maternal family in Mexico. “Denver was my father, and so if you took father out, you’re just in Denver,” she says.
At some points Suarez is almost worryingly nervous. Le Butcherettes have not broken up but, for now, her main focus is singing for Bosnian Rainbows.
The band had only played local gigs in Guadalajara. “Even some guy friends or studio people would say you should consider going out of the city someday. I would say, yeah I know, I want to play Mexico City. That was our mission, to play Mexico City. But before we got to that, in one gig in Guadalajara, the lights went out,” she recalls.
The band continued to play.
Unknown to Le Butcherettes, Rodríguez-López of The Mars Volta, was in the audience. And he was impressed with the women’s performance under pressure.
“So I was like, WOW! That’s so cool! I couldn’t believe it. It’s probably not going to happen. It’s weird. Who just approaches you like that, asking you to work with them? But it was true. And they called up the next day and we met up at this cerviche restaurant. And the rest is history! We got along very well.”
Omar produced Le Butcherettes’ 2010 album Sin Sin Sin. And Le Butcherettes went on to support a Mars Volta European tour, as well as bands like Deftones and Dillinger Escape Plan. And, eventually, Suárez went on to join Bosnian Rainbows.
All the band members share a house in the US. Suarez describes being in the band as family. “With my family in real life I was always the most talkative one, the most arrogant, spoiled, daddy’s little girl. And I never learned to listen. And with them [Bosnian Rainbows], I’m OK. I’m not going to screw this family up. I’m going to listen to everything they say. Their jokes are great – well, how can I be funny in the future? I’m trying to listen more. And it feels weird talking right now because I haven’t done that in a while.”
It’s hard to avoid the sense that Suarez, with her explosive onstage persona, is squeezing herself into a box of self-consciousness and wariness. Yet, the singer says she has been able to express herself in Bosnian Rainbows like never before. ‘We all write everything. And I feel like by not playing an instrument with this band. I’ve been able to let myself go,’ she explains. “It’s good to find that comfort where nothing will make you feel naked. And I feel that, with Bosnian Rainbows. I’m discovering slowly how to feel comfortable with myself onstage.”
She is scared of audiences turning nasty and throwing things. The worst thing that has happened so far? “Someone blowing cigarette smoke right in my face,” she recalls. “But I didn’t want to let him know that I was angry. So I sniffed it all in, I was like,” she mimes a sniff, a second sniff, and then a third, deep sniff, “and I was like: more. And he got kinda scared and he stopped it. That was kinda funny.”
But then, she adds: “Not the next day, and actually I lost my voice because of that.” Becoming a stage persona can take its toll.
Identifying as a feminist
“I say it out loud and proudly, like I’m a feminist! And I still do say that out loud. But before I was more like, [saying I’m a feminist] even when people didn’t ask me.”
The toughest audience
“The toughest is definitely from where I’m from, Mexico. Because the public is not ashamed to show if they love you or hate you. And they take it to the extreme.”
“I like shaving but every once in a while I get lazy so people will start looking at my legs and [go], ‘Oh, look she didn’t shave.’ Whatever. there’s way worse problems in the world.”
The existence of intelligent life outside of Earth
“Before I’d be kinda sceptical, but let’s be real, we’re in a multiverse, trillions and trillions of galaxies going on forever. Forever is out there. And that is scary.”
Upwards head and shoulders close-up of Teresa Suárez performing onstage with Bosnian Rainbows at Groove in Buenos Aries, Argentina, in November 2013. Her teeth are clenched and her lips are pouting outwards into a snarl, suggesting she is mid-flow in vocal delivery. Her eyes are closed. By Pablo Caro, shared under a Creative Commons License.