Teri Gender Bender continues process of self-discovery on forthcoming new album from the Texas-based punk band
Growing up the child of immigrants in Denver, Le Butcherettes singer Teri Gender Bender experienced discrimination firsthand.
“My mom, she's a little darker skin and her accent's very thick … so when she tried to talk in English she would often be given very dirty looks. Sometimes people would ignore her, ignore us,” said Gender Bender, reached at home in the midst of a kitchen emergency (not from “bad cooking,” she reassured, but rather from a burst pipe). “I'm not gonna lie. It was hard.”
Then when the family visited its home in Guadalajara, Mexico, Gender Bender, born Teresa Suarez Cosio, was subjected to what she termed “inverted racism,” due to her lighter skin tone and American upbringing, adding to a sense of rootlessness that has carried into adulthood and helps explain why the musician settled in the border town of El Paso, Texas, a city whose cultural blend, in many ways, mirrors her own.
“Everyone here speaks Spanish — even people that aren't from Mexico — so it was really nice to be able to be proud of my roots here without having that fear of like, ‘Oh, my gosh, what if there's this one person that doesn't get it, or feels threatened by me speaking another language?'” said Gender Bender, who joins her bandmates in concert at Ace of Cups on Monday, Nov. 26. “I'm not trying to be like a victim or anything. It's just generally speaking … because it's been all this back and forth, like going to the States and then going back to Mexico and not feeling like you belong. Obviously you find your niche with all the other freaks out there, because I'm a freak myself.”
The band's music can be similarly unmoored, blending elements of punk, rock and garage and drawing inspiration from feminist theory, cultural and political flashpoints and Gender Bender's own, deeply personal experiences. One of Le Butcherette's most recent singles, “strong/ENOUGH,” from the band's forthcoming, untitled full-length, due in February, is informed by the singer's sometimes-toxic relationship with her mother, a woman who has long struggled with mental illness and with whom Gender Bender recently cut ties.
“Real words have been unsaid/I kept it in because I felt too ashamed,” Gender Bender sings on the simmering, synth-driven track. “You love hurting more than life/I'm done giving you all of myself.”
“I love her. She's my life and my biggest influence. But, no, if you don't take care of yourself, you're not gonna be able to take care of others. And that's where I realized that you can't force a horse to drink water, basically,” said Gender Bender. “It's up to them to help themselves, at some point. But I still feel bad. There's still that guilt.”
Even when it's built on fractured roots, Le Butcherettes' music most often projects strength, Gender Bender hurling herself into the fray with the ferocity of a woman who refuses to be denied. Regardless, the singer said recent times have been spent discovering weaknesses, which she now hopes to transform into strengths.
“I realized that I'm very easily distracted, like I'm just a continuous train of thought, so I make lists and before I realize it my whole house is full of papers with lists that I've never had the chance to take on,” she said. “Also, lately I've been told that I had been too nice and … that maybe I'm being nice because I want something in return, which is the complete opposite. I don't want anything from anyone. I'm the kind of person where, unfortunately, I have a lot of pride and I want to do things on my own. It takes a lot for me to ask for help from someone.”
Musically, however, Gender Bender has increasingly embraced collaboration. While Le Butcherettes has long featured a rotating cast, the band's current lineup — the singer is joined by drummer Alejandra Robles Luna, guitarist Riko Rodriguez-Lopez and bassist Marfed Rodriguez-Lopez — is easily the longest running in its decade-plus existence. And for its forthcoming new album, the bandmates decamped to Northern California with producer (and former Talking Head) Jerry Harrison, who helped refine and pull new textures from Le Butcherettes' sound.
“Jerry kind of looks like my father, who passed away, so it was kind of seeing a ghost, a little bit, when I met him. … But he was great. He was very, very intellectual, and very well read. He went to Harvard, so I was a little intimidated by that because I'm a pseudo-intellectual; I pretend I know shit,” Gender Bender said, and laughed. “But he comes from the world of making hits, so he was also very just straightforward, like, ‘Oh, if we take this bridge out it'll be more polished.' He was definitely very helpful in making it very accessible because, for me, sometimes making a straight line is harder than making a fucking triangle.”
Gender Bender has embraced this gradual maturation both in her music and in her own life, saying she looks forward to turning 30 in 2019.
“The older I get I'm like, ‘Yes. Cool. Now I really have to get my shit together.' For me, it motivates me to be more ambitious, getting older,” she said. “I kind of like my wrinkles. I'm noticing some wrinkles, some gray hairs, and I'm like, ‘Damn, I really like this. It's really the fucking real deal. I worked hard for these little things.'”