TERI GENDER BENDER has a lot to talk about. On stage and on record, the vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist for Le Butcherettes is confrontational, imbued with a ferocious energy that's reminiscent of punk's aggressive tendencies. But instead of simply being blisteringly enraged, the music of Le Butcherettes is engaged and insatiably curious; in conversation, Gender Bender reveals herself to be as candid and self-reflective as her music is tumultuous.
"I don't want to be a rocker," says Gender Bender, whose stage name was chosen to challenge preconceptions and expectations of sexuality (her real name is Teresa Suárez). "I want to be—and I'm working really hard on it—I want to be an artist. In order to be a good artist, you have to always go through changes. There's nothing wrong with having rage and expressing it on stage, but, I also want to grow as—I don't know—a musician as well and get the whole package. I know it sounds pretentious, but you only live once and I want to do it right. It's like being in a relationship: You can't just give them one part, you have to be completely devoted to him or her if you want to make it work. Which means facing your demons, which is sometimes the audience."
Suárez was born in Denver and moved to Guadalajara at age 14, where she started the band as a duo with drummer Auryn Jolene. "At first, I didn't feel connected to the Mexican music scene. I think that's why a lot of people in Mexico didn't really get us. First of all, we didn't sing in Spanish, which was a huge crime. Being born in the States is like, either you're Mexican or American and you have to pick. I always had that cultural identity crisis of not knowing what to do. Because I'm really both. I lived half my life here and half my life in Mexico. At first I thought it was a curse, having two things in me."
After Jolene's departure, Gender Bender moved to LA in 2009 recruiting drummer Gabe Serbian (the Locust) and bassist Jonathan Hischke (Hella, Broken Bells) to complete the new incarnation of Le Butcherettes. "I would say, 'I'm always gonna have a female band with just two girls!' But what you're doing is also kinda sexist because you're excluding other really good potential drummers who are men. In a huge way, they're my guides," she says of her current bandmates. "I feel like I'm protected. On the road they're like my big brothers. In Mexico, it was just us two girls always getting hit on relentlessly. And out of the Mexican cultural tradition, we'd be like, 'oh, ha ha,' or give an uncomfortable laugh—like, 'oh, we're women and it's normal and we just have to put up with that.' I'm learning that I don't have to put up with anything if it makes me feel uncomfortable."
The band's debut full-length, Sin Sin Sin, was produced by Omar Rodríguez-López of the Mars Volta, and the album is host to everything from the anvil clang of "New York" to the amphetamine crunch-pop of "Henry Don't Got Love" to the dramatic, slow-burning bile of "I'm Getting Sick of You." The album title refers to guilt, as Gender Bender explains: "There are different kinds of guilt. There's the guilt that you don't really have to feel guilty [about], but then there's doing something against your will and you should have done something about it. And then if something does happen, you have to confront that guilt and heal yourself—not kill yourself, heal it."
On stage, Gender Bender dresses in 1950s housewife garb and often covers herself in blood. "The band has a lot of symbology," she says. "When I'm on stage I try to express myself in a different way, that I would never do in normal society—I scream at the top of my lungs. It's therapeutic... The only thing that I stopped using was raw meat, and that's because I'd done it for two years in Mexico. Again, it was with the symbols. Sometimes women are compared to meat in really misogynistic cultures. Sometimes meat is worth even more than a woman. So, that was my way of poking fun at it, but people took it too literally. They just thought I was being anti-vegetarian!"