We're used to hearing musicians talk about improving their ability to lose themselves on stage in an effort to slash, burn and entertain. It's rare to hear one say they think they might be overdoing it a bit, especially when it's someone whose nihilism fans have grown to love. Since she was a teenager, Teri Gender Bender of Le Butcherettes was one of those performers possessed by the music, and the curse of frustration and rage she says gave her the impulse to douse herself in pig's blood, cut off her bangs and swing from rafters in front of a crowd. Just talking about some of the old feelings of red eyed adrenaline make the 25 year-old woman born Teresa Suárez, feel jittery over the phone.
And while there's still plenty of string-snapping punk energy in her latest album Cry is For the Flies (released digitally in May, physically in September via Ipecac) she says the music represents a far more tempered version of herself. In choosing to embrace new projects (like Bosnian Rainbows) and happier emotions, Suárez has finally started to control some curses that plagued her mind as a performer for so long. Notice we don't say she let go of them entirely. Anyone who has seen her perform knows that a visceral element of haunting, raw power will always be part of her repertoire. We recently spoke to Suárez before she and her drummer Lia Braswell return to the Observatory to open for her good friend and mentor Omar Rodriguez Lopez who has reunited with his bandmate Cedric Bixler Zavala of the Mars Volta to perform as Antemasque.
OC Weekly (Nate Jackson): From a performance standpoint, is there any specific difference for you between fronting a band like Bosnian Rainbows versus your band Le Butcherettes?
Teri Gender Bender: With Le Butcherettes, I started the band when I was 17 and its been kind of my baby. When I started the band I was very angry and frustrated because my father passed away when I was 13, suddenly of a heart attack. And my last words to him were “I hate you.” And you have to understand that we're here from one minute to the next, you never know what is gonna happen. So Le Butcherettes for me was an outlet to get all my rage out. I'd use pig heads or fish heads on stage, because that's how I felt. I felt like a piece of meat because I felt like in some way I killed him, I killed my father–I said those words to him and five minutes later he had a heart attack. So I felt this enormous guilt of self loathing. And instead of turning to drugs or alcohol or doing poorly in school, I started to give my everything to writing music. And eventually it helped me–because it's a way to release yourself and heal yourself. Bosnian Rainbows for me is a way to find another shade of myself, a different way to express myself, it's not as violent as Le Butcherettes was. And some of the songs that I wrote for Cry is For the Flies that didn't make the album were used for Bosnian Rainbows. So it was good see another side of the music that I'd written being used for another project.
Considering the album has been done for two years, can you describe what mindset you were in at that point when you were writing the lyrics. And what is it like going back now and revisiting those songs live?
It's good, because I can be so lucky to go back to an album and say you know what, I'm gonna put this out now because I don't feel scared anymore. Because as we were recording the album, a series of terrible events were going down. A friend of mine went into a coma, I had a dog I loved very much that all of the sudden died in the studio, Omar's [Rodriguez] mother passed away…I felt somehow, in a sort of egotistical way that I was attracting all these bad events. Like it was karma for what I said to my father. So I put this album away and that's when Bosnian Rainbows happened so I focused all of my energy on that. But no one is strong enough to attract those things on their own. Life happens, you just have to roll with it. I just realized I had to put it out. And my mother liked it, so we put it out online at first and it's gonna come out in a physical release in September through Ipecac Records. But while we were doing that I was working with Lia [Braswell] and Omar worked on a new record which will come out next year. So I've been keeping my mind pre-occupied. I don't like feeling lazy.
When it comes to staying productive, it sounds like you and Omar are cut from the same cloth. Describe your relationship with him.
He's a very good friend. He's a good person. It took me a while as a teenager, hanging around bad influences or people that make you feel bad about yourself, at this point in my life I want to be surrounded by people who make me feel good about myself. You are what you eat and you are who you hang around with. So Omar, he's a good human being. If you ask him a question about what he thinks about a song, he's not gonna lie or try to sugarcoat anything. He'll be straight up honest. There's never a dull moment with him.
How about with Lia Braswell, your drummer?
She's my age and she's very appreciative of things. Sometimes I had the displeasure of touring with people who are older than me and are a little more bitter and complain about everything. Lia is the opposite, she's excited when we get to the dressing room, and if there's no rider, it's like “oh well!” And it just feels like we're experiencing everything for the first time and every day is something new.
Do you ever worry about fans feeling that they expect you to do outlandish things on stage?
I never worry, but sometimes I do get mad at myself when I go too crazy on stage because I feel like something takes over me. Because my dream is to be able to play a show without getting ahead of myself or letting adrenaline drug my brain too much. Because at the end of a show I'll realize I have bruises on my legs or on my forehead and I get frustrated. But I guess its a thing that will change with age, when I get older I'll be able to be more calm.
Anything in particular you're looking forward when you come home to LA this weekend?
Mostly I just want to make sure everything goes okay, that everyone in my life is okay. I adopted this attitude from my mother of being neurotic, like I'm always expecting something bad to happen. So when we're in the van, I'm constantly telling whoever's driving the van to not go any faster than 80 because I don't wanna get into an accident. So I just hope that by the time we're in L.A. everything's good and we're all safe and sound and I hope to see my good friends.