An interview with Teri Gender Bender of Le Butcherettes

Many times my inbox is flooded with emails about bands who have little-to-no impact on my world. They tend to sound exactly the same as the last good-looking pop tartlet to flash across my inbox and their Myspace pages play familiar cookie-cutter songs that blend right into the next. So, imagine my surprise when the deliciously political punk rock sounds of Le Butcherettes made its way to my hungry ears.

The band, which started in Mexico as a female duo, has gone through some major highs and lows. As is what happens with many bands, internal tensions ran high and former drum player, Auryn Jolene, departed, leaving the band’s founder, Teri Gender Bender, on her own. Thankfully, Teri is an unstoppable force of nature – she recruited drummer Gabe Serbian and with the help of Omar Rodriguez Lopez (The Mars Volta, At The Drive-In) the band will be releasing its first proper full-length album, Sin Sin Sin later this year.

We had the chance to talk to Teri about her music, the meaning behind her name and what’s up with there being so many haters. First off, I have to tell you, I love your sound. It’s kind of a mix between the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Detroit Cobras and Girl in a Coma – who, are all on my hit list. Asking who your influences are is probably a very played out question – in that there are so many amazing bands to choose from – so, what have you been listening to lately?
Teri Gender Bender:
Oh thank you! Thank you for those kind words, you made me blush. Well one of my influences is actually Bikini Kill. I got into them when I was about 13 and I know I was a little late on the scene and they’re broken up now, but they gave me a lot of inspiration to say, “Screw it, show your music to the world, who cares what the haters say.” I always loved the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Cream – classic rock.

Oh man, I have to say I’m a little bit nervous right now.

AE: Oh? Don’t be, I’m nervous too, we can be nervous together. I feel like I’m totally geeking out right now. Ever since coming across your music I haven’t been able to stop listening.

I love that, thank you. Well the band actually started in Mexico and there are a lot of people who support us, but I’m not really used to all of this positivity because there’s a lot of haters out there. So sometimes I’m a little nervous for that reason, but I’m calm now. [Laughs]

AE: Wait, why all the haters? What’s up with that?

Well at first I think a lot of people came to our shows because we were girls. I mean some people came for the music but I think a lot of people just wanted to see what some girls could do, but weren’t expecting anything good. So I was always trying to prove myself to the people, like I’m not just a girl playing, I’m a human being expressing myself. I’m not doing it to entertain you by shaking my booty or trying to turn you on. Sometimes people take things out of context and use it against you — it’s part of life.

AE: Well, that blows! I know you use a lot of weird imagery like an actual pig’s head onstage. Are you using that to de-sexualize your performance?

Yeah, well, actually that was around the first stages of Le Butcherettes. The whole meat thing and blood was my way of using symbolism — like the pig’s head represented the male chauvinist pig. The typical hatred all put into a dead animal part. I myself am a vegetarian but when people see that and take it out of context they’re going to think this girl is just trying to get attention, or she’s just into this gore stuff that’s all been done before.

But in the past I was really trying to use it as a representation of what everyone is turning into nowadays and show that I was angry about it. Everyone says, “Oh women’s rights, everybody has it,” but so much crap is still going on these days. Like in Mexico right now, there’s this famous reporter, Carmen Aristegui, who was fired for expressing her concern about the president’s alcoholism. She’s a really important figure not just in Mexico but also in the states. And now the government did everything they could to get her out of her job. And then she fought and the people of the towns stood up for her and she was able to get her job back.

I’m done with that phase though and going to find another way to get my point across.

AE: Well I would be afraid of getting E. Coli or something like that, touching all that animal nastiness. Speaking of politics, talk to me about your video for “Bang” because I could watch that video of George W. Bush getting a shoe thrown at him over and over.

The “Bang” song was about this politician who shot himself on live television. He was supposedly a very corrupt man and he had a family and was going to get fired from his job. He killed himself in front of everybody. Now, a lot of people think he was innocent and a lot of people still think he was guilty. We all think we’re innocent, but according to The Bible and the people who supposedly judge us, we’re all sinners. That’s why our album is called Sin Sin Sin.

For example, I have this amazing manager named Cathy Pellow. She’s this freaking woman who fights for the rights of others and is super hard-working. Now a lot of people think women shouldn’t be doing that they think the quieter you are the prettier you are. And it just makes me so angry because people still think that way. So basically what “Bang” is, is a political protest.

AE: As a part of the queer community, I need to know where your name, Teri Gender Bender, came from.

That’s a good question it’s actually more literal than it sounds. I want to take your gender and I want to bend it and throw it out the window. And just see you for who you are. I don’t care if you’re a boy or a girl; I’m just going to love you for who you are.

Actually, Malcolm X has been a bit of an influence on me as well. The way his name got to be Malcolm X is that he said his ancestor’s last names were stolen from them. Then they were given a white name and he rejected it, he said “I don’t know what my last name is I’m Malcolm X.” Then when I was reading a lot of feminist books, like Simone de Beauvoir, or Christina Sommers, bell hooks and especially Betty Friedan I started thinking about it my mother’s last name was given to her by a man and so on even if I were to marry and keep my last name, it would still be my father’s last name and therefore be given to me by a man. I love my father with all my heart, it’s still a masculine last name. So, I wanted to start off fresh.

AE: How did you get hooked up with Omar Rodriguez Lopez?

It’s actually a pretty interesting story! Back then I was playing with my drummer, Auryn Jolene, and the lights went out at the venue we were playing at. Instead of getting sad about it and getting off stage I decided we should do an acapella thing because I had a megaphone and she just kept banging on her drums. Omar was in the audience and I think it interested him. So I think the key to our band’s future was in the lights going out. And then from there it just picked up, we started getting in touch. I have a friend who is friends with him and we kind of just started a little community of musicians who hung out and built a trust. I’m still kind of shocked by it actually.

It’s pretty awesome because Omar has his label, Rodriguez Lopez Productions and Sergeant House manages me, and the two kind of work together and Sergeant House just has this amazing group of musicians working together. It’s like a community it’s like my dream come true. I couldn’t think it could get better than that. I’m really lucky.

AE : You mentioned some of your favorite feminist authors, who are some of your feminist role models?

Oh I’d have to say my mother. My father passed away when I was about 14 years old and my mother went up against the world. She fought for us in a lot of ways that a lot of mothers would have just bailed on their kids. We were, including myself, really demanding children. And she would always give us what we wanted but she made us work really hard to get it. I learned what work efficiency is from her, I always saw her work, work, work, all for us.

Not counting my mother, I’d say Kathleen Hanna, I just love her.

AE: Oh my God, yes, she is amazing. “Rebel Girl” is one of my favorite songs of all time.

Oh that is a beautiful song. In high school I was a big social outcast and this one girl she went up to me and I was really into that song at the time and she started singing it to me. And I was like, holy crap because of that song, I made a friend. We had something in common because of it. I think it’s cool that it brought girls together.

And writer-wise, I’d say I really like Christine Sommers. She criticized the feminist movement while also reconstructing it.

AE: So, since I think you’re awesome and I’m intimidated by your literary collection, tell me a dirty secret about yourself. You must love Toddlers and Tiaras or something like that.

Oh man, ok, well I guess my guilty pleasure is that I used to really love The Spice Girls.

AE: There is no shame in that game. I own Spice World on DVD.

Oh good, then you get me. It’s a fun movie. I wanted to be them. I was Posh Spice. [Laughs]

Le Butcherettes will be releasing Sin Sin Sin on May 10, but you can grab some seriously slick free tracks at their Myspace page.