Teri Gender Bender talks us through ten years of Le Butcherettes, and why she still turns to the same subject matter that inspired her as a teenager. By Peter Zaluzny. Live photos - Jen Vesp and Adam Trujillo.
It's been ten years since Teri Gender Bender brought Le Butcherettes to life in Mexico, and while the sound has gradually changed from straight up garage punk to something that infuses synth, alt rock and elements of indie, the themes that inspire her still run back to her teenage years. Sure she's moved around a bit, stints in Los Angeles and currently El Paso, not to mention trips around the world with her band, has broadened the pool of subjects that she can draw from, yet they still seem to go filter through the perspective formed during early life experiences.
And yet, as the inevitable passage of time bears down, Teri's approach to these topics, the way she processes them, has changed somewhat. Adulthood, for want of something more specific, has introduced her to different ways of interpreting the past and where those experiences will take her in the future. Plus, ongoing flirtations with side projects such as Omar Rodríguez-López's Bosnian Rainbows, and Crystal Fairy with Buzz and Dale from the Melvins, have helped her ease out of the self-imposed garage punk prison, based on the belief that songs couldn't evolve once a demo had been committed to tape.
Teri Gender Bender is a one of a kind individual running through an ever changing world of rock and roll while the hand that pens the lyrics is still tied to her youth. It's hard to say whether she wants to completely break from the past, there's a part of her that wants some of Le Butcherettes to stay the same, to exist as a comfort zone if anything. But moving between bands, and the experiences gained after ten years of writing music, have helped loosened its grip. So far, she seems to be enjoying the new sense of freedom.
So, ten years of Le Butcherettes. How did that news make you feel?
Depressed! [laughs] I'm like no! We're growing older, when will this stop!? But it's good because I guess you could say that despite being around for a little bit, at least there's some experience gained from it, and I guess that's an advantage to some point. But mostly, for the most part, I feel depressed [laughs].
Did you envision it as a long term project or was it just something that kind of spontaneously came into being?
See that's the ironic thing because I did, I envisioned it as a husband or a wife, something that was going to be with me forever, I was going to be monogamous with it. Since then, maybe I haven't been so monogamous but you know, the marriage is going to last until death. Le Butcherettes is like my marriage but I can fool around sometimes with other projects.
So even though you're out there messing around with other bands, Le Butcherettes is the familiar space to go home to?
Well it's my comfort zone, and maybe I know right now it's cool to step out of your comfort zone, I used to say that all the time, like I moved out of Mexico because I wanted to be out of my comfort zone. But you know what? Every once in a while it's good to have a little comfort zone, to have full control [pauses] well, you don't always have full control but you know, to be in a world where you're making art to be able to say "this is my baby and I have full say in everything." I've come to appreciate that a lot, especially now that I'm getting older.
Does working in different side projects like Bosnian Rainbows and more recently Crystal Fairy, have an influence on Le Butcherettes? Do you allow these things to bleed into your comfort zone or do you work to keep it all totally separate?
Oh man that's like some psychological s**t right there! [laughs]. With Bosnian Rainbows for example, I put a tonne of what I thought would be Le Butcherette songs on the table, to see if any of them would make it on the record, and then like nine of 13 songs made it. But then those songs totally morphed because Deantoni [Parks - drums/keys] would write on top of them, then Nicci [Kasper - synths/keys] and Omar would add body to those songs as well. That influenced me to want to encourage more collaborations with different people, it helped me open up and not be so scared. When I was 17 and started writing songs, taking them to the public and playing shows I was very strict. Whatever came out in that moment, I'd put it to demo, re-record it then never change it. Working with Bosnian Rainbows, it was crazy to see how much things change and change and change. And it was good! As scary as it is, it lets you step away from creative discipline into interpretation.
And Crystal Fairy?
Well, Bosnian Rainbows actually prepared me for being open to whatever suggestions Buzz [Osborne - guitars/vocals] and Dale [Crover - bass] would have. I [sighs], I always expect the worst, I think something might go wrong in the session or someone won't like my ideas, but going there and working with them, I forgot about my insecurities and it was basically a great hang session where we just talked about music and cinema. Being able to have chemistry and be social with your band before you go to the studio, that can affect the music, and everything you do. You become more ambitious, you think "s**t, I can use people! [laughs]." They'll make me sound better!
The core sound of Le Butcherettes has slowly evolved over time from straight up garage punk on Sin, Sin, Sin to something a little more progressive and at times electronic on A Raw Youth. Did you switch up your guitars and equipment when the tone started to shift a little?
At first it all really depended on what was at the studio, we'd just go with the flow and use the engineers stuff. Now, I guess I'm pretty much the same actually, but I have consistent gear for touring, you have to have one thing to hold onto for consistency and for me, that's an Orange amp. I used to use a Verellen head but I switched completely to Orange because they were cool enough to sponsor me, and tone wise, I completely love it. With pedals, I only have three because at the beginning it was completely raw, more garagey, and more careless I guess because most of my energy and intentions were in the lyrics. I've never been much of a musically savvy person, so I'd just go with what was easier in the moment. But I was also so monogamous to the idea that I would never change it. I didn't know you could change songs afterwards. Like the first EP, it was exactly the same as the demo, I just rerecorded it and that's what people call demotitis, when you just can't get over the demo. That's what I had for a long time but being able to work with people like Omar Rodríguez-López, yeah I'm totally name dropping here, they open up your doors to little ideas, and that brings up so many other routes.
He's a total gear nut too, in a great way, he always seems to be fiddling with knobs and dials and pedals and buttons and different guitars. How has your friendship expanded your understanding of equipment and the other musical routes you were speaking of?
When we started recording in his studio, he didn't have to lend us his equipment but he was very open to doing that, letting us use mics like Neumanns for example. Also, when we first sat down to do the first record, Omar suggested some bands that reminded him of Le Butcherettes, and there was one called ESG, a really great punk band with three black women and it's f**king powerful. I didn't know any of this and he opened up his world of music and also just offered his advice on the music industry. Like, he signed us on one condition and put it perfectly, he said "if I'm going to put your record out you need to be touring it constantly because nowadays, that's the only way to get stuff out there if you're not going to be pumped by the machine of a bigger label." And he's always been a great friend to count on.
That progression in sound has been particularly interesting in the sense that, the music has shifted but the themes have largely stayed the same since day one. Your youth, the time spent in Mexico, the relationship with your mother and feminism. Why do you still look to those topics and channel them into your art even after ten years?
[pauses]That's some deep s**t right there. That's the only thing I know I guess. Even though there's some songs where I write about women from Yemen being kidnapped for example, of course I wouldn't know such pain, but those stories always call me because... this is going to sound stupid and I've never said this before, but I feel like in my past life, I was from the Middle East and like... just so you know I believe in science and I doubt how I feel sometimes, but I just have these things inside, and feel like we all have many past lives. So, I wrote about themes like battered women because... I don't know, I just write what I know, I don't know how to explain it. Believe me, I would like to be writing more about other things like ecology and the water and climate change, and maybe in the future, you never know, but right now it's just grief, human grief in general is very present in everything.
And what about the way you process those things? I think you and I are a similar age, and I still hold a lot of the same views I had when I was 18, but now that I'm a little older I kind of process and interpret them differently, in a good way. How has age helped you interpret, process and express the themes you explore in your music?
Honestly sometimes I feel like it's making me bitter, like I'm losing faith in things that kept me so full of positive inspiration at a younger age. I was completely in love with the feminist movement, and I still am to a point, but back then, the more I started reading about it the more infatuated I became. I became obsessed with different links in feminism, and even other branches I didn't necessarily agree with. But then I felt like all of a sudden, all these people that put so much craft into the feminist movement, women's studies and history in general, slowly but surely, the new attention span meant people were forgetting their roots. Today, it's so easy to just mainstream a concept and monetise it, and I feel like now the feminist movement has been completely enslaved by that. But that's happening to everything! Christmas, Valentine's Day, it's all for commercial purposes because we're consuming constantly.
So the environments you work in can impact on your writing too? Because since you started the band, you've lived in Mexico, Los Angeles and recently El Paso.
It definitely affects you, whether you want to admit it or not. I realised, whenever there's no sun, I write darker s**t [laughs], so when there's a lot of sun like in El Paso, I've been writing a lot more uplifting stuff. There's a reason humanity has praised the sun, it's helped us overcome depression and to me now, that makes sense because every single winter, I get so down, just getting out of bed is the hardest thing much less writing a song. Then you feel guilty because you're not writing and wasting whatever gift you have if it's even a gift. So El Paso helps me because there's always a lot of sun here, and same with LA, and Australia! F**k man no matter where you go in Australia you've got the sun, you've got your Vitamin D, you're good! I like to go places with lots of sun, so maybe the next Le Butcherettes album will be really uplifting?
You can write a children's album!
Ha! At this point that would probably be more interesting. Writing sad songs is so easy.
Catch Le Butcherettes on tour with At The Drive-In and at Yours & Owls festival in Wollongong.
At The Drive-In
Thursday September 28th | Festival Hall, Melbourne
Friday September 29th | Hordern Pavilion, Sydney
Monday October 2nd | Eatons Hill, Brisbane
Yours & Owls festival (18+)
Saturday September 30 - Sunday October 1 | Stuart Park, Wollongong