When Le Butcherettes arrived on the scene a decade ago, Teri Gender Bender proclaimed in song, "I'm queen, I'm gonna fuck." The defiant singer-guitarist set the tone early, and her Mexican garage-rock band went on to pursue an art-driven path that thrives on much-needed confrontation. With years of creative evolution now behind them, Le Butcherettes have emerged as creative vanguards with a punk voice and attitude that continues to resist and persist.
The singer born Teresa Cosío formed Le Butcherettes as a teen living in Guadalajara, and she assaulted the mainstream comfort zone with songs like "Reason to Die Young" and "Tainted in Sin" and live performances that included pig heads and blood-soaked aprons. Still, these shock-and-awe tactics all had symbolic meanings for a singer who's outspoken on many social issues. Gender Bender even appears in the recent "spider/WAVES" video wearing a Chichimeca warrior outfit, which references a fierce nomadic tribe that royally kicked the Spanish Empire's ass in the 17th century.
Le Butcherettes, who head out on tour with The Flaming Lips this month, claim countless fans among the rock elite, and Shirley Manson (Garbage), Iggy Pop, Henry Rollins, the Melvins and John Frusciante (Red Hot Chili Peppers) all recorded songs with them. Though Gender Bender typically sings in English, one of the band's greatest feats was getting Iggy Pop to sing in Spanish. Most recently, Talking Heads member Jerry Harrison produced struggle/STRUGGLE, the band's new EP featuring three very different takes on the same song.
Gender Bender might seem averse to smiling in videos and concerts, yet she came across incredibly affable and open when she spoke to PRØHBTD. Prepping for the interview by smoking a sativa, she freely discussed everything from her childhood love of The Spice Girls to the horror of family members being kidnapped.
You once said you started out by singing Spice Girls songs in the shower. How did you go from that to making such dark rock music?
Whoa! I think Spice Girls music is dark rock music. This craziness of heartbreak and friends sharing lovers… I would never be able to sift that out in real life. I'd go crazy. That's pretty dark stuff, but I have a lot of dark influences in my life. I guess having a very crazy mother—whom I love so much—helped a lot with that. My father was also a very dark individual in his own way. He was always very serious and quiet, like a wall, which is what he called himself. I'm the opposite. I even rant, for example, and overshare things on accident.
struggle/STRUGGLE takes the same song and interprets it in very different ways. How do three versions help create a more complete image of what you're communicating?
There's even more versions, but we picked these three and thought, "We should just use them because they're all true to the feel and the story and the intention behind the song,” which is to cover the spectrum of different emotions that can interpret a story.
You also released a new single, "spider/WAVES," which is not on the EP. What does the song says about the new music to come?
We're definitely playing around more with funk elements. We're great fans of Parliament and even the Talking Heads, which is one of the reasons I wanted Jerry Harrison to come on board. I just wanted to take on more futuristic elements, like what's going on right now in Los Angeles with the Low End Theory movement where the bass is very strong. I guess I'm becoming a more confident thief taking these things that excite me and make me feel like I'm 17 again listening to Bikini Kill.
"spider/WAVES" includes religious terminology like prophecy, messiahs and Mother Mary. What ideas and emotions are inherent in these terms?
I think it's just being brought up in a Latino family—we're very Catholic—and being in that culture where fear is bred into you. When you're locked in the closet or do something bad, they tell you, "Hey, the devil's gonna get you, the devil's gonna get you." Or when you do something good, they say, "You're gonna get a reward from God." So in a way, it's a competitive religion. You have to compete for the love of God.
I feel that has been an inner struggle my whole life. I'm competing for the grace of God because no matter what I do, it's never good enough for my mother. But maybe there's hope that, in the greater universe, it's all gonna be okay in the end. I guess I'm just a spiritual person. I refuse to believe that all this fucking suffering and emotion is just a mindless joke. There has to be something more.
When it comes to writing lyrics, what emotion inspires the best results? Is it anger, sadness, joy or something else?
Oooooh! I think it’s revenge.
Like anger, spite, bitterness… I keep it locked in and [frame] it in a metaphorical sense in the lyrics. Kendrick Lamar is a big inspiration. You can tell he went through some shit, not even knowing anything about him, but through what his works speak. It's the connect.
How would you define female empowerment?
To me, female empowerment is something that's always been. It's like the ocean, the soil, the trees [and] the forest. Again, it's always been ingrained in my culture, and not just in my culture, but in universal culture. You see it everywhere. Even men [find drive] from female empowerment. I think it's generally just empowerment, right? If you think about it, [empowerment] has both essences, masculine and feminine.
I'm sorry, I smoked a little bit. I shouldn't have, but I can't help it!
What did you smoke?
I had a sativa. I'm all... my tongue is speaking in a different rate of speed than my brain is.
You spent the first 13 years of your life in Denver. What did you think when Colorado legalized cannabis and Denver became the country's cannabis capital?
It's great because tourism is growing, and the city looks more beautiful than ever. Just played there recently, and I got to see my brother who still lives out there. He grows for a living, but it's affected him because now he has to raise the price of his weed and he's not getting as much. I don't know, it's screwing the underdogs, but it's what happens in capitalism. So, from a personal point, ouch, but overall it's great. It's great for the city, it's great for the greater good, but my brother's going through a hard time right now, so I'm a little butt-hurt.
When you smoke, does it help you creatively or just to relax?
It helps me to relax, socialize a little bit more and create. It helps me with everything, actually, now that I think about it. It helps me go to the bathroom, it helps me go to sleep, it helps me eat. Yeah, definitely. But sometimes I go on breaks just to feel the difference, and when I go on the breaks, I become a lot more anxious and a bit more of a micromanager. That can be a good thing, but maybe I do it too obsessively. But when I smoke, I feel like, "Hey, everything's gonna be cool. Just chill."
When you perform live, you use all kinds of props that seem to communicate more than just an aesthetic. What are some of the social issues you've touched on using the props?
When I was 17, I was very passionate about the kidnapped women of Juárez. It was an issue that had me completely pissed off and has me still to this day. That inspired the quote-unquote "props" or whatever they're called, but for me it was like, "This is my truth." So there were chopped pig heads, which represented the pigs who kidnapped and murdered these young women, and also just the mistreatment of women in general.
Nowadays, we all play completely in red, and red is something to remind me to let go of my anger, but not entirely. You have to always use it in your art to find healing within yourself.
From Denver, your family moved to Guadalajara. What was the biggest culture shock, and how did making the adjustment make you a stronger person?
It was this type of racism and classism. I'm a light-skinned Mexican, so a lot of people assumed I came from money, but that's completely off the charts. I had a lot of people acting weird towards me. They would call me gringa or the clown American, and I speak completely fluent Spanish. I even have the Tapatíos accent. Just because of the color of my skin, I was more prone to kidnappings, and there actually were some kidnappings within my family. People just assume the lighter skin [means] wealth and money, which is such sadness because it says a lot about how we've ingrained self-hatred for our own culture as Mexicans. For example, when we come across a person of darker color skin, they [often] want to be lighter because they think it will help their status.
You mentioned that family members had been kidnapped. How would you describe living life where you feel this threat, and how does a family deal with a kidnapping?
Oh, shit, man. I'm gonna be straight up. We don't play as much in Mexico because there is some fear with that. I say "some" because if I say out loud that I'm completely scared, it'll be more reality, right? I don't come from money, but with judging a book by its cover… they see a girl that's light skinned, and they're like, "Oh, shit. She's a fresa." A prep.
Basically it's that, and it's never call the police. It's a rule. I guess it's like the movies in a way. I hate to sound so cold about it, but you always try to never go to the police because they can be involved with another narco tribe. It's one of those things where it goes into different tunnels very deep inside. It could last for months, too, and you lose hair during that transition.
I could only imagine.
Let's just say that's one of the reasons why we [moved back to] the U.S. It's a shame. It's a fucking shame.
Now you are based in El Paso, Texas?
Yeah, yeah, it's awesome. It's like a First-World Mexico.
How are the current immigration issues affecting the city?
Right out my window, I can see Mexico. I can see the statue of Christ on the tip of the mountain, and people sometimes crawl all the way up on their knees so it's very intense and very haunting as it is without the immigration [issues]. When you add [the immigration fight] on top of everything, you definitely feel the mood, especially with Latinos. We're much more of a community now, and I've noticed there's more pride in the culture. Whereas 10 years ago, I remember… at least in California… a stigma where [Latinos] were taught not to speak Spanish in front of other people. That's going away. So we can prevail. I'm focusing on the positive.
Among tourists, Guadalajara is famous for distillery tours to nearby Tequila. Spending so many years in Guadalajara, any tips for picking a good tequila?
I wish I could. I don't really drink much. Even if I did, I probably still wouldn't know because, for example, I don't know where the weed I pick is grown, or I'll sometimes forget the name. I know I'm smoking a gelato, but that's it.
What city has the best cannabis?
Wow! Shit. That's a hard one. I guess I'm gonna have to go with all of them, man.
Don't want to get the other cities mad at you?
It makes me happy. Any cannabis makes me happy. I can't discriminate.
David Jenison (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD. Photo credit: Lindsey Byrnes.