I’ve listened to Le Butcherettes practically every single day since I first discovered them last year. There are not many bands that have made my daily playlists, especially so quickly. I get the same feeling listening to Le Butcherettes’ Kiss & Kill and Sin Sin Sin records as I did when I first discovered Hole’s Pretty On The Inside and Live Through This as a 15-year-old. Le Butcherettes have become a really important, special band to me in the same way Hole (the real Hole with the Love/Erlandson combo) is. All the things that I love about Hole frontwoman Courtney Love – the intelligence, the love of literature and culture, the introspection and commentary of the female experience in the world, the strength, heartfelt soulful lyrics, musicianship, powerful live shows – I find again in Le Butcherettes’ frontwoman Teri Gender Bender. Le Butcherettes are a band that matter.
TERI GENDER BENDER: I’m nervous because my answers always suck!
No, they don’t! Every interview I’ve ever read with you is so incredibly thoughtful. You answer every question with such grace and no matter what is asked you always answer it really considerately.
TGB: That’s probably because the writer made it sound thoughtful.
No way. You’re selling yourself short lady.
TGB: Thank you, you are very kind [laughs].
I wanted to start by asking, what does music mean to you?
TGB: Honestly, it means [pauses] aw fuck, it just means so much to me. All these words want to come out but my throat stops them—the act of living and doing, that’s what music means to me. Being able to express oneself, even when you’re not playing it, the act of listening to it makes me feel so alive. It makes me feel like I can do anything, that I can conquer any man or any animal – that I could just go up to any bear and just hug him. Maybe that might not be the case but to me, music is just a big part of my life. Thanks to music, it prevented me from being depressed, or when I was depressed music helps lift my spirits up. I guess it has something to do with the vibes, the vibration, maybe some kind of molecules; I’ll go along with it. Its medicine, music is medicine.
I remember reading a comment in an interview with you where you said: music and art can give you the ability to heal yourself.
TGB: Completely! Yes… I’m sorry I’m super nervous still.
Don’t apologise. It’s OK. This conversation will turn out the way that it is meant to. I know how hard it can be to talk about these things because a lot of the time it’s hard to put into words these things we feel and that are in many ways undefinable.
TB: Yeah you’re totally right. It will just flow.
Yes! That’s it. It’s nice that we have this time to talk in person and make this connection.
TGB: Yes, on the phone it can be really hard to talk to people and a little weird because of the reception of things sometime. You can say something and it might not be received how you intended it.
When did you first realise that you wanted to make music?
TGB: I remember being in Denver in this really small apartment that I hated because we lived there for five years because we were ‘lower class’ people. I remember when I was seven years old, just thinking, I want to sing, I want to be a pop star. I looked out the window and there was this tree and there was a squirrel taking the sun, lying on the cement ’cause it was cool. I remember thinking, oh my god I want to be like that squirrel—I want to feel music like that squirrel is feeling the sun and the cement. I just started singing right there and my mom was like, ‘What are you doing?’ I know it sounds a little irrelevant but that is the first recollection of when I said, oh I want to sing! I want to express myself.
You used to listen to the Spice Girls when you were younger?
TGB: Yes, yeah! Spice Girls and a lot of pop.
In a recent interview you commented that while you used to listen to a lot of pop and other kinds of music but you never thought you’d end up in a band yourself.
TGB: No never, until my father passed away, that’s when I wanted to start being into music. I was thirteen and really into The White Stripes and Nirvana – I felt so cool because I thought no one really knows about these bands. In my head I thought I want to do what they do. Before that was Spice Girls and Sonny & Cher. Then the Beatles came along afterwards. I would have never of guessed I would have been in a band. The concept of playing guitar just seemed impossible, it still does now because I don’t really play it traditionally. I play it with four strings.
TGB: And I tune it my way too, instead of how it should be tuned. A lot of people, especially musicians, wouldn’t take me seriously because I only play with four strings. They’d be like, ‘oh you still have a lot to learn kid.’
I’m really glad that you do it your way. It makes me feel not so alone because when I first started playing guitar and writing songs I only had a guitar with four strings and I didn’t know how to tune it either so it was in my own tuning too.
TGB: That’s fucking awesome, that’s amazing!
When I play things on a guitar tuned ‘properly’ my songs don’t sound ‘right’ to me.
TGB: Yeah, yeah, oh my god then you completely understand! You play music your way and you make it yourself—even if it’s missing strings!
Didn’t you have a really intense dream about playing guitar when you were eleven?
TGB: Oh yeah, the strings melting! I was so frustrated at the time, I was a really bored kid. In Denver there wasn’t really much to do. My parents moved there to give me a good education. I wanted to do something because I was sick of playing Nintendo 64 all of the time, especially Mario Kart. I didn’t really have any friends.
Ha! I used to sit for hours and play Mario Kart with my niece.
TGB: Oh that’s awesome! [laughs] Did you always win?
A lot of the time, yeah.
TGB: That’s how it should be! [laughs] That’s why I had that dream, because I wanted to play something but I couldn’t get my hands on a guitar.
How did you feel when you finally did get your hands on a guitar?
TGB: I picked it up and started smelling the hole. It was an acoustic guitar and I just thought, oh my, this is brand new! I said I can’t play this at all. Instead of playing it how you normally would, I sat it on its back on my legs and I started playing with the first string, the fat string and it just felt amazing. When the string broke for the first time, I cried because I thought I had ruined the guitar. I remember calling to my dad and saying, oh my god I just ruined the guitar. He wasn’t a musician and he just laughed at me and said, ‘You can get those replaced.’ I was just like, wow!
I had a similar experience when I was a kid. I used to try to play my older brother’s guitar when he’d go out with his friends; he used to never let me touch his guitar. One day I broke the string on his guitar. I really thought I’d broken it.
TGB: [Laughs] Your brother is older?
Yeah. I’m the baby of the family.
TGB: How does it feel to be the baby?
Pretty good. I get away with the most! It can be not so much fun though too, my mum has advanced Alzheimer’s and it breaks my heart that I know there are so many things in life that I won’t really be able to share with my mum.
TGB: Oh fuck that’s… wow…
It’s OK though. I still laugh with her and get to hug her. One of the coolest things is that I can play music to her and she’ll get a little twinkle in her eye or sing and dance. She still recognises a lot of songs. She has such a wicked sense of humour too.
TGB: I’ve seen that a lot. My dad died out of the blue, nobody knew it was coming, he was supposedly healthy. His sense of humour was constant and music would spark him up! But yeah things like that can be really hard.
You moved to Mexico after your father’s passing?
TGB: Yeah to get away from all that. You know what? I have a friend that is going through a similar situation with her mom and she always wants to dance. When someone plays the piano she starts getting teary-eyed and sings along. See music. Life. Even though you can feel like you are facing death, music is always there to spark up that flame again.
That’s like when I spoke to Omar [Rodriguez-Lopez] recently he was saying that in Puerto Rico everything is celebrated, including death.
TGB: Yeah, the same in Mexico. We have to embrace death, although to be honest right now I am petrified of it. I’m not ready to say that I know it all yet and that I am ready to die, no, no, no, no.
There are too many amazing things to do and experience!
TGB: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I want to see the rest of Australia and the world.
Le Butcherettes have been around since 2007 but it seems like now everything is coming together and you’re really starting to hit your stride.
TGB: Yeah it’s really happening now!
You supported Iggy Pop before you came out here to Australia.
TGB: I know! It’s so crazy. Fuck I can’t believe that still happened. After the shows we hopped directly on the plane for Australia so I haven’t had time to… well yeah when I’m in the bathroom and I’m sitting down I’m like, oh my lord… when I get back home I know I’m just going to have that moment when I cry happy tears. I am so grateful for everything that is happening. If I can do it, anyone in the whole frickin’ world can do it. Playing music or making zines like you do, just having your own creature and throwing it up. I don’t know if that makes sense?
I do get what you mean.
TGB: Yeah like it sucks to throw up but once it’s out it feels good!
Would you consider yourself a spiritual person?
TGB: I remember wanting to be Atheist, when my father passed, I was bitter. I would hurt myself and I would degrade myself. I would be my own oppressor at school, I’d let the boys push me around. When people would talk down to me I would apologise to them! Now I’ve realised that I have been spiritual this whole time, I was just ashamed to embrace it. When my father passed away, when we came home from the hospital, my mom started crying. She just said, ‘Please Roberto, if you are here please just give us a sign.’ I swear to God that the lights went off and they turned back on. Instead of embracing that moment I said, oh no, that’s not him. It was him though. The whole time I was just denying his death and denying my own existence but… [pauses] you can’t do that, you’ll have nightmares. Even Jung says you have to utilise your nightmares because it’s your unconsciousness. I’m starting to do that now. Like you were saying in your book, who am I? Who am I? I’m at that point right now.
Well I hope you’ll find something in my project that can help you navigate that and discover your own insights. When I started that project I had got to a point in my life where I just asked, who am I? What am I doing? I’ve found that when I strip everything back I’m me and I’m here now.
TGB: Those are very scary questions! That’s amazing to come to and it’s super powerful, you’re here, you’re you and you have the rest of your life ahead of you.
I think it is so important to embrace who you are and to not try to be someone else. So many people chase that and I feel like saying, what makes that person you admire so great is that they are doing them and that they’re doing them wonderfully so you should do you wonderfully, we all have our own unique awesomeness that makes us great.
TB: Yeah and not everyone is going to get you and that’s OK. I think that can be encouraging sometimes when people don’t understand you. There’s a poet called Fernando Pessoa and he says: to be fully understood is sort of like prostituting yourself. That may be a little extreme but it’s always nice to have that thing that people can’t quite grasp.
With all of the attention that Le Butcherettes is getting is it hard processing everything that’s happening?
TGB: Oh it’s not hard at all. I am so grateful for it all. Nothing of what I’m doing now is a problem or making me feel bad. Sometimes it’s hard when you can’t see your mom and knowing that my little brother is growing without me. Besides all that I’m traveling and I’m meeting new people, it’s a privilege. If anything it is helping me to grow and mature. I can do things for myself.
What does your band mean to you right now?
TGB: The act of doing! The constant movement. In when I am sleeping I am moving in my dreams. The constant act of… not trying to outdo myself but to just be. Oh I know that sounds so corny. I’m sorry I don’t know how to explain better than that, language is a barriers for me, even in Spanish or English. I wish people could communicate entirely in body language or something.
That’s why you have your music, to communicate those things which you necessarily say to someone in words.
TGB: Yes! Exactly.
What do you find challenging as a musician?
TGB: Talking to people, I’m really shy. Sometimes I’m insecure in a way. I constantly think, what am I going to say? Will I sound stupid? Being on stage it’s easy. You have music and that freedom to communicate and to just be yourself. Off stage, that’s real life! Real life is where you have to face people in the eyes, just the simple act of going to a restaurant and ordering food, I hope that I order correctly and I hope the waitress doesn’t look at me like I’m an idiot.
When you made Sin Sin Sin, did you learn anything surprising about yourself?
TGB: That’s a good question. I learned to take constructive criticism the right way. I remember Omar would be ‘On Henry don’t Got Love you should make this verse a chorus.’ Normally the old me would have been stubborn and been like, oh no not at all, I do things my way because it’s the punk thing to do. I saw him truly saying it out of honesty and wanting to help. I opened myself up to other people’s ideas.
New York live:
I’m Getting Sick of You acoustic:
*Photo credits: 1 / 2 – by diego.fg / 3 – by RS Don Sata / 4 – by diego.fg