It was 2011 when American-born/Mexican singer Teri Suarez, best known by her stage name “Teri Gender Bender,” released her debut album Sin Sin Sin and gave hope that Revolution Girl Style Now! would make a comeback.
She previously fronted Le Butcherettes, a group that made Mexico City’s most menacing punk rockers shake in their steel-toed boots while watching her (clad in a blood-spattered wedding gown) drag a pig’s head around and howl about doomed poet Sylvia Plath. Three years later, Le Butcherettes is finally back, and while the petite brunette is still sporting soiled ’50s housewife gowns and defying the laws of gravity while leading messy theatrics in front of audiences, she has a new message for fans on latest album Cry Is For The Flies. While not bursting with the same rage as the group’s debut album, it’s a majestic gem loaded with fiery anthems and special appearances by legendary artists Shirley Manson and Henry Rollins. And yes, there’s a reason why Bender seems to be mellowed out—at least for now.
Boxx contributor Stephanie Nolasco chatted with the singer about the story behind Cry Is For The Flies and discussedwhether riot grrrl will ever return. Bender also dished on one of the wildest performances she’s ever had (hint: you may want to skip lunch while reading this).
Stephanie Nolasco: How is your new album different from anything you’ve done as an artist so far?
Teri Gender Bender: This album was recorded two years ago, and two years ago I was living on the streets and couch surfing (as little as possible, I did not want to leech off people) in order to fulfill the hunger that was tearing me from the inside. I didn’t know (still don’t) what I was worth as a human being, but never would I compare myself to others. The recording process is always fun, but this album in particular was surrounded by an enigmatic dark force energy. It’s probably because of the weight of the themes that were stuffed into the lyrics: guilt, abandonment, bluffing, overcoming a sister’s betrayal, realizing that at the end of the day you were always one those flies that cry out to another, that you’re not as strong as people think you are.
While the recording was going on a lot of death revolved around our lives. I chose to put the album in the closet. I’m not superstitious, but I wish I could go into further detail. However, a lot of very odd circumstances occurred while getting it on tape.
SN: The injustices women face in Mexico was a very important topic that you previously addressed. Is this still something that continues to play a crucial role for you?
TGB: It will always be an important topic for me. Especially because I lived in it, I came from it, and the notion that women’s rights still has a long way to go universally knocks on the back of my head every day. Cry Is For The Flies is about a woman’s struggle in finding herself in a world dominated by chicken thighs pretending to come off as men. But it’s evident that they are chicken thighs and there are others that are hamstrings. I’d bite into them and swallow them, except I’m a vegetable and I have no desire for vengeance.
Creating is like throwing holy water at the oppressor. It will always be crucial, because coming from Mexico from a lower class barrio, we were always exposed to danger. Even if you’re from a higher-class family, you’re still exposed to danger. You are exposed to being abducted, which has happened in my family and is horrifying. I’m used to looking over my back and that’s even normal for me whereas there are female friends from first world countries that aren’t as neurotic, but somehow have faced an unnecessary injustice. In some countries you feel it more than others. It’s good for the mind to use that fear and polish it into art. It’s way cheaper than therapy.
SN: Back in Sin Sin Sin there were many literary references, specifically concerning Sylvia Plath. However, there aren’t any in Cry Is For The Flies. What happened with your relationship with these writers?
TGB: There were many literary references in Sin Sin Sin because when I was writing that album I was studying for my degree in philosophy. I must admit most of the writers mentioned in the album were not taught to me by my fellow teachers, but by my father. These writers were my grieving buddies. My father passed away, and he loved them dearly, so obsessing and devouring them made me feel as if I were reading my father’s words. It brought me closer to my father in a sense. He was a philosopher that worked night and day shifts at a prison kitchen. He’d come home, have some drinks, sit on the couch and recite Sylvia Plath poetry or go on rants about Descartes. Then eventually he’d pass out and, in the middle of the night, he’d be half awake, looking for chicken thighs in between the couch cushions.
SN: It seemed like in the beginning the media was portraying you as someone who could potentially lead a new movement in music, much like riot grrrl in the ’90s. How difficult was it for you to face those expectations?
TGB: Nothing is difficult in this music world because at the end of the day one can be so lucky to be able to make music! Even if others don’t care and if you have a 9-5 job you could be so lucky to have those 20 minutes at night to write a song. At the end of the day the words come first, then the writer. A writer is born to serve the words, not the other way around. We’re just here to tap into what already exists.
I don’t think there will ever be a moment like riot grrrl again because it’s been done before. It just wouldn’t be the same. I do feel certain, however, that there will still be plenty of talented and magic-possessing women to come out into the world. With the individual a movement begins to take place again.
SN: When you’re on stage, you’re so fierce and powerful. What fuels that intensity?
TGB: I honestly don’t know. The logical person in me tells me it’s this vented rage I have kept inside for many years because of extreme bullying in elementary and middle school. Sometimes I think it has a lot to do with death and loved ones. Other times it’s obvious to me that it must be because I got in a fight with a friend. But I’m slowly killing off this logical person that is trying to determine why I am the way I am when I perform. It’s something that I must let be. Most performers and musicians feel that bliss when they go on stage or when they’re in the studio recording. Something takes over, and so far no one has been able to figure out what that something is.
SN: What’s the craziest thing a fan has ever done while you were performing?
TGB: At one small show, I climbed up a ceiling and hung from a lantern while I was spitting from above into the 20 people that were there. This one man was catching all the spits with his mouth! I then let myself drop and I fell hard on my back but quickly got back on stage. A young woman also got on the stage and preceded to lick my leg while I played the keyboard. I just let it flow because everyone was really in the zone. And it was during the swine flu epidemic in Mexico!
SN: In this new album, you’ve worked with Henry Rollins and Shirley Manson. What was that experience like?
TGB: It was amazing. Shirley and Henry are down to earth and love what they do. Most importantly they are kind and supportive. It was great to have them on the album. [I’m glad it is] imprinted on vinyl and not just on digital because someday when the Internet ceases to exist humanity will have books, bones and vinyl left. It makes me happy to know that the vinyl will have Shirley and Henry engraved in there for some alien to pick up and listen.
SN: How has your take on feminism changed, especially while creating new music for this album?
TGB: There is more awareness of feminism now that the Internet is growing—a lot more stories of injustice and racism have arisen. It is still an issue where women have to fear for their safety to this day. What outrages me though is that with all this information available, a high percentage of human beings still don’t seem to understand what feminism is or mistake it for totalitarian, or even worse is when self-proclaimed feminists attack women for getting married, having children or using makeup.
But pushing all this aside, women are becoming stronger, and I see there are more female artists arising and taking over. This is chilling and exciting. However, I am talking about first-world countries. There is still so much to be done in Iraq, Yemen and other Middle Eastern countries.
My take on feminism has changed. Everything changes. There are so many different kinds of branches of feminism. No one is looking to be an equal to a man, but to be have our differences respected, accepted, embraced and supported. Living as a woman fighting to stay afloat in a male-dominated society has given me (and many others) a lot to write about. I’m thankful I have music to take it out on.
SN: What do you hope listeners will get from Cry Is For The Flies?
TGB: That it’s an actual record, from the order of the songs to the way that it was recorded. A narrative record. A little solar system that holds memories which tell a story of a damsel in distress.
Cover photo by Hecyor Zayas/artwork by Sonny Kay; inset photo by Toni François.