As anyone who managed to snag tickets for At the Drive-In’s reunion show at the Observatory a few years ago could tell you, it’s exceptionally difficult to not feel strongly about Le Butcherettes. Having played with everyone from Deftones to the Flaming Lips over the last decade, the rush of raw emotion, artful punk rock, and sometimes bodily fluids (both artificial and real) that overcomes the room when Teri Gender Bender and her band hit the stage has commanded the attention of hundreds of audiences that had no idea what they were getting themselves into.
By the end of each sweaty set, it’s pretty clear who in the crowd had never heard of Le Butcherettes before, as they tend to be the ones with a look of bewilderment and either adoration or disgust. For those who were first introduced to the unique quartet during the aforementioned 2016 At the Drive-In tour (or at any other time in the years since 2015’s A Raw Youth), today’s bi/MENTAL marks the first new full-length release from their now-beloved bilingual rockers — and it’s a very intimate one for the unforgettable frontwoman.
“[bi/MENTAL] has been a process that’s taken my whole life, I’ve come to realize,” Teri Gender Bender — also known as Teresa Suárez Cosío — says. “It started at conception and being inside of a woman with certain personality traits and completely contaminated by anxiety. Kidnappings are very common in México, and she was kidnapped. That undoubtedly affects the DNA, and it’s proven to alter the fetus. One of the songs on the record [“mother/HOLDS”] was based on that feeling and how many different mental health issues start popping up as that baby grows through childhood, adolescence and adulthood.”
But the record (and even that particular song, which also features Alice Bag) isn’t just about the lyricist, her mother, and the shared trauma. It also covers how Latinx culture can teach women to suffer in silence rather than facing their issues, and the singer takes an introspective look at how her own views on her heritage have changed after her family moved back to Mexico from Denver before she made her solo journey to LA approximately a decade later.
Perhaps above all else, bi/MENTAL is also Teri’s debut record with the version of Le Butcherettes that she likes the best. With Alejandra Robles Luna on drums and the familial bond of Rikardo and Marfred Rodríguez-López on guitar and bass respectively, the songwriter finally feels like she’s found a permanent group after the band’s first decade saw quite a bit of turnover.
“It’s the lineup I feel most comfortable with,” Teri says. “We can all speak Spanish together and embrace our roots. There’s no shame. We all come from different places within Latin America, and we’ve all been through different struggles regarding our race and our gender — and that’s something that I’m very happy there’s a dialogue about. It’s growing, and people are feeling more comfortable about sharing it.”
Over the last couple of years, the rest of Le Butcherettes have also helped their ringleader recognize that she shouldn’t be so hard on herself and that she deserves the success and love that fans give to her. That new mindset is still a work in progress for Teri, but it may be the biggest shift in her thinking since she originally met Omar Rodríguez-López (At the Drive-In, Mars Volta, etc.) just a few years after the band began.
Even before forming the band Bosnian Rainbows with Teri (and helping stabilize Le Butcherettes with his immediate family), the eldest Rodríguez-López brother also served as one of the singer’s earliest professional influences and motivators. Beyond the tangible assistance such as producing her music and bringing Le Butcherettes on tour, Omar unintentionally gave Teri the push she needed to take her primary group from a promising up-and-coming act in Guadalajara to international success with an intensely dedicated following.
“Ever since I was very little, I would pray to God that I could find someone who could understand me, and I think that came in the form of Omar,” Teri says. “I had my music — and I’d put out some stuff before he produced the band — but I don’t think I was looking at the bigger picture yet. As an artist, he’s full of life, and that’s very contagious. He inspires you to take things seriously — not yourself, but the things you’re enslaving yourself to.”
Of course, Le Butcherettes were already starting to make a name for themselves even before Omar’s influence. The underground punk scene in Mexico was never going to be able to contain the band as word spread of how a barefoot Teri would throw herself around the stage in a bloodstained apron until she was draped across the floor while still screaming into the microphone.
A decade later, the group’s performances may look and sound entirely different than they did in Guadalajara’s basements and bars, but the energy and emotion is still every bit as strong. For those going to the concert at Marty’s on Newport on Tuesday (February 5), they should probably prepare themselves for one of the most interesting punk shows Tustin has ever seen. After all, how many other artists are good (and weird) enough to get artists like Iggy Pop and John Frusciante to work with them while drawing comparisons to Björk and Siouxsie Sioux? As an added bonus, each concert — particularly one this early in a touring cycle — is as much of a surprise to the band members as it is for the audience.
“Before starting a tour or going to a show, we just take it an hour at a time,” Teri says. “For example, Alejandra was moving apartments, and we needed someone to watch her cats for this tour. It’s always something that we need to be on top of and problem-solve, so we leave rehearsal to the last of our minds. We don’t try to stress on that. I’m always stressing about every little detail on the other side, so [performing and rehearsing] is like ‘Let’s just go have some fun and release some energy.’
“Once in my teenage years, we had an event in Mexico City — I think it was our first time performing outside of Guadalajara — and our drummer was freaking out about what we were going to wear and if I was going to do some vocal warm-ups,” Teri continues. “I was like ‘What? I’ve never even thought of doing vocal warm-ups!’ I understand where she was coming from in a technical sense, but now it’s so much more chill. All those little frustrations that build up in life, we just unleash them on the stage.”
Le Butcherettes perform at Marty’s on Newport Tuesday, Feb. 5. For tickets and details, click here.
Josh Chesler used to play baseball for some pretty cool teams, but now he just writes about awesome stuff like tattoos, music, MMA and sneakers. He enjoys injuring himself by skateboarding, training for fights, and playing musical instruments in his off time.