Teri Suarez, Le Butcherettes

Sure, it might be hard to discuss Teri Suarez (aka Teri Gender Bender) and her band Le Butcherettes without a mention of her performance art: the fake blood, the pig's head, the flour, the apron, all that lipstick, and the broom. But what's onstage is a package, and you have to appreciate the innerconnectedness of it all to realize that this is part theater (and I mean that in a positive way). But once you understand the extent of her creative endeavors, her performance is not that surprising: she writes music, poetry, fiction, you name it.  She's influenced by everyone from Henry Miller to bell hooks to Dostoevsky.   In Suarez's life, art is everywhere, whether she's taking it in or dishing it out. And that manifests itself in both the visual and aural aspect of her music.

Le Butcherettes' release Sin Sin Sin (Sargent House) is out on May 10.  Read my interview with Teri Suarez after the video. 

First, I'm shocked that it's before 8am where you live and we are talking.  That's very unlike most musicians. Are you a creative person this early?

It sucks.  I always get up around 7am, even if I don't want to.  But yeah, I am.  My boyfriend sleeps in, so I get kind of bored. The first thing I do is turn on Garage Band, jam it out, and see what I can get. 

You have a message in many of your songs, so I assume that you approach songwriting with a topic in mind.

It depends.  Like if I have feelings of rage or love when I sit down and write, it comes easily.  It's always been feminism for me because I experienced so much discrimination growing up.   So there's really not much need to force out those emotions. But I don't really start the process with a specific idea in mind; it just comes naturally.  

What strikes me the most is your creativity across so many genres: poetry, fiction, theatre, and of course songwriting.  How did songwriting come about?

It all started with these weird dark dreams I started having when I was about eleven, with an acoustic guitar. Every time I picked up the guitar and touched the strings, they would melt, not letting me play the instrument that I so desired and that I actually never got until a year later. Out of that frustration and anxiety, I started writing poetry.  Sometimes the poetry wouldn't even make sense to others, but to me it always made sense.  It was something that saved me emotionally.  And that all came from a dream.

What were you drawn to as a visual artist at first?

I was a visual artist before I started writing music.  I went to an arts high school in Mexico, but before that I was kicked out of another high school before that because I was cutting classes.  In class I started doodling things like amputated mermaids, and also girls with power.  I was in my own little world.  By that time, I had my guitar and realized that I should just put it into music.  In the town where I was living, after I moved from the states to Mexico, the people there were lazy about reading, so I wanted to express my point in an another kind of way. 

You grew up in Denver then moved to Mexico.  How does living in two completely different places inform your songwriting?

Denver is full of snow, and even that affects what you look like since it changes your physical appearance. Then I went to Mexico where it's warm.  Whether you want to or not, it's going to affect you.  A lot of people think I am just a performance artist and that this is just a show, but even that show has philosophical meaning.  Sometimes I pretend to be the perfect image of a housewife, with the apron and the heels and the makeup, the perfect image of what the perfect girl should be.  It's supposed to be the yin and the yang, the ugly and the pretty.  But that's what I lived through my whole life, going from Denver to Mexico and poverty and corruption.  I try to portray that double sided version of life in my music.

And as in theatre, people should understand that what they see onstage might not really be you, but a persona.

Exactly. For example,"Mr Tolstoi" starts like an opera then goes into a rant.  Every song is a character; it's not really me. It's the Sylvia Plath wannabe, or the Desperate Housewife, or Tolstoy.  Or Henry Miller wanting love.

What the first thing that happens when you write a song?

I pick up the guitar and start improvising.  Just start playing whatever melody comes to mind.  And I just start singing over it.  Sometimes the first thing out of my mouth is what I keep.  Playing the guitar with whatever melody comes out, I usually start humming.  I base myself more on the melody of my vocals over the guitar, and from that come the lyrics.  It really depends on the mood I'm in. 

Are you of the mind that whatever comes out first was meant to be?

I am more in the moment.  I definitely rely on the muse.

How does your poetry inform your songwriting?

They are similar, but they are also their own worst enemies.  I think they hate each other because the poet side wants me to unleash the inner me, but on the music side there are many voices.  The poetic side is more personal.  Since I've been focusing so much on music, I can feel the poet side of me inside begging for attention. 

Sometimes I do that exact opposite of starting with an image.  I'll begin with something completely incoherent and give myself completely to the clutter of words and make sense of it. 

 photo credit: David Summers

photo credit: David Summers

Do your songs ever start as poems?

Oh yeah. "Mr Tolstoi" started out as a poem.  It was totally different at first.  And "Empty Dimes" is about a lonely housewife; that started as a poem as well.  

How disciplined are you as a writer? When do you usually write?

I write when I feel insecure or nervous. Like when I go to coffee places, I feel like a fool just sitting by myself drinking coffee, so out of nervousness I start writing. It makes me feel as ease.  It takes me from where I am to where my brain wants to be.  I write because I feel naked in this world. 

Do you see inspiration in everyday things in life?

Honestly, I don't.  Sometimes I just want to stay in bed and never leave the room.  I'm human.  I need a break from finding inspiration.  Then it becomes a job if you are doing it every day.  It's like a relationship: you want to spice things up.

How much do you revise your lyrics?

I am going to disappoint you.  Laughs.  I write it down, sing it, and then believe in it. 

Is it important to finish a song the same day you started it?

I have to finish in the moment.  In rehearsal, I can make changes, but I like to finish a song in one sitting.  The more thought I put into it, the more I start doubting myself.

 

Do you ever struggle with writer's block?

Right now I can say that the poet in me is going through writer's block.  I have been so busy with music.  But I am not stressing because I know that I will have a lot of time later.  I know that when I sit down, I will have plenty to say.

What's the easiest and the hardest part of writing for you?

I don't have to think about poetry.  It just comes.  But I am trying to write a novel now, and that part is so hard.  My poems are without rules, but novels follow a structure.  And that is really hard for me. 

Songwriting is super easy.   Sometimes the first crack at my lyrics I have to change because the lyrics are corny, but not too much. 

Is there anything you have to have with you when you write a song?

Just my notebook and lipstick. Sometimes I won't have a pencil, so I'll write in lipstick.  It's funny, but what I write is totally different when I do it in lipstick. 

I love the song "Henry Don't Got Love," especially the Henry Miller reference.  What do you like about his writing?

His dark sense of humor.  The way he talks about vaginas, he didn't care.  It was so controversial, but he didn't care.  His attention to detail was amazing. 

I've appreciated feminist writers for a long time, like bell hooks and Christina Summers, but feminists would talk against Miller and Bukowski because those men would not speak very highly of women.  But no matter how vulgar they are, I love the way they twist language.  Not necessarily in a sexual way. Art is meant to heal.  And these people were doing things to heal themselves.

What's the easiest part and hardest part of your creative process?

By far the easiest part is improv, just creating things off the cuff. Yesterady, Gabe and I wrote two songs just by winging it.  The hardest part is working under deadline, when I am under pressure to create because someone wants something. 

What's your ideal emotional state for a productive writing session?

Rejection.  I hate no for an answer.  Or when I am badly mistreated.  Music is the way I let all that rage go. 

What was the easiest song you ever wrote?

"Mr Tolstoi" was incredibly easy.  I wrote it in about five minutes in my room.  I had just finished reading a bunch of the great Russian authors, so I had all that Russian inspiration.  And I never even changed those lyrics.

When you are struggling to finish a song, do you ever abandon it because you imagine it's not going to turn out good?

If I think I can get more juice out of it, I know I will finish.  Like sometimes when you raise a beautiful plant that can be a bitch to grow, you stay with it because you know it has potential.  But songs that are unconvincing usually are forgotten.