Coachella 2012: The antics of Le Butcherettes make a mom worry
Teri Suaréz is trying to finish a record. Her phone, however, won't stop interrupting. It's her mother. "She's freaking out," Suaréz said.
This past Sunday, Suaréz sent her mother into a state of panic when, at the first weekend of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, she walked away from her guitar and keyboard and climbed to the top of a lighting rig. Then she locked her legs around it and leaned over backward.
"That's why my mom is calling me," Suaréz said. "She said, ‘Please don’t ever do that again!’ I said, ‘Oh, no, Mom. I won’t do that ever again. I’ll be more careful. I swear.’ But she’s still really scared about it. She keeps calling to see if I’m OK."
For now, yes, Suaréz is fine. If anything, the 22 year old is a little nervous herself. While Le Butcherettes concerts are known for their unpredictability, Suaréz has no intention of putting her life -- or at least a few of her bones -- in danger at Coachella on Sunday. On stage, as Teri "Gender Bender" Suaréz, the artist is reckless, abusing her guitar and her voice with delight. Off stage, Suaréz constantly laughs at herself, apologizes after nearly every sentence and admits to being paralyzed with shyness.
"It hasn't been a hard time," Suaréz said of harmonizing the two extremes of her personality, and then adds, "but, existentially speaking, it has been."
Suaréz and her band, which currently includes drummer Lia Braswell and At the Drive-In principal Omar Rodriguez Lopez on bass, is rooted in the anything-goes ethos of punk rock. Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and based in L.A., Le Butcherettes are a collision of genres and cultures, as Suaréz quotes from the novels most of us never read, serenades in Spanish, occasionally pretends to be Russian and lashes out at what she sees as political and societal constraints.
When Le Butcherettes opened for Iggy & the Stooges last winter, it was easy to label Suaréz as something of a spiritual heir to Iggy Pop. She's aware of that, and she hasn't stopped thinking about it. "I feel like everyone is expecting me to be crazy," she said of her band's live performances, and she said Iggy told her the "same story."
"He said he had to follow a strict diet, always do tai chi and mediate so he could have his body to be Iggy -- to portray who people want him to be," she said. "That takes a lot of guts, but I don’t want to do that. I want to take other routes instead of just being crazy on stage. Yeah, I’m 22 now, but in a couple years, or maybe next month, I’m just going to want to sit on the floor and play the ukulele."
While that's just crazy talk, Suaréz is concerned about how her fans will take to her upcoming album, "Cry Is for the Flies." It's less "in-your-face," she said, than last year's "Sin Sin Sin" and features a vintage organ more prominently. It's also more inward-looking.
Since last summer, her band has played Lollapalooza and Coachella, and she has split from her bandmates Gabe Serbian and Jonathan Hischke. She cuts to the end of any small talk by saying, "I'm working on myself."
"People must think I’m really hard to work with, but that’s not the case," she said. "The thing is, I let people step on me. I don’t stand up for what I think offstage. I need to be who I dream of being. I need to be Teri ‘Gender Bender’ offstage.
"I want to go to the bank," she continued, "and if I wait longer than I’m supposed to, or someone cuts in front of me, I want to be able to say, ‘Hey, that’s not right. Go to the back of the line.’ Right now, I can’t do that."
Working in the studio with Lopez and Braswell has helped her to be "more sincere," she said. As an example, she said one new song is called "Burn the Scab," and it's written about the time in her early teens when Suaréz and her mother moved to Mexico after the death of her father. "I would always scratch the back of my scalp," she said. "I would make a scab. It was my wall to protect me from people. I would just scratch it when I was nervous. So it’s those things that I’m exposing."
The plan was to have the new songs -- and issues -- out in the open before the band played Coachella. She said that Paul Tollett, who heads Coachella-promoter Goldenvoice, suggested to her that she finish the new album before the fest. "I’m like, ‘OK, yes, boss. I’ll get right on that,' " Suaréz joked. "Obviously, we missed the Coachella deadline."
No matter, Suaréz had her own message for Tollett. "This is a band that started in Mexico," she said, "and we need more Latin acts in the lineup."
And she said she was shy.
-- Todd Martens
Image: Teri "Gender Bender" Suaréz at Coachella. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times