Their new record, Sin Sin Sin, comes out May 10.**
Stage props have always had their place in punk rock. When the music can't relate something or you need to pack an extra-impressive wallop, props provide the physical — items or visuals to confront the audience in three dimensions. Plasmatics blew up facsimile cop cars and sledgehammered TV sets. GG Allin both ate his own shit and threw it at crowds. Though it was worn away from the stage, Sid Vicious' swastika-emblazoned red shirt was both an alarming prop and a promotional tool for the Sex Pistols' nihilist MO. Carrying on this lineage of transgression and sedition are Le Butcherettes, a garage-punk three-piece currently based in LA. Before this current lineup was solidified, the Butcherettes gained their rep in Mexico City by employing real meat (most famously, decapitated pig heads) and blood capsules as props for their shows. Even though the act no longer utilizes those elements, revisiting that gory scenery and its implications is crucial to understanding what makes Le Butcherettes tick.
The meat and blood were the work of Teri Gender Bender (a.k.a. Teri Suarez), the group's vocalist, guitarist, keyboardist and key member. Le Butcherettes is the first band for the Denver-born, Mexico-bred Suarez, and she's long been intent on making music with provocative live elements. “When I was younger, I had all these things in mind, but I just wanted a different way of expressing it. I never really thought, 'Oh, I want to use meat to get people's attention in a negative way.' I never thought about the consequences these things could have to the band, but because of this, the band was labeled so easily in a really erroneous way,” says Suarez, who is reserved and positively amiable on the phone but a tornado in concert. “The pure intention was to express how I felt in Mexico because there was a lot of discrimination against me just for being a girl.”
Inspired by feminist thinkers like Simone de Beauvoir and bell hooks, Suarez aimed to convey ideas about gender and society through props like meat and blood. The frontwoman is prone to wearing dresses or aprons that make her resemble a '50s housewife, so the meat (plus the less shocking eggs and flour) extended the stereotype of women as the cooks in a relationship. She's also incorporated feather dusters, broomsticks, soap and gloves to evoke cleaning. The blood nodded to a more specific topic: people being kidnapped and/or killed in Mexico because of drug-related violence. Suarez might not call her work performance art, but the medium's influence is undeniable here.
“When you're performing, the majority of people also go there to see something. I just wanted to take advantage and send a message,” says the guitarist. “I never thought [the meat] was going to be so taken the wrong way. A lot of people told me, 'What are you trying to do? I'm a vegetarian.' I'm like, 'Dude, I'm also a vegetarian. I also think about these things.'“ When Suarez would procure the meat in Mexico, she visited butcher shops and tried to get discarded, rotting or worst cuts so as to not waste good food.
There's no doubt that these theatrics make an immeasurable impact on Le Butcherettes' image. For strangers or non-die-hard fans, the novelty of potentially seeing something outrageous when attending a Butcherettes show potentially makes the difference between buying a ticket or not. (How else do you think GWAR get to play the venues they do now?) The real issue is when the antics completely overshadow the music or are presented in substitution for quality product. This isn't a problem yet for Le Butcherettes, as their rock is competent and fun, even if it doesn't do anything really different. (Pick your mid-'00s garage/indie-rock poison, pour in some punky moxie, add or subtract a couple of things and you're within the ballpark of the Butcherettes' sound.) On the positive side, their first album, Sin Sin Sin, just came out, so they have a lot of room to grow and refine their sonic personality.
Even if their sound never makes strides, at least Le Butcherettes have a distinctive and opinionated figure behind the group, which is way more than loads of other punk and garage-rock bands can say. Suarez is the sort who eagerly quotes Ayn Rand and Arthur Rimbaud in a phone interview without the name- and knowledge-dropping sounding like pretentious bullshit. Her favorite musicians include riot grrrl acts, Plasmatics (appropos), the Beatles and the White Stripes — “people that have character — that transmit something.” When talking about performing, she talks like someone made to entertain. “I feel like I've been pretending to be someone my whole life. I was always trying to be quiet and polite and courteous,” she says. “When I'm on stage, I can free my animal. I can free who I really am.”
** This story originally misstated that Le Butcherettes are performing at the Webster Theater with the Deftones on May 7. They're not. We regret the error.