“You have no idea how lucky I feel,” Teri Gender Bender—born Teresa Suarez—admits about her new band, Bosnian Rainbows. As she talks this new sense of community that she’s found in her bandmates, there’s certain urgency in her voice, and she pauses for just a second after a few rapid-fire sentences. “Sorry,” she says after a longer pause. “I’m getting really emotional.”
“It’s like when you find your long, lost family,” she continues. “You’ve been an orphan your whole life, because it takes a lot of energy to fake it. It feels so good, [to have] people who understand you.”
Of course, to appreciate a sentiment like this, the vocalist had to already experience the opposite. Gender Bender, now 24, also fronted a garage-fueled punk band called Le Butcherettes, which got its start in Guadalajara, Mexico in 2007. And it was in Butcherettes that she first experienced the loss of a friend, drummer Auryn Jolene, an experience that would fuel her appreciation for this new four-piece family in music all the more.
“She was my best friend, and she didn’t communicate her feelings,” she says. “I had wanted to tour the world, but last minute, she put up a video on Myspace saying the band was over. ... I found another drummer and continued on without her. It was always hard. And I felt guilty, she was my best friend. But if people make you feel guilty, they’re not worth your time.”
Fast forward three years, and Gender Bender’s made connections all over with her Butcherettes—and has found that this whole “friends in bands” thing gets better. Most significantly, she started working with Omar Rodríguez-López, known best for his guitar work with The Mars Volta or seminal post-punks At the Drive-In. Rodríguez-López was feeling a collaborative itch himself after years of leading a band of hired guns with collaborator Cedric Bixler-Zavala.
“Mars Volta was all about Cedric and myself,” he explains. “So we hired people to play, people came in and out. It wasn’t the same as At the Drive-In, which was a really special thing. It took us a long time to [find those] five people, and then we accomplished everything we accomplished.”
Rodríguez-López took to bass and production with Le Butcherettes, and soon a friendship was born. In talking to the two separately, there’s no question why, as they both valued really one thing in looking for bandmates: How they were as people off the stage. “Like when you go out to dinner, how they treat the waiter, their relationship with the exterior world,” Rodríguez-López says, adding later “You go through life and you meet a lot of people, but there are certain people where you know you can trust them. It’s a really natural process.” And with that mindset, they started forming Bosnian Rainbows, adding keyboardist Nicci Kasper and drummer Deantoni Parks to the mix.
And although the band’s debut album hasn’t been released yet, that’s why it feels like a well-oiled unit when I catch them on the first date of their spring tour in Atlanta. They’re packing out Terminal West, a venue that’s held the likes of The Mountain Goats and Japandroids recently, and the audience is showing up mostly at the mention of Rodríguez-López, who I speak with before Bosnian Rainbows take the stage. He mentions that the band has stayed at the house of drummer Parks’ family in the days leading up to the show, who I find myself standing behind in the crowd, applauding excitedly when their relative takes the stage with his musical family in front of all of these antsy strangers.
The first thing you notice is the amount of space Bosnian Rainbows has left on stage. Their setup isn’t more simple than any other four-piece. There are Orange guitar amps scattered behind Rodríguez-López, there’s a full drumset, there’s a stack of keyboards, but there’s still what seems like miles of wandering space up there.
Once they take the stage, it’s clear; The instrument-holding contributors are confined mostly to the back left corner, where Rodríguez-López stands next to drummer/keyboardist Deantoni Parks, who is wired up next to keyboardist Kasper. It leaves yards on yards of open space that Gender Bender will later use to twist and contort, to make a distance challenge out of traversing the whole thing again and again. This unit isn’t shy about getting close.
They begin playing to a cold audience, most of who have only heard the two songs released from their self-titled debut, which was recorded nearly a year ago in Germany. It was recorded strictly to two-inch tape, with all takes done in one swoop. That’s why when you hear layered synths, dazzling electronics, Rodríguez-López’s off-kilter guitar all wrapped up on the recording, you might get the wrong idea. And although Rodríguez-López might have been an early face for the project (originally the band toured as The Omar Rodríguez-López Group,) you’d be hard pressed to strap it to his name by sound alone. Bosnian Rainbows owe more to moody, late-‘80s synth rockers than spazzy prog players, which is clear in the pulsing, floor-rattling opener “Eli” or the pressing, Smiths-esque “Torn Maps.”
“Our manager thought it was something that it isn’t,” Rodríguez-López tells me after I ask about the album’s production. Surely Bosnian Rainbows’ lush sound that blends acoustic, electric and electronic instruments required track-by-track, thought-out recording sessions. “The production was eight days, and like I’m saying, there’s all full takes, there wasn’t a lot of going in there and tweaking bits. It’s a testament to the skills of the engineer, the producer Johann [Scheerer] and the cohesiveness of the band.”
So when you see the band, when they introduce songs without an album to back them, what you hear is what you get. And when I hear the full thing weeks after the show, I can’t help but remember the nuanced, panned sounds coming from Kasper or the way Parks drummed out electronic noises on his keyboard rather than triggering samples. Save Gender Bender’s frantic stage energy, the live and studio experiences were nearly identical, which only speaks more to the bond between these four.
So, with a new album just about to hit the shelves, what’s priority for the band? After cultivating their on-stage show, after they were crammed together in a bus, after building up their creative and personal bonds, they had that collective creative itch again. This time, it came out a little quicker than Bosnian Rainbows’ eight days. Gender Bender explains it happened in some sort of pre-destined burst of creativity: “We recorded another album, it turned out really good. It took three days, so it was pretty relaxed.”