I had a friend when I was about 20 years old who was obsessed with Mary Timony. Not in the creepy sense, but in the admiring fan kind of way. She had one of those fan websites ( like mediafire or whatever there was on the Internet before social media became all the rage) dedicated to Mary Timony and her many projects. Even then (this was the late ‘90s), Timony had already been in Washington, DC-based band Autoclave, Green 4, the Spells with Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney, and her most well known project at the time, Helium from Boston. In 2000, Timony put out her first solo, self-titled album. At this point, I had also become an avid fan, going to see her play every chance I could when she toured through DC.
Timony’s work is certainly worthy of obsession. Helium combined discordant noise with uniquely stylized guitar and moody, breathy, alto-range vocals. Her solo work began more minimally and took her listeners into a fantasy realm brought back down to earth only by all of the sadness lingering throughout the lyrics and melodies. In 2011, Timony re-emerged with Wild Flag, joining ex-members of Sleater-Kinney, Quasi and the Minders. Now, Timony and company bring us rock’n’roll power trio Ex Hex, who, with their new single “Hot and Cold” (on Merge Records) return us to that most perfect, simple, familiar thing. That thing you’ve always liked, even when you were a kid. It’s like the guitar riffs in “Crimson and Clover” or “Sweet Jane.” Perfect and simple, but Timony’s unique style still bleeds through.
I first saw you play music live when your band Helium toured with Sleater-Kinney in 1997 or ‘98, but you’d been playing in bands for years even before that. How has the process of music making and songwriting changed for you over time?
Mary Timony: Well, with songwriting, it’s gotten more focused and I know when something I’m writing is good or not now. I have a million ideas and 99% I throw away ‘cause they aren’t good enough. It’s just finding the good ones that is the most important thing. It’s a really delicate balance, knowing how much energy to put into what direction.
Both Helium and your self-titled solo project often took your listeners to dreamy and imaginative realms. The A-side of Ex Hex’s new single seems more down to earth, here and now and back to the basics. Do you agree?
Yes! Some of these songs were written to sound like they could be on Casey Kasem’s Top 40 countdown in 1982. With this band I really wanted to have fun and make music that was fun to play and fun to listen to.
To me, a rock trio is perfection. Bass, drums, and one guitar are all you need. Are you a rock trio incidentally or on purpose? What other rock trios are you inspired by?
I agree. Less is more. I mean, I love many, many bands with two guitars, but I also think the single guitar thing is cool, depending. I guess its challenges are different. It’s more about what you are playing rather that what you are not playing, which happens when you have two guitars. I mean, of course the trios that I think of off the top of my head are Cream and Hendrix… That’s a tall order… but we will try to keep striving for the best!
Many of your bands from the Spells to Wild Flag and now Ex Hex have featured all-female lineups. Is playing music with other women important to you?
I like playing with people who inspire me and who are smart and cool no matter what their gender is. I don’t know, it just happened I guess! Betsy and Laura are just such total talents and both so creative and interesting. I’m so lucky to have found them both.
Is Wild Flag over? Is your solo career over?
Wild Flag is over for now. I’m not sure about solo stuff. I supposed I might do something with that material at some point! Right now I’m just interested in making new music, though, and I’m having a total blast!
When’s the last time you played New Orleans? Any fond or unpleasant memories of our fair city?
I love New Orleans. I think the last time I was there was a day off on tour, which got a little debaucherous. Also, there was a pigeon eating a chicken wing in our hotel hallway. That’s not what I loved about New Orleans, but it was weird.
Ex Hex plays Siberia on March 10th with the Coathangers, Connections, and Pope opening. For more info, check out exhexband.com