By: Jessica Grose
On her new album, Ex Hex, former Helium lead singer Mary Timony sounds like Liz Phair’s older, wiser sister, circa Phair’s 1993 grrrl-powered debut, Exile in Guyville. Timony has a similarly disaffected, take-no-bullshit alto, and she covers similar lyrical ground–fighting, screwing, and passing out on the bathroom floor in “drool and despair.” In an exclusive interview Spin.com talks to Timony about Washington, D.C., working with ex-Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty, and Dungeons and Dragons.
SPIN: So you just moved to D.C. from Boston, How do you like it there?
Timony: It’s really good. I actually started out here; it’s kind of like coming home. When I first started out I was in a band called Autoclave, so this is the first place where I got into playing guitar and knowing people in the rock world. The music community in D.C. has a lot of really good, supportive people.
SPIN: This album is markedly different from your last album. Is the change of location part of it?
Timony: The thing that’s really affected me is playing with [drummer] Devon [Ocampo] and getting Brendan [Canty] to produce the record. The collaboration is probably why the record sounds a lot different. We had to do it pretty fast–the basic tracks had to be done in four days. Then we just sat on it because we didn’t have a label. When we started doing the overdubs I hadn’t really heard it for a long time and I think that was good for the music.
SPIN: You’ve collaborated a lot in the past too [most notably with Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein]. Do you prefer that over working alone?
Timony: I’ve gone through phases, but now I really like to collaborate. I also think of stuff on my own, but right now I’m in a big collaborating phase. I really like to write music with Devon; we’re a good team.
SPIN: This record is certainly more involved with worldly concerns than your last album [2002’s Tolkien-esque The Golden Dove]. Was that a conscious decision or just where the music took you?
Timony: It definitely wasn’t a decision, I think the music is more straightforward and rockin’ and that type of feeling just lent itself to lyrics that were more direct and less fantasy-oriented. Plus I got really sick of that label of me being really into Dungeons and Dragons. It made me feel sick to my stomach. I got pigeonholed into this Mary’s gone-out-to-lunch thing.
SPIN: When you started out, indie rock was something of a boys’ club. Do you think things have changed?
Timony: I don’t know because I’m not young and coming into the music world right now. I know I felt that way growing up–the scene in D.C. was totally a boys’ club. I still feel nervous every time I go into Guitar Center. It’s when you’re anonymous, when you’re showing up at a club and you’re gonna play, people know that they’re coming to hear a girl singer and they give you more respect. I still feel weird when I go into Guitar Center and people act like I don’t know what I’m talking about.
SPIN: I know you’ve worked in film before, as an actress and also doing soundtrack work. Is that something you’d like to pursue further?
Timony: Ideally I would. I really have fun doing music for visuals and stuff. But it’s kind of on the back burner for now.
SPIN: Are you going on the road soon?
Timony: We’re going out for a week in April, just to Boston, New York, then San Francisco and L.A. We’re going out for five weeks, just in the U.S.
For more info on Mary Timony’s tour, which kicks off today, click here