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Ex Hex's Mary Timony: "We Don't Have Anything to Prove"

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Ex Hex | 7th St. Entry | Friday, October 24
Mary Timony isn't convinced that rock 'n' roll is dead. She's living, shredding proof that it's not. It was alive in the strange verve of Autoclave. It was alive in the unaffected sincerity of Helium, and it was all but kicking and screaming through each and every throaty Wild Flag riff. Now, for anyone still eager to refute her faith, she's dropped her best, most undiluted rock record to date with her new band, Ex Hex.

Ex Hex's RIPS (Merge) teams Timony with drummer Laura Harris (Aquarium) and bassist Betsy Wright (Chain and the Gang) on a 12-track tour-de-force that's both straightforward and daring. It's a blast, and it would appear that Timony and her bandmates/friends are having the most fun they've ever had playing music. Ahead of Ex Hex's debut Minneapolis show with Speedy Ortiz and Buildings, Gimme Noise spoke with the influential D.C. axe-wielder herself about life after Riot Grrrl and playing to play.

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Ex Hex - Waterfall from Merge Records on Vimeo.

You grew up in Washington D.C. during a hugely dynamic era of underground music. I would bet you got to see some pretty incredible Fugazi sets. Did your interactions within that world influence you to start making music?

Yes, definitely. I was in high school during the whole hardcore thing that happened in D.C. and I would frequent those shows with my friends. The first show I ever went to was Rites of Spring and Beefeater, which was really awesome. The last couple of years I was in high school it was kind of like, you know, one of the social things you did was to go and see these bands. I was obsessed with all these bands and then of course Fugazi. I was at like every Fugazi show they ever played until I left D.C., which was in 1989, or something. That was really motivating, not necessarily the style of the music. I was playing guitar in school in a completely different style but just the whole DIY, being in a band thing and putting out your own records and not trying to make it big. That was a made a huge impact for sure. I don't think I would have started playing in bands if I hadn't been going to those shows.

Were there many other girls in bands in D.C. around the time you started Autoclave in 1990?

There was one band called Fire Party that was all girls, but no. I think something about hardcore music scene in general at that time was that it was the music of teenage boys. I think that Riot Grrrl really happened as a reaction against that but the scene in D.C. was a bunch of teenage boys for sure. It wasn't really an artsy music scene at that point.

Did it feel limiting at the time to pursue music in an environment where there maybe wasn't room for you?

Yeah definitely. I think that's why I'd go see those shows but it didn't feel like my world at all. I was more a fan and there weren't really any girls. It just took a while to put everything. Christina Billote thought it felt limiting. There just weren't girls. That's just how the hardcore scene worked.

At the same time, the music you made within that environment ended up having a lasting impact. Were you guys aware of that as it was happening at all?

Well I guess I was talking about when I was a little younger and then I did start playing with Christina. We only ended up ever playing about 10 shows but it felt so exciting at the time. At that point Bikini Kill had moved to D.C. and so there was a whole movement of girls starting bands. It's just so different than now. At the time it felt a lot different, like it was making a statement. It was a strong thing to do but now there's so many girls playing in rock bands. It's really cool. It's interesting.

The cultural climate has totally changed.

Yeah I just can't figure it out if it's just hardcore music thing because there's been a lot of women in rock music, but I think that since the '90s it has really changed. Now it's just a normal equal thing, which is great. It's just normal. You don't have to think about it as much. It's just weird to me to think back. It also could have something to do with being a young girl and figuring it out is different than after being at it for a while so I don't know. I don't know how much perspective I have.

I think you have a lot of perspective. You've been a woman in a band throughout all of these different cultural situations.

[Laughs] Yeah I guess that's true.

Why was it the right time to hook up with Laura Harris and Betsy Wright and form Ex Hex? What has made the experience most successful?

We have such a good bond and friendship and really just enjoy each other's company. That makes being in the band fun and easy. We worked really hard on making the songs songs that we like to listen to, which in turn makes them fun to play. Everything just kind of fell together in a good way. We were really focused and just trying to make a record that we liked. I think because we had all of that focus, we made the music fun music to play. The shows are always super fun. It's pretty tight and we have to focus really hard on playing the parts. Part of it has to do with the fact that there are only three of us and so it takes a lot of concentration, but we all have a total blast.
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To elaborate on that, you have admittedly distanced yourself from making music with overtly political themes and have focused on making music that -- as you said -- you just really like to play. How did that transition of focus develop?

Well I think personally when I was in my 20s I feel like maybe some of my lyrics were more political or something. I think that's kind of a phase, not a phase exactly. Well, for me it seems like that sort of a thing that happens in your 20s you're sorting out your thoughts and individuality. And I did that for a while and I kind of had other phases.

Basically, I feel like I already did that and I don't feel like I really need to do it at this point. All three of us are just huge music fans who love music and love playing music and want to make music that we like, and that's what we're doing. I don't think we're an angry band. We don't have anything to prove, we're just musicians and that's really the focus. I guess I know what you're saying though like you'd think because we're all women maybe we'd have a political thing, but we're just not that type of a band.

I think it's kind of amazing that we haven't really had to talk about it that much yet in this band. It's just so different because if this band had started in the early '90s that's all people would be talking about. It's pretty incredible that so far it's not even that big of a deal, you know, which I love that. It's interesting.

The album really captures the vitality in different parts of the '70s and '80s. How were those references incorporated into songwriting?

It sort of just happened. All three of us like music from the same era and are kind of really obsessed with bands from that era. We got really into Dwight Twilley and the Nerves and we'd go through these phases where we got super obsessed with certain songs. It was kind of a conscious effort but ultimately that's just the kind of music that we like.

You've said you feel like rock is actually going through a renaissance, which is a comment that sparks a LOT of opinions. I happen to agree. What do you see as shaping this renaissance?

Okay, so from my perspective I think the fact that musicians can record themselves so easily and cheaply has really opened up rock music and bands are able to get what's in their head into the real world very easily. It's great. There's a lot of bad music being made too, but I really feel like it has to do with the fact that people can do that so easily. That and the Internet.

People are able to research all kinds of music. I know this girl who is 13 and who comes to me for guitar lessons. I'm learning about all of this obscure psychedelic music from her. She's 13! But she's really good at researching on the internet. When I was 13 I had like two cassette tapes, you know? I think it's really incredible that the world is open. It's cool. I think that's a real big influence on musicians that they can listen to anything that they want. It's allowing a lot of good stuff to come through. There's always going to be crappy music. But if you're a talented person and you're motivated you're going to get people to hear you. Maybe that wasn't possible 20 years ago. Maybe you lived in the middle of Idaho and didn't know any people.


Additionally, there's also a resurgence of girl musicians who either came or sound like they came from the '90s. You're touring with Speedy Ortiz. Kathleen Hanna is back in the game with the Julie Ruin. Sleater-Kinney just announced their reunion, new album, and tour. Do you think there's any impetus for all of this stuff resurfacing/surfacing now?

Yeah I've noticed that, that's true. I think it just happens naturally after like 20 years. Kids start quoting stuff from things they were exposed to when they were younger. When I was that age there was a '70s and '80s revival. People draw from that stuff and then they want to do it when they are an adult. It's like you want to belong with the kids that you thought were cool who were older than you. Lucky for us, a lot of the music is really great

Ex Hex. With Speedy Ortiz. 18+, $12, 8 p.m., Friday, October 24 at 7th St. Entry. Tickets.

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