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Mary Timony

More adventurous than some of her more celebrated peers, singer/songwriter/guitarist Mary Timony is a consistently creative force in indie rock. Her work with Helium on albums such as 1995's The Dirt of Luck showcased her alternately tough and vulnerable vocals as well as her expressive guitar playing, which combined her classical training and the alternate tunings of experimental rock and shoegaze into an elastic yet explosive style. The delicate, prog-influenced sound she explored on Helium's final album, 1997's The Magic City, informed her early work as a solo artist, and the bittersweet witchiness of her 2000 debut Mountains seemed to foreshadow the wave of mystically minded artists that arrived later in the decade. A few years later, Timony returned to a more streamlined, harder-edged style with albums such as 2007's The Shapes We Make, which foreshadowed her time with the high-energy supergroup Wild Flag at the beginning of the 2010s. At times, Timony seemed underappreciated for her contributions to indie music, but by the mid-2010s, when her brash trio Ex Hex updated the sounds of glam rock, power pop, and punk with 2014's Rips and 2019's It's Real, she was widely recognized as an innovator and veteran of the genre. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Timony started playing piano as a child and learned guitar from her brother. Later, she studied viola and played in the jazz band at the city's Duke Ellington School of the Arts. In 1990, she became the guitarist and co-lead vocalist for the highly regarded female punk band Autoclave, which issued two EPs (1991's Go Far and the following year's self-titled effort) on Dischord before dissolving in 1991. Timony then moved to Boston, and after graduating from Boston University with a degree in English literature, she replaced Mary Lou Lord in an early incarnation of Helium in mid-1992. The band's lineup solidified around Timony, bassist Brian Dunton, and former Dumptruck drummer Shawn King. Helium introduced their elliptical yet hard-hitting sound in 1993 with "The American Jean" and "Hole in the Ground" 7"s. After the release of 1994's Pirate Prude EP on Matador Records, which dug deeper into the band's feminist themes and snarling guitars, Polvo guitarist Ash Bowie replaced Dunton on bass. He made his recorded debut on the band's first full-length, 1995's The Dirt of Luck. Later that year, the keyboard-heavy Superball EP reflected Helium's ever-changing sound. During this time, Timony also branched out from Helium. She appeared on the song "All Dressed Up in Dreams" from 1995's Wasp's Nests, the lone album from Stephin Merritt's project the 6ths. In 1996, she sang on Lincoln '65's self-titled single for Slow River, and teamed with Shudder to Think bassist Nathan Larson, Dambuilders violinist Joan Wasser (known later for her work as Joan as Police Woman), and drummer Kevin March in the alt-rock supergroup Mind Science of the Mind. In 1997, Timony appeared in the film All Over Me as the leader of the band Coochie Pop and performed Helium's "Hole in the Ground." That year, the band returned with the Mitch Easter-produced The Magic City, which revealed an increasing fascination with the fantastical imagery and sounds of prog rock that continued on the No Guitars EP. Following the U.S. tour in support of the album, Helium disbanded in 1998. Timony then spent some time recording with various collaborators and launched her solo career. In 1999, she and Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein issued a four-song EP as the Spells; in 2000, she recorded a six-song demo with Anna Johansson and Erin Maclean as Green 4. In March 2000, Timony made her solo debut with Mountains, which gave the mystical sound of latter-day Helium a melancholy twist and featured contributions from Christina Files, Bowie, and Tortoise's John McEntire. For her next album, May 2002's The Golden Dove, Timony recruited co-producers Mark Linkous and Alan Weatherhead and opted for a more straight-ahead indie rock approach. Around this time, Timony also began teaching guitar lessons. She returned with her own music on April 2005's Ex Hex. Produced by Fugazi's Brendan Canty and featuring Medications' Devin Ocampo, the album was released by Lookout and returned to the angular rock of her Helium days. Following collaborations with Team Sleep, King Diamond, and Garland of Hours, Timony moved to Kill Rock Stars for May 2007's The Shapes We Make, which featured an even more direct sound as well as contributions from Ocampo and Jawbox's J. Robbins. Early in 2009, Timony, Jonah Takagi, and WinstonYu formed the band Pow Wow, who changed their name to Soft Power with the addition of TJ Lipple. Though Soft Power played some shows and recorded a few songs, the band was short-lived; by May 2010, Timony was working with Brownstein, her Sleater-Kinney bandmate Janet Weiss, and the Minders' keyboardist Rebecca Cole as Wild Flag. The group's self-titled debut album appeared on Merge in September 2011 and won acclaim for its dynamic songs, but the members' busy schedules led Wild Flag to disband in late 2012. Timony continued in a similar driving vein with her next project, the garage rock- and power pop-inspired outfit Ex Hex. Featuring Fire Tapes bassist Betsy Wright and the Aquarium drummer Laura Harris, the band signed to Merge in 2013. For their October 2014 debut album, Rips, they worked with Easter and Takagi. After touring for the better part of two years, Ex Hex's members took time to pursue other projects: Wright formed the group Bat Fangs, Harris joined Death Valley Girls, and Timony reissued Helium's The Dirt of Luck and Magic City. Ex Hex returned in March 2019 with It's Real, a more elaborate-sounding album featuring the Rockman, a small amp designed by Boston's Tom Scholz in 1982. That August saw the release of the self-titled album from Timony's project Hammered Hulls -- which also included guitarist Mark Cisneros, drummer Chris Wilson, and vocalist Alec MacKaye on Dischord. In January 2021, Matador reissued Mountains with previously unreleased recordings.
© Heather Phares /TiVo
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