DCMD Interview: Ex Hex’s Mary Timony
After Wild Flag confirmed its indefinite hiatus last year, all eyes were on Mary Timony and what her next move would be. The D.C. rock virtuoso had found success with several legendary bands-including Autoclave and Helium in the ’90s-and at the end of 2013 Timony would strike gold yet again with a new project called Ex Hex.
The intrepid trio, which is also comprised of drummer Laura Harris and bassist Betsy Wright, delivered a heavy-hitting debut single dubbed “Hot and Cold” along with a seven-inch release in the spring of 2014 under Merge Records. Before leaving for tour this past March, Timony mentioned that Ex Hex was recording an album with notable producer Mitch Easter in his studio based in North Carolina. Now that Rips is complete, the group will embark on two more tours before the record’s October 7 release date.
Before Timony left D.C. last week, I spoke with her about Ex Hex’s new album, her overall success with the project and how she almost joined The Nation of Ulysses. Ex Hex will headline Rock and Roll Hotel on Thursday, July 24 with Hospitality and Soccer Team.
DC Music Download: You’re about to go on tour again-how are you getting prepared?
Mary Timony: We’ve been practicing a lot! Before tour we normally practice everyday. In a way, it feels like we’ve been on tour already before we’ve even left because we’re so used to playing!
DCMD: How was it like recording your forthcoming album, Rips?
MT: It was good! When we last went on tour, we had a bunch of new songs and played them a lot on the road. After that, we went to Mitch [Easter]’s studio in Kernersville, North Carolina outside Winston-Salem and we recorded there for a little while. Previously I worked with Mitch while I was in the band Helium back in the ’90s. We recorded mostly the drums and the basic tracks, and then we took all the recordings back and finished everything else at my house. We didn’t record it all in the same place, which is kind of good because it gives you more perspective when you do that. It was pretty equally divided between there and my basement.
DCMD: How many songs did you end up recording, and how was making this album different compared to your last one with Wild Flag?
MT: It must have been 11 or 12 songs and there were also a couple that didn’t make it onto the record. The biggest difference with this record compared to anything else I’ve done in the past is that we recorded the band obsessively before we started. I have a studio set up in my house, so we’d practice here and recorded all of it. The recordings were a big part of our writing process, actually. We would listen to the recordings over and over and continuously edit and change things around. That was definitely different than what I’ve done in the past, because we already had everything set up. It was kind of a luxury for us.
Before we started, we had everything completely mapped out. We really wanted to make an album that we could listen to over and over, instead of just documenting something.
DCMD: Besides recording an album, how was it filming the “Hot and Cold” video and having Ian [Svenonius] on set with you? The music video looked like a blast to make. Also, how was it working with your director, Lara Gallagher, once again?
MT: We ended up shooting it in Portland. Our bassist Betsy also plays in Chain and the Gang and they were on a tour which ended in Portland, so Ian was able to act in it with us. Lara is super talented, and the food theme was her idea. Jade Harris was the art director who was in charge of the food, and she stayed up the entire night before making all of it. The whole thing was a lot of fun and it was great having Ian on set.
DCMD: How did you first meet Ian?
MT: The way I met Ian was by almost playing in a band with him when I was 15! I had been jamming with James Canty and Steve Kroner and we were looking around for people to play music with. One day, Ian and Steve Gamboa came over and we all started jamming, but as soon as Ian and Steve joined with James I knew that they had their own thing going, so I ended up leaving. That band ended up turning into The Nation of Ulysses.
D.C. is so small, so I would always see him around town after that. I’ve known him for a long time though, since the ’80s.
DCMD: Can you remember your very first show and what that experience was like?
MT: I was a part of this D.C. youth summer music program and we played at Fort Reno. I was maybe 14 at the time, but I was also in the band with Dante [Ferrando] from Black Cat and Jerry Busher. We all practiced at this elementary school and got paid minimum wage, and then everybody played at Fort Reno.
After that, I think I played my first show with Autoclave at d.c. space, and that was in ’89 or ’90. I remember being nervous and scared, and we played with this band called the Holy Rollers. The whole environment was tight-knit and people really cared about what was going on in D.C. It was really exciting and there were a lot of bands were who doing good stuff-and also some bands doing bad stuff [laughs]. I’m glad that I was around during that time because it inspired me to pursue music.
DCMD: Did you see anyone within the music scene as mentors at the time?
MT: Definitely. I went to see every Fugazi show until I left D.C. Ian and Brendan were people that I looked up to.
DCMD: The music that you studied while at Duke Ellington was mostly classical and jazz, but you also found yourself immersed with the underground scene in D.C. How did you first get introduced to that world?
MT: It is interesting how those two worlds came together for me. It’s funny because I teach kids now and I don’t see it as being much of an issue, but for me I was studying music really seriously and it wasn’t connected at all to the underground scene. That’s why I got into indie rock, but at the time everything seemed so segregated. I knew I didn’t fit in with the hardcore scene and I also didn’t fit into the academic music world either.
I left D.C. for a little while and moved to Boston where I met people who were into the indie rock scene. I didn’t experience that world here that much; I left here in ’88 to go to college in Boston and I also lived there for most of the ’90s. I mostly played music there since I knew after school that I wanted to play in other places and not just D.C. I ended up moving back to DC in 2004, but I felt like I needed to branch out a little bit.
DCMD: Could you see yourself moving outside of D.C. again?
MT: Now that I’m traveling so much it doesn’t really matter to me, but I do love it here. My family is here, and I have really good friends and I love the musicians that I know here. It is home for me. While I don’t believe that D.C. is necessarily a hotbed for rock and roll, I feel like I also don’t need to be around that environment either.
DCMD: Outside of Ex Hex, you also teach music as well-how is that experience like for you?
MT: I have to say that I really love it. I teach out of my house and I have about 20 students. They are starting their own band and I feel really lucky to have been a part of their musical development. It is pretty special. After seeing them play a show at Comet last week, I was especially proud of them. I can see that it’s their passion and I really like connecting with them. It’s really fulfilling and it also helps keep me sane!
DCMD: What kind of advice do you give your students?
MT: I try to focus on allowing them to develop and to figure out what their interests are. If they’re not interested in music, then they usually end up leaving. But, if I get them excited about music, then they will go on their own and I usually act like a coach. I’m not the kind of teacher who’s like “this is my way-you must learn everything that I believe in.” I’m just really trying to focus on helping them discover their own path. It sounds cheesy, but I really do.
DCMD: After your tours are over and the album comes out, what’s next for Ex Hex?
MT: We are making a couple videos and they’ll be out in the fall. We’re also going to Europe and then we’re doing another U.S. tour in the winter. We will be pretty busy starting from October through the following summer with touring, festivals and all kinds of good stuff!