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Mary Timony Brings 'Understated Swagger' To Ex Hex


Mary Timony is a wordsmith steeped in the tradition of rock 'n' roll.


MARY TIMONY: (Singing) Was it my imagination? Did you come out of the past?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Timony is 45, making her a kind of rock elder stateswoman. In the 1990s, she was one of the few female musicians to make a name in Washington, D.C.'s male-dominated rock scene. This year, she released "Rips," a new record with a new band. To kick off our series The Ones That Got Away, stories we just didn't get around to covering this year, NPR's Neda Ulaby reports on Mary Timony and her new album.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: As a young musician, Mary Timony remembers how thrilling it was to see female punk rockers like Kathleen Hanna storm the stage after growing up on a dudely diet of D.C. musicians - macho guys, like Henry Rollins and Fugazi.

TIMONY: It was just a crazy energy. Kathleen getting in fights with people in the audience and I was just - my mind was just blown. It was really inspiring.

ULABY: Timony made her own name as a powerful presence in two influential indie bands of the 1990s - Autoclave and Helium.


HELIUM: (Singing) Vibrations every day, in the dark you feel OK.

ULABY: Timony's one of those people who seems taller than she actually is, especially when she's holding a guitar. Her features are soft and she is white-set green eyes. Four years ago, she joined what was billed as an indie rock super-group with three other prominent musicians - all of them women. Wild Flag put out one critically acclaimed record and accrued a passionate fan base. But Timony says it was sort of a one-off.

TIMONY: It was a fun, wild ride.


WILD FLAG: (Singing) All right, say my name. Say it again and I'll make it rain in...

ULABY: Everyone in Wild Flag lived in different, far-flung cities, complicating rehearsals. And the band broke up after just a few years, when two of its members decided to get their old band, Sleater-Kinney, back together.

TIMONY: It was really hard because I knew that was going to happen for a long time, but I couldn't say anything about it. People would ask me why the band broke up and I was like well, I don't know.

ULABY: Nevertheless, critics raved about Timony's technical brilliance and her rare mixture of showmanship and generosity. She's brought that quality - what you might call an understated swagger - to her new band, Ex Hex. It's also, as it

happens, all women.


ULABY: They're rehearsing now in a big, raw, industrial loft space in the suburbs of D.C., running through songs from their debut album, preparing for a tour of the South next month.


EX HEX: (Singing) You take my love and you waste my time. How can I help it when it sure feels fine? I don't mind.

ULABY: Mary Timony's band mates, Betsy Wright and Laura Harris, are both in their early 30s, 10 years younger than she is.

TIMONY: I didn't really have a specific type of person in mind to play with. I wasn't, like, limiting it to only women or - you know, only women of a certain age.

ULABY: Timony wrote nearly all the songs on the album, but bass player Betsy Wright contributed a few. She says Timony's career help her get serious about playing guitar.

BETSY WRIGHT: I've been a fan of Mary for a long time. I'd go home and I'd try to figure out her guitar solos and stuff like that.


ULABY: Ex Hex reminds rock critic Killian Young of The Ramones.

KILLIAN YOUNG: Just in terms of that fearless energy.

ULABY: Young writes for the online magazine Consequence Of Sound. His favorite track is the album's single, called "Hot And Cold."

YOUNG: It's kind of a slow burning riff, and I was spinning that all summer.


EX HEX: (Singing) So hot, so cold. So young, so old. You look at me with snake-like eyes.

YOUNG: You look at me with snake-like eyes. I can't see through your disguise, kind of about getting mixed messages from a guy.

ULABY: This album juxtaposes uncomfortable emotions and intimate disclosures with big, hooky, power-pop chords. The tension works for Killian Young.

YOUNG: Kind of what I saw was the overarching theme is calling out guys on their bad behavior or being mixed in their messages. I guess it kind of makes me think about how I act in relationships or how I communicate with people that I'm close with.

TIMONY: I tend to have, like, this cynical view of people and maybe, like, the songs kind of - a lot of them are sort of cynical takes on people that I really love.

ULABY: Still, there's not much that seems cynical about Mary Timony when she's perched on a stool in her basement completely focused on teaching a teenager guitar.


ULABY: Timony's taught guitar for a long time. She's worked with this student, Anna Wilson, since Wilson was in second grade. Now she's 15, taller than Timony and wearing a Wild Flag pin on her camouflage jacket. Proudly, she tells her teacher she has a show of her own coming up.

TIMONY: You do?

ANNA: Yeah, I do. Yeah, The Electric Maid. Yeah.

TIMONY: Oh my God, that's so cool.

ANNA: Yeah.

ULABY: In typical teenage fashion, Anna is too cool to gush about having Mary Timony as her guitar teacher. Timony says maybe that's because it's just not a big deal for a woman to be a rock guitarist anymore.

TIMONY: When I was younger, I almost felt like you were like a woman car mechanic or cab driver or something. It's, like, unusual, like, people, like, look at you weird. But now, I really think it's so different now.

ULABY: And Mary Timony likes that. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.


EX HEX: (Singing) Maybe I've changed but I don't worry. You're not going to bring me down. I used to cry, cry, cry. Now I don't remember why... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.
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