Mary Timony on Ex Hex, Writing Happy Songs and the Future of Wild Flag

Mary Timony on Ex Hex, Writing Happy Songs and the Future of Wild Flag
Photo by Jonah Takagi
Since the beginning of the 1990s, DC native and musical prodigy Mary Timony has been in at least 10 bands, including Autoclave, Helium, Mind Science of the Mind, Wild Flag and her own solo group. Last year she formed Ex Hex, a trio also featuring Betsy Wright and Laura Harris, who were quickly snatched up by Merge Records. Fresh from a stint playing rock tunes with Carrie Brownstein, Janet Weiss and Rebecca Cole in Wild Flag, Timony felt compelled to not stop the rock.

"I played in Wild Flag and was trying to write songs for that band and kind of got into more of a pop mindset," Timony tells Exclaim! "That seemed to be what worked best for that band. I had just been trying to write some pop hooks and we didn't end up using them, so yes, a few of the songs were written for Wild Flag."

Ex Hex's newly released debut is titled Ex Hex Rips for a reason: the band's style of glam-infused, punky rock'n'roll really does rip. Even more than Wild Flag, Ex Hex is straight-up anthemic rock, complete with the sweetest hooks Timony has ever written.

"I've just been in this phase of songwriting where I've been writing songs that I want to hear," she says. "Instead of focusing on expressing something and being creative or making ethereal music, I really tried to make songs that I would put on the stereo and dance around to. So that's where I was coming from. I think Betsey and Laura were coming from the same place. Betsey wrote some of the songs on the record too. And something I really like about playing with them is that we share a similar type of music that we're excited about, like early '80s power pop and glam."

Timony also felt the need to break out of the sad, introspective recordings that became her signature for the past two decades. She feels Wright and Harris were the secret to her success.

"I've gone through a lot of phases and ways of thinking about music, and I kind of feel like every time I let go of music and then come back to it a bit later I come to it from a new angle," Timony explains. "I just didn't have anything more to say about being sad. I definitely used that all up, and got it out of my system. I didn't want to write any more diary entries, which is what I did with my solo stuff. I think I just entered a new mind-frame where I just wrote songs I wanted to listen to. And I don't think I've ever done that before. I don't know why it took me so long. It's weird.

"Part of it is also working with a team, and this band is a team. We also had awesome people helping us out like Jonah Takagi, who helped produce the new record. It's great to have everyone in on it, where their opinion's count. It's pretty different from being a solo artist, where you have to decide what's good and what's bad on your own. The fact that we were really working together to make sure it was good made me realize I don't want to do it all on my own again."

The name of the band, which Timony fans should recognize as the title of her third solo album, wasn't an obvious choice. However, when she originally came up with it back in 2005, the thought did cross her mind.

"We just had a list of 30 names and that was one of them," Timony says. "Everyone seemed to like that name so we just went with it. Originally when I named that record, I thought, 'This would be a cool name for a band.' But I just ended up using it for the record. It's not really connected to the record at all. We just liked the way the words sounded. There wasn't much significance behind it. It's so hard to name a band."

As for her previous band, Timony says she's unsure of whether the broken-up Wild Flag will record or even play together again.

"I can't really say for sure, but everyone is pretty busy with their own stuff," she says of the supergroup. "I don't think that band is gonna do anything else, really. I think it was just a one record deal. But it was really fun and I had a blast. I love playing music with those guys. Carrie's really busy, so I don't think it will happen any time soon."

As disappointing as that may be for fans, Timony says she is hoping to resurrect one of her most celebrated albums for its 20th anniversary next year: Helium's long out-of-print debut, The Dirt of Luck.

"Oh jeez, I'd like to," she says with enthusiasm. "I'm trying to convince Matador to do it and I think they will. Because you can't find it! I'm going to try and make it happen though."

Read our full story on Ex Hex's new album here.