Mary Timony's voice is deep but not masculine, imbued with a certain melancholy that makes you feel like she knows more than she's letting on. She's been a constant fixture in indie rock for almost 30 years, first as part of DC's seminal band Helium, and most recently as part of Ex Hex and the supergroup Wild Flag (with Sleater-Kinney members Janet Weiss and Carrie Brownstein, among others). No matter the outfit, her voice is always unmistakable.
If she were just a singer, it would be enough to cement her place in the annals of ass-kicking rock musicians. But her signature guitar-playing — by turns fuzzed out with distortion and carelessly meandering — makes her an unstoppable force. When you add all of that to her deeply strange lyrics that weave fantastic worlds right in front of your eyes (or is it ears?), you've got the recipe for an absolute supernova. Her songs are essential listening, classics that have flown under the radar for far too long.
Mary and I talked on the phone a couple of months before the release of the Ends With And, a special Helium double LP that collects the bands' rarities, B-sides, and unreleased demos (along with the reissues of their only albums, 1995's The Dirt of Luck and its follow-up two years later, The Magic City ) . We discussed revisiting old songs, the importance of keeping archives, and living in DC under the new administration.
Laia Garcia: So what inspired you to put this box set together?
Mary Timony: Part of it was that they were kind of out of print in vinyl. And every once in a while people would ask me about them. So that's really where the motivation came from. And then Matador [the record label] had the idea of putting together another record of the EPs and singles. I was like, "Yeah, that's a great idea," because even though we only put out two albums, we just had so many little things that weren't on albums. So for the past year, I've spent many, many hours going through everything in my basement and attic to try to find stuff that I'd lost.
LG: Was there anything that you had forgotten about or that you were surprised about?
MT: Yeah, totally. I mean, some of the stuff I hadn't heard since the early '90s. There were a couple of 7-inches I didn't even have anymore, some I don't know how I found them. I reached out to so many different people that I hadn't talked to in like, 25 years. I was totally like a mini-detective, Google-searching people, trying to find email addresses. Luckily, everyone was super-helpful. People had saved things! It was a fun project, like a treasure hunt or something.
LG: Was there a point where you started archiving all the things you were involved with?
MT: I didn't, that's the problem. I mean, I don't throw anything out, but I've never organized anything. So I just had this vortex of cassette tapes of practices and so many 4-track tapes! I had to go out and buy a 4-track cassette player, and luckily, they're super-cheap now, like $50 or something. But yeah, I'm not like a librarian of my own stuff. It definitely made me realize that if you're someone who's making stuff, it's smart to try and organize it at some point.
LG: You should get an intern!
MT: Yeah, I should get an intern, it's true. [ Laughs .] No, I don't think I could subject anyone to the mess in my closet.