Ex Hex // Interview

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Words & Images by Eleonora C. Collini

Rock’n’Roll is not dead. Mary Timony is the living, shredding proof of that. Best known for being in Autoclave, one of the few bands in the history of Washington, DC’s Dischord Records to include females. Then for her stellar guitar and songwriting work with ‘90s avant-indie band Helium, more recently – among other things – Timony played in supergroup Wild Flag together with Sleater Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss.

Last year she teamed up with talented fellow rock veterans Laura Harris (Aquarium) and Betsy Wright (Chain and the Gang) to form Ex-Hex. Their debut album, Rips, – which came out last October via Merge Records – is a straightforward rock ‘n’ roll record, full of rip-roaring riffs and huge hooks, whose secret for being so triumphant is the simple goal to be a blast for the listener to enjoy.

Are you pleased with how Rips was received by both fans and critics?
BETSY WRIGHT: Yeah, we’ve been happy that people seem to like it.

Did you have any kind of fixed vision in mind for the record, when you were writing it?
MARY TIMONY: We wanted to only have songs that we all really liked and we would listen to ourselves. Instead of just jamming and seeing what would happen, we were thinking about the final product, and kept re-listening to the album to make sure there wasn’t any filler or even anything we were just OK with. We wanted it to be very good.

In what way did you want to like all the songs on Rips? Do you mean that you wanted them to catchy and fun to play? Or more challenging in their appeal?
MARY: There are different ways to write music. You can write music out of sadness or to try to prove a point, you can write angry music or music that is meditative, or you can write out of just jamming with other people. This time we simply wanted to play music that we liked and be able to listen to it over and over again.

Both the videos for ‘Waterfall‘ and ‘Don’t Wanna Lose‘ are very cool and arty, yet funny; where is a rare combination to master. How involved in the making did you get?
BETSY: Both directors [respectively NYC underground cartoonist M. Wartella and Lara Jean Gallagher] had a clear vision of what they wanted, but it was a collaboration as there was lots of discussion with us as well.

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The ‘Don’t Wanna Lose’ video is a parody of Ladies & Gentlemen: The Fabulous Stains, a ‘80s cult movie about three teenage girls who start a punk band. Do you consider Ex-Hex a punk band?
LAURA: I don’t know if I would define ourselves a punk band. Musically we take lots of that stuff, but I am not sure if we are punk punk, if you know what I mean.
MARY: If we think of the original punk rockers in New York, we definitely got inspired by them. The Washington, DC scene we grew up in was also considered punk but it was completely different from the New York scene. It wasn’t about being artists at all. I don’t know, punk means so many different things, we’re definitely not a country band though.
LAURA: We are not necessarily a super rebellious band. We just want to play rock and roll I think.

In what context did you meet?
BETSY: Both Laura and I are originally from Virginia but we live in Washington, DC like Mary.
LAURA: I moved to DC just right after High School and both Betsy and I were playing music there. At some point I was playing in a band and Mary came to a show, so that’s how we met.
MARY: In DC the music scene is so small, it’s like thirty people, so everyone knows everyone.

Does that make it an enjoyable place to live?
BETSY: I wouldn’t consider it a cool place, but I love my family, my friends, the trees and the parks. It feels like home and we have good places to practice, if we moved to another city it would take time to get ourselves set up.

I had a cookie in my guitar amp for a while. I didn’t know it was there, but then when I found out I left it there for a while, and when I finally got rid of it I was so scared to mess up my tones!

So what’s the thing you always have to bring with you on tour from home?
MARY: I had a cookie in my guitar amp for a while. I didn’t know it was there, but then when I found out I left it there for a while, and when I finally got rid of it I was so scared to mess up my tones!
BETSY: I am always wearing this necklace. And I always have to have at least a couple of leather things.
LAURA: I used to have lots of bracelets, but then I started taking them off because they would get caught in my sticks halfway through a song!

What’s the weirdest thing you have in your home?
LAURA: I have these two plastic monster hands you can put on as a part of a costume and they always sit on my drum set.
BETSY: Yeah, Laura likes monsters! I just moved, so I don’t think I have anything very weird. Maybe weird clothes.
MARY: We have a lot of letters. My boyfriend used to work for a sign shop, so we have a bunch of big letters in the attic.
LAURA: Oh, I have something weird!! I have two necklaces with soil from Dracula castle in Transylvania that I got from ebay.

What’s the most unusual instrument you have ever got to play?
MARY: I got to play a Theorbo, which is a bass lute from the 17th century. It’s huge, like 4/5 feet long.
BETSY: I used to play viola, but I don’t think it’s that weird.
MARY: Betsy is very good with the recorder. She can play the whole Stairway to Heaven on it.
LAURA: When I was working at a rock club at home, the drummer of Slayer was playing there once and he got these cymbals that looked like pizza cutters, which he got me to play on.

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What artist of any art, from any century, you would like to collaborate with?
LAURA: There was a painter called George Catlin that was sent to paint Native Americans. He did hundreds and hundreds of fast portraiture of them that were beautiful and cool. But I don’t know what I would do with him!
BETSY: I wanna be in The Traveling Wilburys or just sing with Roy Orbison a little.
MARY: There are a lot of artists that I admire but I don’t know whether they could be good collaborations. Also, I don’t know if I would be capable to collaborate with them! Maybe Hieronymus Bosch, a Dutch painter from the 15th century. He could paint our stage costumes, so that we could look like some of his weird creatures…

Mary, back in the ‘90s, how did it feel to be one of the few female musicians to make a name in Washington, DC’s male-dominated rock scene? Did you feel that you were discriminated against for being a woman?
MARY: Yeah, when I was in High School in the mid-late ‘80s and was playing in bands, the DC music scene was predominantly guys, which made me angry as I never felt part of it, but didn’t stop me from doing what I wanted to do. The ‘80s actually had some all-angry-male music genres, like hardcore, and I think the Riot Grrrl bands were a reaction to that. The situation is very different now.

If you could go back in time to when you first started playing music, after doing all you have done and seeing all you have seen, what advice would you give your younger self?
MARY: I would say “don’t freak out on yourself. Try to always make the best music, try to make sure that the records are recorded right and just keep going.”

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Buy: Ex Hex – Rips