Mary Timony is pretty low-key for a rock star - her subdued demeanor gleaned from nearly three decades of making and performing music in a handful of forward thinking, indie bands. Yet the music she’s created during that time is almost the exact opposite.
A Washington, D.C., native, she started her career on Dischord Records, the Capital’s most storied label, as part of math-rock four-piece Autoclave. Timony then moved to Boston and founded/fronted the post-punk quartet Helium.
In 1999, she joined forces with Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney, Portlandia) for an EP under short-lived moniker The Spells – a collaboration that ultimately led the pair to start indie rock supergroup Wild Flag with Sleater-Kinney/Quasi drummer Janet Weiss and Rebecca Cole.
These days, however, Timony is all-in on Ex Hex, the one-time trio (now quartet) she leads with guitarist Betsy Wright, drummer Laura Harris, and new bassist Michelle Mae of (D.C. stalwarts) The Makeup.
Another high-energy amalgam of guitar-driven tunes that draws from things like classic rock, arena rock, power pop, and punk, the band released its second studio album, It’s Real, in March.
It comes after the band dropped their studio debut, Rips, five years ago – something Timony did not exactly intend.
“We worked on it off-and-on,” she said recently from her home in D.C. “It was just about having enough songs. But we toured for too long last time and got burned out. Needed a year to recover. People got involved in other projects. But really, we were intending to do it earlier. It just took us a little longer.”
The extra time did not go to waste. The 10 songs on It’s Real are tightly constructed and head-nod inducing, complete with plenty of unabashed power chords, earwig riffs, and sing-a-long choruses. But with seven of the album’s tracks under four minutes, it’s also a very fixed package.
The firmly grounded recordings are in complete juxtaposition to the Ex Hex live show. Part of the band’s recognizable identity (and most enjoyable performance moments) comes from the improvisation and back-and-forth guitar play between Timony and Wright.
“The songs are pretty tethered,” said Timony. “We don’t really improvise much. It’s all planned out. But when we’re playing, it’s fun to do that kind of stuff. We stretch out. And that way, we have something fun and exciting to do in the set.”
Surprisingly, just simply enjoying the process is something of a new experience for the veteran bandleader. And it’s not that she hasn’t had any fun over the years. It’s that Timony has never had this much fun before.
“With this band,” she said, “It’s so much more straight-ahead. And for such a long time, it wasn’t. It’s so different from how I used to work. So I’m enjoying it more – in all aspects of being in a band – from going on tour to playing the shows. I just never enjoyed it all that much in my 20s and 30s. You just have to keep growing.”
Timony will get at least one more shot at it, as Ex Hex has plans to record a third album. And with a new band member who is planning to contribute to the writing process, as well as all four band members living in the same city, it should arrive sooner than its predecessor did.
After that, it’s anyone’s guess.
“We’re just making music that we like,” said Timony. “And you just never know if people are going to like it or not. We feel lucky if ours resonates with some people. Being a rock musician is not an easy thing to do. It’s complicated. Some bands have a certain thing that works and they just keep on doing it. But I’ve never experienced that before (laughs). I’m just going to keep on trying new stuff.”
Ex Hex, 9 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 15. Casbah, 2501 Kettner Blvd., Midtown. $16; casbahmusic.com