ON A FRIDAY morning in early October, Mary Timony is, in her own words, "exhausted."
It's release week for her new band Ex Hex, which means a slew of interviews and other duties to promote the trio's excellent debut album, Rips, not to mention six shows in eight nights stretching across 3,000 miles, from their hometown of Washington, DC, to Los Angeles.
At the moment, Timony is in Denver, running on four hours of sleep, "and four hours of sleep the night before," she says. She awoke to a glowing review of Rips on the influential music website Pitchfork, and is about to hop in the van for a six-plus-hour drive to Albuquerque.
All the hard work is payoff for more hard work, Timony says.
"This band is really a team, and we worked our asses off for the last year, mostly just trying to write the songs [on Rips]," she says. "We just tried really hard not to flake out on ourselves... so I feel good about the positive response because I guess it makes me feel like I made the right choices."
To most of the world, Timony is the best-known member of Ex Hex, thanks to her time fronting '90s indie-rock band Helium, her handful of solo records, and her membership in the short-lived bi-coastal band Wild Flag whose members included Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss. When that project ended, Timony was able to make exactly the next move she wanted to make.
"My whole MO with this band was just like, 'I want to pick people to play with that I really like and... that I feel like it would be easy and fun to be in a band with,'" she says. "It came together pretty well, I think, although at the time I was kind of like, 'I don't know what I'm doing.' But looking back, it worked out so nicely."
Timony reached out to two longtime acquaintances: drummer Laura Harris (of DC band the Aquarium) and bassist/pianist Betsy Wright. The trio started jamming, writing, and recording in both a punk practice space and Timony's basement, throwing ideas on tape, seeing what stuck, rewriting, organizing ideas, rearranging, and recording some more. "We really whittled out all the crap that wasn't working," Timony says.
And that, plainly, is why Rips rocks in such a tight and efficient way. At 12 tracks and 35 minutes, the album is a glorious throwback to the '70s and early '80s, when punk, power-pop, and glam rock intertwined with bands like the Runaways, the most obvious reference point when discussing Ex Hex's ancestry. No surprise, then, that Timony says she entered the recording process hoping to recapture what she liked about rock music and the radio hits of her childhood.
But even that took a backseat to her primary goal for Ex Hex, contained in a three-letter word she just can't stop uttering, no matter how tired she is. "We constructed [these songs] so they'd be fun to listen to, and then because they're fun to listen to, they're fun to play," she says. "We had a focus and an end in mind: We wanted to make a record that you could put on and dance around to."