Mary Timony Looks Back On Her Guitar Highlights

From a 30 year career...

Mary Timony is a true guitarist’s guitarist, someone who inspires those around her. Lauded by her peers – and included in Rolling Stone’s list of rock’s all-time best guitarists – she’s helped to shape the sound of indie rock.

Over a 30 year career she’s worked as part of garage-pop trio Ex Hex, post-punk iconoclasts Autoclave, and led Helium to critical acclaim. A keen collaborator, Mary Timony helped to co-found the supergroup Wild Flag, working alongside Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein – who notably described her as “Mary Shelley with a guitar”.

New album ‘Untame The Tiger’ is out now, Mary Timony’s first solo album for 15 years. To mark the occasion, she looks back on her career with CLASH.

Helium 

From the album ‘Dirt of Luck’: ‘Superball’ and ‘Honeycomb’

We recorded ‘The Dirt of Luck’ with Adam Lasus in Philadelphia. I was 24 at the time. We slept in sleeping bags on the floor of the studio and ate only cheese-steak sandwiches for two months and worked on the record for like 12 hours a day.

I was really into Dr Dre and the music from Sonic The Hedgehog video game and I tried to make the production to sound similar even though I had no idea what I was doing. I also kept asking Adam to try to mimic the sound of my crappy cassette four-track demos using all of this fancy studio gear. All of this led to an unusual production sound. It was a truly fun time. We were like kids playing in a toy store trying out every guitar, every amp, every mic and going down every rabbit hole we could. 

From the album ‘Magic City’: ‘Ocean of Wine’ and ‘Walk Away’

We recorded ‘Magic City’ with Mitch Easter in North Carolina. Mitch is brilliant. He dialled in amazing sounds and captured what we were doing so well, all while entertaining us with hilarious jokes and an encyclopaedic knowledge of rock music.

I learned so much from him. We probably used every single instrument Mitch owned, but the ones I loved the most were the Chamberlin and electric harpsichord – those two made it on a lot of the tracks in the end.

From the album ‘No Guitars’: ‘Silver Strings’

I always liked this song. I think it’s a song written directly to my guitar. It didn’t want to help me write songs for a while. My guitar was on strike. I had writers-block. So I wrote this song about it. 

In the chorus lyrics are “we’re going out without our guitars, I play the radio, baby, in the Devil’s car”. I don’t know, I guess I was in a fight with my guitar and was threatening to play the radio instead of it. 

I think the song is about feeling like you’re letting yourself down and feeling sad about losing innocence and having to accept that life kinda hurts sometimes. Not just about songwriting but in general.

Ex Hex

From the album ‘Rips’: ‘Don’t Wanna Lose’

Playing in Ex Hex is a blast. We work hard on getting the songs to be edified, raw, efficient and slimmed down. Only the essentials are allowed in the songs and zero filler. As a result they are super poppy and really fun to play. We’ve toured so much and had so many wild adventures. I think I’ve played more shows in Ex Hex than any other band I’ve been in. The shows are always so fun. 

Solo

From the Mary Timony record that is called Ex Hex: ‘Hard Times are Hard’ and ‘9×3’ 

I like this solo record, because the guitar sounds are pretty balls to the wall. Brendan Canty from Fugazi recorded it at the legendary Inner Ear studios in DC where a lot of the Dischord bands recorded. Brendan is amazing, and I really love the live sounding quality we got.

I was fearless enough at this point in my life to just play live with only a drummer. It was easy to tour that way, we could fit in a car but the live show was like walking on a tightrope because I couldn’t mess up, it would be so obvious. I would never do that now because it’s too scary, but still there was something really exciting and edgy about that pared down line-up of just a two piece.

From ‘Untame the Tiger’: ‘No Thirds’

I was lucky enough to get the legendary drummer Dave Mattacks of Fairport Convention to play on my record. He was incredible to play with and his drums really make this track to me. His part is just so perfect. It’s a song about losing people you were once very close to and travelling on through life into new places that you didn’t see coming.

I wrote it after a break up of a 12 year relationship, and while my parents were both sick before they passed away. There was a lot going on in my life. I would go on long walks to decompress and kind of work on my songs in my mind at the same time. 

Mary Timony’s new album ‘Untame The Tiger’ is out now.

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