Mary Timony laughingly dismisses the suggestion that she was a pioneer in indie rock, as one of the first—and most prolific – singer, songwriter and guitarists to front successful bands and sing about relevant things. "I'm just a musician," says the former frontwoman for Helium and Wild Flag. "And I like to play music."
Timony, starting with her first hometown band Autoclave (Washington, D.C.'s all-woman punk powerhouse) has long been associated with the Riot Grrrl movement. Strictly speaking it means: Girls with guitars, making music that matters. Songs that say something.
"I happened to grow up in D.C. during the hardcore D.C. era, and that was like a super male scene," Timony tells Connect. "I always felt that the Riot Grrrl stuff was really a reaction against the hardcore scene that was so much about male energy. Teenage male energy in the '80s.
"I just feel like punk music in the '70s was not really as gender-limited, but '80s hardcore was just a super-male scene. Especially in D.C. When I was in high school, going to see hardcore shows, it was kind of a boys' club feeling. Also because they were all young kids, and kids are clique-y and just crappy to each other. There were hardly any girls in bands."
For a young woman whose family was well-off enough to send her to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, banging heads at Fugazi and Bikini Kill shows was intoxicating. She had found her niche.
Still, "I studied classical guitar when I was in high school," Timony says, "and in college I did one year of classical guitar. Then I studied English. And I took jazz, too. Yeah, I was like a music nerd.
"But I was also friends with hardcore kids, so I was going to see the punk shows. And I was always kind of confused about how the two could mix for me, 'cause I felt like a super nerd compared to my friends. Eventually it all got kinda settled down in my head. But it took a while."
Influenced, she says, by "arty bands like Polvo and Sonic Youth," Timony loved the idea that "you can do something weird and interesting within a rock context."
For the 2014 Savannah Stopover, Timony's visiting with Ex Hex, a brand-new "power trio" that also includes Betsy Wright (bass) and Laura Harris (drums).
Ex Hex—the same name as Timony's 2005 solo album—has a more decidedly pop slant than Wild Flag, which is currently inactive. "Most of the songs are kind of short," explains Timony. "It's definitely a different style band.
"I was writing a bunch of songs that didn't fit in with Wild Flag. And I really just started thinking about making music that I wanted to hear, rather than music that was fun to play, or fun to create. That was my focus. And then I started jamming with Betsy and Laura, and they're totally awesome musicians."
She has previously described the band's songs (soon to be on a 7-inch Merge EP) as "what your older brother's friends listened to" and "what your babysitters listened to."
Timony explains. "When I was first writing these songs, I was really thinking about what music sounded like to me when I was really little kid, and the first music I got obsessed with," she says. "Which was like early '80s radio hits."
Riot Grrrl, pioneer or just a slave to the muse, Mary Timony has remained consistent over the years in her belief in, and dedication to, the craftsmanship of women in rock 'n' roll.
"It's just like becoming a female car mechanic," she explains. "People just assume that guys are into it. And if you're a girl, they just assume you're not interested.
"So growing up, I definitely had this feeling like I wanted to prove that I could play. It sounds weird, but when you're a kid things like that really motivate you."