Mary Timony (Helium, Ex-Hex) :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

Led by Mary Timony, Helium was one of the great '90s guitar bands. On records like 1995's The Dirt of Luck and 1997's Magic City, Timony and co. created deeply personal and catchy indie rock, blending in progressive textures and expressive guitar work as the band went on.

This week, Matador Records reissues both records, pairing the latter with the No Guitars ep. Additionally, the label's prepared a double lp collection of b-sides, demos, and rarities called Ends With And. Taken together, the discography helps make a case for Helium as one of the most idiosyncratic bands in '90s indie rock, whose work sounds fresh and engaging in modern context, and positions Timony as a true guitar hero, "the only human being to make a Paul Reed Smith seem cool," Gerard Cosloy writes in the liner notes of Ends With And.

This summer, Timony presses pause on her phenomenal band Ex-Hex to tour as "Mary Timony Plays Helium." We spoke to the guitarist and singer about reevaluating the work of her former band, re-learning her own songs, and what the creative spirit of the '90s was like.

Aquarium Drunkard: How has returning to Helium’s music been for you?

Mary Timony: It was cool. It was a real treasure hunt. I spent a month or so just kind of going through stuff I’d saved in tupperware bins in this basement and attic. I was looking for stuff I remembered I might have. It was a combination of racking my memory and searching things I’d saved. It was pretty fun; you always feel like you are hopefully saving things for a reason, that it’s not just junk. [Laughs]

AD: What kind of person do you hear playing and singing on those records?

Mary Timony: It’s always hard to hear yourself. I’ve never liked listening to stuff I’ve done, especially stuff that was done quickly... it’s never pleasant. [Laughs] But so much time has gone by, I’m on the other side now. I’m able to be a little more objective. It’s almost like listening to another person. The early Helium stuff I’ve always been embarrassed of, because my singing was not that great. But around The Dirt of Luck I start to feel okay about it.

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