Ex Hex (Photo by Jonah Takagi)
“Before Ex Hex started, I had never really thought about making a song that was under two minutes long,” Mary Timony remembers.
Considering her sprawling history collaborating with musicians all over varying rock subgenres, that’s saying a lot. Since breaking out in bands like Helium, Autoclave, and Wild Flag (along with Sleater-Kinney alum Carrie Brownstein), the gutsy rock luminary has turned her focus to a grunge-lined power pop. That music necessitates a certain brevity.
“For the songs that I wrote, I was thinking about the music that I loved when I was 12 years old—Cheap Trick or Blondie or something—and I was trying to recreate a song that I might have liked when I was that age.”
Timony has a way of getting to the point. By now something of a veteran of indie rock endeavors, her work in Ex Hex is more focused than ever before. Feeling a bit sick of touring solo, she began playing jam sessions with drummer Laura Harris of Aquarium and bassist and pianist Betsy Wright of The Fire Tapes. Soon, Ex Hex was born. “We hung out and we hit it off,” Timony recalls. “When we played together it just felt right.”
And she’s right—it just works. The trio has just released their new album Rips via Merge Records, and all together, in nearly every facet, they’re completely in step with each other. “It’s much more of a gang than any band I’ve been in,” Timony says before pausing our conversation to shout a hello to Harris. “We talk the same, we dress the same, and we’re into the same music. It’s weird but we have similar personalities rather than balancing each other out with different styles of dealing with the world.”
Whatever the dynamic is, it’s working for them. They underwent a rough recording process, shuttling between Mitch Easter’s Fidelitorium studio in North Carolina and Timony’s basement in Washington D.C., where most of it was recorded, but they still had a great time.
“We spent most of the time in my basement recording over and over and over, re-recorded and demoed four times at least,” she says. “We really mapped it out.”
It was a brand new process for Timony, who has self-admittedly to this point had more of an experimental approach to recording. “I’ve done that most of my musical life but this record was different. I thought, I just want to be more focused about it now.”
These days the collaborative effort made for a more thoughtful process. The band as a whole made the decisions on what to cut and keep, and in the end, blazed out of the studio with a punk frisson of a record, clocking in at a tight 40 minutes.
“This band is great because everybody brings in song ideas and is very involved in arranging the sounds and making decisions about what works and doesn’t work. It’s a group effort.”
Bobby Harlow (of Burger Records) might have had something to do with that too. The producer who mixed Rips had a big influence on the way the album sounds now. “He edited so much stuff out and so many microphones we didn’t need,” Timony says.
As a result, the album came out incisively cut. The clean set of twelve tracks are something of a wrecking ball, tearing through those 80s power pop standard formats, taking cues from both riot grrrl roots as well as today’s blistering melodic punk.
“In a way it was really hard, but also easy because we knew what we wanted the record to sound like.” Even though it pulls from influences all over the last couple decades, it manages to not be derivative.
Above all, Rips is a fun record.
“We wanted to make a record that was fun to listen to. It sounds like what everyone thinks when they’re recording,” she says. “But I don’t think so.”
In any case, we’re lucky enough to hear the new album first hand when they come to Rickshaw Stop this Tuesday, October 14. The band is playing with fellow East coasters, Boston’s Speedy Ortiz and our own Wild Moth, but Ex Hex is one apart. They have their own distinct brand of gritty pop, and the new album is proof—they know how to create a great album and enjoy it. The fun parts follow.
“When you’re making any kind of art there are different ways to do it,” Timony said. “You can really focus on the process of making it more than what it’s going to look like when it’s done.”
And now that it’s done we can say this much for sure: Rips rips.
Speedy Ortiz, Ex Hex, Wild Moth
October 14, 2014
8 pm, $12