Though Mary Timony’s current band, Ex Hex, only released their first album last year, Timony has some seriously deep roots in indie rock. She joined her first band, Autoclave, in her native Washingon, D.C., in 1990. Throughout the 1990s, she then anchored the Boston-based Helium, and released two solo albums after that group dissolved in 1998.
Timony continued playing and recording throughout the 2000s, before forming Wild Flag with members of Sleater-Kinney, The Minders and Quasi. Their self-titled album popped up on virtually everyone’s year-end best-of lists, though the travails of trying to keep a group together with members in different major cities ultimately prevented the group from continuing.
In 2014, Timony formed Ex Hex (named after a 2005 solo record), and the group’s debut, the appropriately-named Rips, featured a beguiling blend of poppy structures and buzzing guitars. The group is currently touring behind the album, and Timony talked to PEOPLE before they hit Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago.
You’ve been touring and recording for 25 years now. Does it feel that way?
I guess it feels that way. Rock music is like, sports or something, where most people get into it in their 20s, and then they stop doing it because it’s really hard and you don’t make any money unless you’re lucky. [Laughs] It’s not that usual for someone to stay in it at the level I’ve been in it. I guess I’ve been doing it for a while. I still enjoy it!
You grew up in the D.C. scene, which historically has had a really pragmatic, DIY mindset. Do you think that’s informed your approach to music?
I think that I really got that from growing up here. I was exposed to bands, and how bands functioned – it was all from this level of like, people playing shows for their friends and just this grassroots process of booking shows and going on tour. It wasn’t like, people started bands to get signed by this huge label, it was really a different scene here. D.C. is pretty removed from the normal music industry – that doesn’t really exist here, especially in the ’80s, when there was no Internet.
I hear a lot of Cars influence on the album. Is that accurate?
[Laughs] Yeah, totally. I love the Cars. Those first two records are genius. I was listening to those records a lot when we were making the album; we’re really into the sounds on them.
What were some of your other influences for Rips?
Early-’80s, late-’70s stuff, like The dB’s and Let’s Active. And for me, I was thinking about music that I heard on the radio when I was first starting to get excited about rock music, stuff like Blondie, J. Geils Band. A lot of pop radio. I was really trying to write songs that were on the radio in the early ’80s.
What’s your favorite part of touring?
Doing the festivals has been really fun, just because you get to see bands, and sometimes our friends will be playing there in different bands. We played at Sled Island and that was one of my favorite festivals, because it’s kind of curated. We got to play with Television and Drive Like Jehu and King Tuff and Viet Cong and that was a super-fun day.
Who are you excited to see at Pitchfork?
I haven’t seen Kurt Vile in a while, so I’m excited to see that. The Julie Ruin, and Future Islands. I have to look at the schedule again. And Pitchfork is always a really fun festival to play at, because they’re really nice to the bands and it’s a smaller-scale festival, unlike Primavera or Coachella.
Chicago has a really deep indie rock history. Is it one of your favorite spots to hit on a tour?
For sure. It’s always one of the best places for us to play. We always have really fun, crazy shows there.
You’re still teaching guitar – what are you teaching your students?
Well, I’m not teaching that much this year, because I’m touring all the time. But I have three students I try to see, just because I love them, and they’re a little older now. I’ve been teaching them since they were young, so I like catching up with how they’re doing. They all have really good taste; with one of them, we’ve been working on bass lines in Ariel Pink songs. Otherwise, stuff like Jimi Hendrix. One student and I were just learning Elliott Easton’s solos in Cars songs. And Television – I learned a lot of their solos, so they’re the band I’ve probably taught the most of.
Do you have plans for another Ex Hex album?
Yeah, we’re gonna do another album. We’re trying to come up with song ideas, and because we’ve been focusing all our time on touring, it’s been hard to get back in that head space.