WQHS, November 25, 1997
Interview with Mary Timony, singer/guitarist of Helium, for WQHS on November 25, 1997. Taped before Helium’s concert at Upstairs at Nick’s, Philadelphia, PA.
Mary Timony: Guitar/Vocals
Ash Bowie: Bass
Shawn King Devlin: Drums
Mary Timony: I guess it’s sort of rock music, but I like to think of it as soothing rock music.
WQHS: There’s a lot of differences between The Magic City and The Dirt of Luck. The lack of distortion, the use of more instruments, the lyrics have sort of changed from an earth basis to more of a sky kind of thing. What common threads are there between the two records?
MT: A lot of the themes of the songs are sort of escapist in both records. I think both are sort of fantasy based, and it’s about sort of escaping from dismal reality. I do think the songwriting is pretty similar since it’s written by the same band. I don’t think it’s so different as some reviews have said. I think the themes behind the songs are all pretty much the same except for slight differences.
WQHS: Do you think you’re escaping from the same kinds of things in your music in terms of either feeling boxed in or feeling totally constrained by who society says you’re supposed to be?
MT: Yeah, The Dirt of Luck is a little more political in terms of gender stuff. I think the same escapist themes take place on the new record but it’s a little less about myself as a woman, it’s more just about escaping from depression or whatever. It sounds weird to really name what I’m escaping from or what the person in the songs is escaping from. I don’t know, that’s why it’s weird cause I’m not really sure.
WQHS: Do you shy away from talking about gender stuff now because of the way it’s been misinterpreted in interview write-ups in the past?
MT: Yeah, there were a couple of intereviews I did last time around that were so out of control when I read the final piece I just got kind of frustrated.
WQHS: Have you ever been in an interview where you felt like it went OK but the actual write-up was so removed from reality?
WQHS: Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve known it’s going awry in the middle and you’ve sort of tried to get it back on track from a totally off base line of questioning?
MT: I think what’s happened in the past is that I’d be in a really big rush and I’d be talking on the phone with someone and I’ll be doing the interview really fast and going off on these tangents and not realizing that they took it the wrong way. Plus, just talking about it so much it gets old after awhile.
WQHS: Around half the songs on The Magic City are co-written by you and Ash and the other half are written by you. How does the process differ when you and Ash are writing together versus when you are writing on your own?
MT: It’s not too different. It’s more of a fun sort of thing (writing with Ash). I’m more aware that we’re writing a song. It’s more conscious.
WQHS: Is there a natural division between what you do and what Ash does in regards to lyrics and instrumentation?
MT: It varies. There are some songs that he wrote the melodies for and I put the lyrics to those melodies and there are some songs where we wrote our individual parts together just jamming.
WQHS: When do you find time to write songs?
MT: Not very often. It’s unfortunate that we can’t do it more. Being in a band is like 10 percent about being creative and the other 90 percent is about doing tours, talking on the phone.
WQHS: Doing interviews?
MT: (Laughs) Yeah, well, it’s just part of being on tour.
WQHS: You’ve been on tour for awhile. Two months, first in Europe and now in the U.S. You’re almost done, but you didn’t have much time off at all.
MT: In between the two tours we had like five days off, which was nice, but it wasn’t a lot.
WQHS: Do you find your energy level kind of ramps down as you go through the tour or are you able to struggle to keep it constant throughout?
MT: Well, it’s a struggle. For me it has to do with trying to stay healthy, like eating well and stuff like that. It’s really hard work because all day every day there’s something to do until two in the morning, so it is kind of grueling.
WQHS: What are you going to do when you’re done?
MT: I think I’m going to go to my parents’ house for awhile, and try to write songs, I guess, and just sort of have a life.
WQHS: You do all the interviews, except sometimes Shawn or Ash is involved. Is that by design?
MT: Well, at this point for this record it’s because people have been asking for it that way because for the last record I did most of the interviews because that’s what seemed natural to do last time. But this time it’s more because I did the interviews in the past that people are requesting it that way. And we don’t necessarily want it to be like that. Ash and I like sharing them more, but it doesn’t happen that much.
WQHS: How do you break up the different non-music-related responsibilities within the band?
MT: We all have our own jobs, each person does something. It hasn’t been discussed very much. Everyone has their thing that they’ve been doing for the last couple of years.
WQHS: How have your goals for the band changed between the last record and this one? What would you like to come out of all the work you’re putting into the band?
MT: I’d like people to recognize the band and for us to keep being able to do it. It would be great to be involved with soundtracks and that kind of thing. And it would be great if we got to a point where it was an easy thing for us to go on tour, and it would be nice for Ash to have health insurance and that kind of thing. So we have a little ways to go.
WQHS: What would you be doing right now if you weren’t in a band?
MT: That’s really hard to say. Hopefully, something I liked. Something creative maybe.
WQHS: What did you think you would be doing now when you were in high school?
MT: Actually I wanted to be doing this. I guess I always thought I would be a teacher, then I realized I did not want to do that, but maybe I will, I don’t know.
WQHS: I’ve liked the stuff that you did for the Jack Karouac record where you took an unpublished poem and put music behind it. How did you go about doing it, and how would that carry over into doing something for a movie?
MT: In doing that I realized that that kind of thing is really fun because you can listen to it and take the feeling from it and try to make some music. It was easier than writing a song, definitely.
WQHS: On this record, what track did you have the most fun recording?
MT: Probably “Revolution of the Hearts,” the ending was pretty fun. And watching Ash do Medieval People was fun. We had a blast with that.
Questions by Scott Aronow and Scott Batten.