Jim Sullivan, Globe Staff
Date: May 11, 2000
Imagine you’re Mary Timony. You’re excited about your first solo album, “Mountains,” released last month. Now, you’re facing your first interviewer since it came out, and he’s not quite what you expected.
“He just kept telling me he was hearing voices,” Timony says of the writer, “and I talked to him on the phone for a half an hour, trying to tell him to go to a doctor.”
Turns out the guy had somehow conned her record company, Matador, into thinking he was legit.
The night we speak, she’s in Chicago, the third gig on her tour. The night before in Detroit, she says, “Someone came up to me and said, `Hi Mary, I really need to show you my comic book’ and he sat on the ground and had all these pictures that he’d drawn. It took like 20 minutes and he was making all these sound effects.”
Then there was the guy in Cleveland, the first stop, who handed her a 15-page letter in which he had counted down the minutes from when he’d last seen her perform.
“There have,” she says, “been a lot of freaks. I’ve had a lot of run-ins with crazy people.”
Why? Timony offers a verbal shrug. Maybe it’s her sexy, spooky siren-like persona on stage and in song that draws in the obsessives. That persona is much more exposed now that Timony has put Helium on hold to step out on her own.
“I tend to think of Helium as like a big gigantic machine that has all these cogs and wheels in it,” she says of the seven-year-old stalwart of the Boston alt-rock scene. “This is more…”
The soul of the machine? “Exactly,” she says with a laugh. “Helium stuff is more layered, hidden and playful.”
Over time, Helium has moved from a gnashing, semi-dissonant sound to a more prog-rock psychedelic area. “Mountains” is more self- revealing, with most melodies based around rippling piano lines.
“A little more serious and sad,” Timony says. “It’s less angry and a little rawer, sparse.” The songs may be somewhat gentle on the surface but they have a strong, and often dark, emotional undertow. In “I Fire Myself,” she sings, “I throw myself into a watery grave.”
Should we worry? “It was just a bunch of songs that came out that way,” she says. “That was my aesthetic at the time. It’s changed again now. I tend to do that.”
“Mountains” was recorded locally, at a just-demolished loft, and mixed in Chicago. The budget was less than for a full-blown Helium effort, but so was the pressure.
On this tour, which comes home to the Middle East Downstairs tonight, “We are having a blast,” with Timony suggesting more “noisy and loud” than “Mountains” portends. Aside from her solo work, there’s a Helium bonus, a song from the “Superball Plus” EP. But give her a few minutes to come up with its title. “We play – what did I name it on the record? – the one that starts, “Do you think you’ll die?’ ” Then she gets it: `I Am a Witch.’ ”
From the Boston Globe, reproduced without permission.