By Andrew Kuo
Trash Heap Zine Number Three Reprinted Without Permission
I was treated to an interview with Mary Timony of Helium when I saw them play in October. It was loads of fun, every sentence was followed by a chuckle. I had been thinking about this interview long before the show and exactly how I would conduct it. But when the time came, my prepared questions were a flop and the ones that I had blurted out on the spot got the most unexpected answers. So the moral of the story is…
Trash Heap: When you’re on the road and you get all these people coming up to you, how do you manage to keep your sanity?
Mary Timony: I don’t. I really don’t. It really doesn’t bother me that much, but it’s really weird when you’re playing a show and you’ve got all this shit to do and there are people trying to talk to you about random things.It gets really frustrating, but this is not. If it’s just random people in your face, then it’s really hard to deal with. I don’t know, man. I’m still having problems with that.
MT: We’ve only had two shows, but we’re going to tour in the winter.
TH: Helium’s “sound” is really hard to label, how would you describe it?
MT: (long pause) I think…wait. It’s really hard for me to say because I’m not far enough outside of it. I can never answer that question. It’s really hard to define yourself, whereas other people say what they think about it. I can say what I’d like it to be. I’d like it to be kind of hypnotic and dreamy. That’s what I intended in the first place.
TH: Where do you see yourself in five years?
MT: I have no idea. I know we’re going to do at least two more records with Matador and after that we may do more with them, but our contract doesn’t go that long. I don’t know. I want to still be playing music, and it doesn’t have to be in Helium. In fact, I don’t want to be in a rock band for that long. Maybe until my late twenties, but hopefully I’ll do other stuff later.
TH: So is Helium just a transitional band?
MT: No! It’s definitely what I focus all my energy on. I just mean that I don’t want to be playing rock music my whole life.
TH: How far do you see the band going?
MT: Wherever. I just want to make good records and have them do well. Be happy…but in terms of the band itself, it’s important to me that the records are good and they do well.
TH: What are your outside interests outside the band?
MT: Well, ahhh…holy shit! My whole life is taken up by the band! But if I weren’t in the band I’d probably go back to school. I also like to read and art is one of my hobbies. You know, shit like that.
TH: Tell me about a typical day.
MT: My schedule is really irregular right now so I don’t have a “typical” day but I’ll make one up. I’ll get up, and if I don’t have to work (I’ve been temping), I’ll get up and go to the practice space and do 4-track stuff and then I’ll come home and cook dinner and then go to sleep or something. Whew, really boring.
TH: So does that leave you time to do art stuff?
MT: I do, but I know that I don’t do it enough. What I do is I’ll doodle around a lot and I’ll have stuff up in my room. So when we put things outI’ll just take things that I have up in my room, like the dress on the back of the CD. All the pictures and the art from the EP are just things I took from my room.
TH: This is one of my favorite questions: What were you like in high school?
MT: What was I like in high school? Oh no! What was I like in high school? I grew up in D.C. and I went to an arts high school for the last few years. I studied jazz guitar there, actually. But, I went out to shows and stuff because there were all those punk shows in D.C.
TH: What did you grow up listening to?
MT: A lot of my friends were in bands in D.C. and I listened to them. And on my own I listened to female singers a lot. But my musical tastes have changed.
TH: You must get this a lot, but exactly when did Autoclave happen?
MT: I played with Christina (Billotte; singer and guitarist for the ultra hip Slant 6) during high school, but we never actually had a band. And when I moved to Boston we somehow decided to start a band then, even though I moved away from D.C. So I was in college.
TH: So is there a possibility of a “reunion”?
MT: Oh…I doubt it.
TH: Well, do you still keep in touch with them?
MT: Not a whole lot, really. I mean, I talk to Christina. Nikki’s in Seattle and Melissa’s…oh, I can’t remember. She lives in the South somewhere.
TH: So why did you break up?
MT: We just didn’t really get along anymore.
TH: What’s the story behind the name of the band, Helium?
MT: We just thought of the name when we started. It didn’t have much significance. But I can make it have significance, and I’ve done that before (laughter). I had this little sarcastic joke about what Helium meant. At the time, I was really angry about how women were treated in the world, and also in the world. I experienced a lot of sexism in music where as I didn’t experience a lot of sexism in my everyday life. It wasn’t really noticeable, but I have directly experienced it through people’s attitudes in playing rock music. Helium was a little joke, like if I was a man who had breathed in Helium, so that’s why voice sounded high. That’s really sarcastic and negative, but other than that it doesn’t really mean much.
TH: What was your worst experience being a woman in a rock band?
MT: Mostly prejudgments. Not after people got to know me, but they always assumed that I was someone’s girlfriend, or I didn’t play, or I couldn’t solo or do this or that.
TH: Whatever happened to your old bassist?
MT: Oh…he’s out of the band. Uh, he just wasn’t working out. He’s kind of (laughs)…whatever.
TH: A few months ago I saw you guys play with keyboards, are you going to bring that back?
MT: Yeah, there’s a lot of keyboards on the record.
TH: So how did Ash become part of the band?
MT: He’s living in Boston now and we’re just playing with him for the time being. We recorded with him over the summer for the next record.
TH: The lineup of the band has really evolved, I even heard Mary Lou Lord was once part of the band.
MT: Actually, she wasn’t. But Shawn and Brian used to play with her before Helium in this band called Chupa…
TH: ….and then you came on and it turned into Helium?
MT: And then Mary Lou and this other guy, David [sic], left. And then I started to play with Brian and Shawn and we called it Helium instead of Chupa.
TH: Your style of playing is unique, how did you learn to play like that?
MT: I don’t really play, but I just hit the guitar around. An I’ll just pick some random things and get kind of a noise. Noises, textures and sounds rather than actual notes and how they fit together. Harmonies and stuff.
TH: Last time I saw you play you had a peculiar ring on each finger…
MT: Yeah, wow! It’s so funny that you noticed that, I love those rings! Well, I’m kind of out of that phase right now, but for awhile I bought them everywhere I could find them. You can get them in 99-cent stores; they’re like birthday party rings.
TH: What’s your all-time favorite ring?
MT: I have a set of rings that Ash got at a grocery store that were party favor rings and they’re really cool! They all have little pictures that change. Like there’s this mouth if you go this way, it’s smiling or if you that way, it’s frowning. That’s cool. I got this one at Toys R Us that…well, I don’t have it with me and I feel kind of weird talking about it.
TH: What is “Hole in the Ground” about?
MT: Well, it’s sort of a “female empowerment” song. I wrote so long ago-like two years ago or something. Actually, three years ago. I guess basically it’s about this woman I knew in Boston whom I went to school with and she got murdered by her boyfriend. It kinda freaked everyone out and no one could believe it. I felt like certain things in her life that I could relate to and the song is about that, I guess.
TH: I’ve seen many different colors for the 7″. How come?
MT: The label (Pop narcotic) decided to make it that way.
TH: So that wasn’t your choice?
MT: No, but I did the artwork for the EP. I did the crown drawings, or whatever that little crown thing is. But that’s the only thing on the 7″ artwork.The rest was done by someone else.
TH: The EP song titles are different than the titles on the setlist. How come?
MT: because I…(laughs) changed all the names of the songs before we put out the CD. I don’t know, the songs all seem to go together. Like, I kind of write songs in pairs and I think the first two songs all seem to go together and the second two songs…and I changed the names of the songs according to that, but we don’t really call them that our selves.
TH: You seem to have a strong interest in vampires…
MT: The vampire is sort of an image that symbolizes something in my psychology. It’s something that’s sucking energy or life out of me. I use that to symbolize me in songs. Sort of like a vampire would suck your blood. And the whole thing about “Baby Vampire” like those songs on the EP…you can say that they have a rather connotation about them, but I’m so out of that mood now, I’m much more in a positive mind-frame than I was back then. It’s kind of like this vampire force in my life that’s sucking the blood out of me and it impregnated me with this baby vampire and now I’m turning into the monster. On the EP, there are six songs and they’re a retrospective look back of the last two years of my life. So the last two songs are the earliest. It’s starts with the earliest point, I mean the latest point, and work its way back to a long time ago. It’s a story of a girl who comes to terms with her own anger. I was really angry and I turned into this vampire-monster sort of thing. And the middle two songs are sort of the “joking” stage where I’m like, “ha-ha, I’m mad and I don’t really care and it’s kind of funny!”And then the last two songs are when I’m just starting to realize it’s a waste of time.