“They’re thinkers,” declares James Timony, describing his daughter Mary’s music group Helium. “They don’t listen to rock ‘n’ roll, like most musicians. They listen to very unusual music, and Ash speaks Russian, for example, he studies Russian all the time. And Mary B. and he are always listening very unusual classical music, like Eric Satie, which I think influences them a lot. Both of ’em read an awful lot, they’re both very literate people, and their musical tastes are the same. Esoteric, but wonderful.”
”I sort of went through a period of not being able to write songs, after the last tour we took, going to Europe in ’95. I didn’t want to write for personal reasons anymore.”
It’s a Saturday morning, and father and daughter have just returned from a morning jog on the beach near Mary’s grandparents’ home in Bradenton, Florida. They’ll soon be returning for Christmas to Washington, DC, where Mr. Timony is an FTC judge for the US Government. Mary, having recently completed a tour with Helium, is looking forward to some time off in Boston, where she lives, while her guitar-and-bass-playing bandmate and boyfriend, Ash Bowie, rehearses in North Carolina for an upcoming tour with his other band, Polvo.
“It’s hard, but we do it,” Mary says, referring to the complications arising from Ash’s involvement in two bands which are quite different musically, but basically at about the same level success-wise, and, in the past year at least, seem to be on a concurrent record release schedule. Polvo’s latest, Shapes (Touch & Go), came out at almost the same time Matador Records released Helium’s The Magic City album, necessitating a question of which band should tour when the discs were freshest. Well, as most guys know, women usually ultimately get their way Helium hit the road last autumn.
But, scheduling, geographical gaps, and personal push-and-pull aside, Mary agrees that Ash’s creative impact on Helium has been a definite plus, especially on The Magic City, which delves into facets of eclectic music that most listeners might not expect from Helium, or for that matter any band in the “alternative” realm these days. Namely, The Magic City explores the edges of spacey, fantasy-laden progressive rock, a la early Genesis and Tangerine Dream, and to a lesser degree, the stately folk-rock of bands like Renaissance and ’70s-era Jethro Tull. Not that this should turn off you cooler-than-cool kids out there it’s all served up in a weird, post-new-wave aura, and impeccably produced by Southern pop wonder boy, Mitch Easter.
“Ash and I kinda meet in that style. It’s something we agree on,” says 28-year-old Timony of the prog-rock stylings. And as for the “fantasy” symbolism of the lyrics, “One, it’s kind of a joke. It seemed completely different than what we were doing before, and that seemed fresh to me, but secondly, the songs reference going into outer space, or away from the here and now a lot, and in that sense they’re fantasy. But I don’t think traditional fantasy is referenced that much in enough of those songs for it to be a ‘fantasy’ album. There’s one reference to a unicorn, and that’s about it.”
So, it’s more “escapism” than anything?
“Yeah, I think so. It is escapism, but I don’t think it’s in a bad way. It’s just imagining going to another place. And, that’s what people do when they make music. At least, I think that’s what they do.”
Mary Bozano Timony (she’s named after both grandmothers; Mary, on her father’s side, is Irish, while grandma Bozano was Czechoslovakian) should know a little about making music by now; she’s been writing and playing since she was a teenager. She sang on the sidewalks of DC with street musicians, and was at the top of her class studying viola at an arts school. And, according to her father, she even went through “a Boy George phase.”
“She thought Boy George was the next Beethoven,” he says, adding that her flamboyant fashions caused many a confrontation with the nuns at the preppy Catholic girls school she attended in her early teens. “She lasted a year,” he confesses. “She did fine academically, but the nuns tried to get her to change, and she wouldn’t. She was very individualistic, and confident as a child.”
After a short stint at a more liberal private school, the Timony’s enrolled Mary in Washington, DC’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts, “and Mary B. just blossomed. She loved English, that was her favorite subject, and they found out she could write.” Following that, Mary studied music and English at Boston University, where Mr. Rogers spoke at her graduation. “She’s highly educated, I can tell you that,” James Timony asserts. “‘Cause I paid for it!”
Meanwhile, Mary’s back on the line, further explaining the shift in direction Helium’s taken since 1995’s The Dirt of Luck.
“I sort of went through a period of not being able to write songs, after the last tour we took, going to Europe in ’95. I didn’t want to write for personal reasons anymore. I don’t know, I guess my whole attitude about music changed a little bit. Now it seems like more of a ‘craft’ to me, instead of”
Expressing your personal feelings?
“Yeah. A lot of people think of it like that, using the lyrics to express personal angst. I don’t feel like doing that as much anymore.”
Fair enough. But about this “Boy George phase”
She laughs. “Oh, boy, I guess it’s kind of embarrassing, but I was kind of a teenybopper. I guess I can’t be too cool.”