By Rich Fasio
from B-Side Magazine F/M 95
If I hadn’t known that Mary Timony is really a sweet and decent individual, I’d make some silly allusion of Helium and how “Flighty” she could be. I was scheduled to speak with Mary and Shawn Devlin (drummer) during the New Music Seminar at CBGB’s. Their publicist at Matador set up the interview for 2:00 but Mary didn’t arrive from Philadelphia until 5:30. Just enough time to settle down and start soundcheck…and do a brief ten minute interview with me. From that point on we played phone tag, with me in New York and her at Studio Red in Philadelphia,where she was working on Helium’s first album. Mary doesn’t seem to have the eagerness to dive into talking about herself as a really prolific lyricist. She was rather bubbly when she walked into CB’s and not the angry, cold and bitter woman she portrays in her music.
Helium had a rather short ride to credibility. “The American Jean” 7″ (Warped Records) was released way back in 1992, having more of the familiar Boston jangle sound than the stark,twangy riffs featured on Pirate Prude (Matador). Helium grew out of a band called Chupa which featured the drummer from the recently broken up Dumptruck (Shawn Devlin), bassist Brian Dunton (who was recently fired from Helium)and guitarists Jason Hatfield (yes…her brother), and Mary. Jason moved on to other things and Mary took over the reigns of the group. With constant touring between DC and Boston, the industry stood on its ear as Mary began carving quite a place for Helium. This was no ordinary girl fronted indie band. Helium’s music,and more importantly, the grisly and potent lyrics,set them apart from many indie contemporaries. Early comparisons screamed PJ Harvey, but I don’t like to crowd such a positive work as Pirate Prude in with another record.
“The lyrics all fit together in what I meant. Even though it’s hard to understand them on the record, all the songs are about control…empowerment,” Mary explains almost apologetically, “I really think it is a hard thing to listen to. I’d understand if people were turned off by it.”
If you are an avid watcher of Beavis and Butthead you will have noticed that Helium’s video “XXX” made the cut and is featured on one of the shows. Beavis made the connection of how Mary looks like one of those rocker chicks that sleep all day and party all night. “She looks like she just woke up…” Butthead responds. Judging by the anti-man/pro-woman empowerments in the song, does that get her angry? “It could have been a lot worse, don’t you think? I think they pretty much liked the video.” I guess this is where the word “flighty” could fit in when she can so nonchalantly disregard sexist remarks about her appearance. In the video, Mary is dressed in a red teddy with a Superman emblem on the front. There are various references in the color red in the song and the video possibly the color representative of anger or death. Mary says, “Its really flashy.” As her voice raises just above a whisper, she eeks out lines like “I carry my heart around my neck/ so I can take it off.” “You got a candy red sportscar/ my heart is not a sportscar/ my heart is a cab/ your love is a fad/ and you’re a drag.”
“That song was about a prostitute, the other song with the weird title [“OOO”] kinda makes fun of a woman being treated like a prostitute.” Pretty serious stuff and you’d never know it by talking to her. With work nearing completion for their new release on Matador,Mary is strained. She’s doing all of the bass and guitar work on the album and even played drums on one song. “I think this album is gonna be good.Before I didn’t like the thought process I was in, now I’ve started thinking about what I want to do.”
That was as serious as Mary would get over the phone. Then she got bubbly again. For Helium’s sake, I hope she doesn’t stay too bubbly.
reprinted without permission.