…and Ms. Charming Melodee
Daniel L. Mitchell
America desperately needs a vacation. I personally choose my headphones as the perfect place to escape the suckiness often associated with everyday life. One of my favorite places to visit on these vacations is a land of dragons, sports cars, ghosts, ex-girlfriends w/out shirts, guitars, and white walls; these things and more exist in the realm that is Mary Timony’s musical career.
Mary Timony is a unique songwriter, whose career has spanned over a decade of music, from guitar driven post-punk, to slow and somber, sleepy power rock, or stripped-down tunes driven purely by the strength of their notes and the words of their creator. What has remained constant about Timony’s music has been an adherence to strange guitar riffs and her breathy, sometimes scathing, sometimes angelic voice. Mary Timony is one the most overlooked musicians currently putting out records. Imagine if Björk were still in Iceland, making her music for a very small audience, perhaps. While Timony and Bjork play different music from each other, Björk has managed to attract millions of listeners, enough to make her a megastar. Timony’s records are heard mainly by the indie rock community, yet her music is so easy to relate to, it seems almost impossible that she isn’t as big as a Bjork or Tori Amos. Take Tori Amos, add integrity, sincerity and cool; voila Mary Timony.
Timony is currently touring to support her latest release, The Golden Dove. The album is Timony’s best work to date, it being her second solo release following her career with the highly successful Helium. The Golden Dove features a wide array of songs, from booty shakers to the somber and introspective, from rockers to organ driven sleepers. It was, with a doubt, one of the best records released in 2002, and it always sounds fresh, no matter how many times you listen to it.
How do you describe your most recent music to someone who has never heard you?
For me… it’s fun, mysterious, functional, and symmetrical, and best when you feel like you can touch it.
Your guitar playing and melodic creation style is quite unique; do you compose primarily on guitar, piano, with your voice…?
Any of the three, depending on the song.
Let’s discuss The Golden Dove. Before I get into the album itself, I must say that the tune to “Dr. Cat” is 100% beautiful and amazing; can you remember what was going on when you came up with the tune?
I think I was just playing around with a drum machine beat; it was just a fun, spur-of-the-moment melody.
The music throughout The Golden Dove is of significantly higher caliber than anything done with Helium, and anything on Mountains. I’m not saying that your prior work is weak, but there’s just an enormous difference in importance to the songs on The Golden Dove Would you agree that the songs seem “bigger” or more significant, or am I overestimating the greatness of The Golden Dove?
To me it’s all in the presentation of the ideas. I don’t think that the songs on The Golden Dove are that much better, in fact, I like some of the songs from Mountains more, but I think that the production of The Golden Dove is way better i.e. sound quality, variety of instruments, etc. so that the songs are presented in a better way, and are easier to listen to, but thank you, I’m glad you like it.
In “The Mirror,” you sing of “songs of death getting in the way” of a relationship… What should listeners take from that? Were you too dark and/or brooding for your own good, or are the lyrics tongue-in-cheek?
Well, I guess it’s kind of tongue-in-cheek, or me kind of joking about myself in a way… my problems getting in the way of a relationship.
Many fans of your work will cite your recent relationship break up with the darkness of The Golden Dove; do they give that event too much credence, or was the break up as significant as people think it was?
I wasn’t aware there was any speculation happening, but yes, it was very significant. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through in my life.
In “Dr. Cat,” you note that you “hated life;” what was it that led you to this point?
Well, I’ve struggled with depression for as long as I can remember. I’ve had a few really severe depressions, the last time was right before we recorded The Golden Dove. Some of the songs have to do with that, like the song “Owls Escape” is about having escaped from the impulse of wanting to kill yourself, and kind of being happy about that. I think the song “14 Horses” is also about that depression. It was like falling into a poison well. Sometimes, if I’m not busy touring, I fall into depressions, but it’s getting a lot better as I get older.
Is “The White Room” a real place, or symbolism?
It’s both. The walls in my room are white, and also when I was depressed, I felt like all I could see was blank, barren, white nothingness in front of me. I think I also have a line in a song about “there was a desert for as far as I could see” That’s kind of the same thing.
“I Prithee Send Me Back My Heart” is one of only a few pieces of music that I’ve ever heard which I would consider “perfect;” that is, a song I would consider playing on a sunny day, snowy day, rainy day, good day, or bad day, and that would still sound wonderful in every circumstance. Did you write the music to the poem, and combine the two, or were the notes you were playing composed around the same time as the poem?
Well, actually the song is an old time classic, both music and lyrics. It was written by H. Laws and Dr. H. Hughes, in the 1600s. I got it out of a guitar book. I thought it was pretty great too.
Who is “Alice?” [“Ash & Alice”]
That song is my approximation of what it would sound like if Ash Bowie and Alice Coltrane were in a room playing music together, two of my favorite musicians.
It’s been quite sometime since you recorded The Golden Dove; what is the music like you’re writing these days?
Well, I’m recording on my own these days, and my goal is to have more instrumental stuff on the album.
Moving away from The Golden Dove, what would you say are your five favorite songs to play live, from any of your musical incarnations?
It depends on who’s in the band, but usually I like to play the ones we can jam on, and trade ideas on… like “Musik and Charming Melodee,” “The Bell,” “14 horses,” or in the old days, “Revolution of the Hearts,” or “What Institution are You From?”
Do you enjoy playing live, or is it simply a necessary evil to “moving product?”
I do really enjoy it these days. It took me a long time to enjoy it, but in the last few years, I really have started to have fun with it.
I saw Helium play with The Amps and Sonic Youth in Detroit, around eight years ago. I assume from the style of music on “Pirate Prude” that you are a Sonic Youth fan. What was it like to hang around those guys and support them at shows?
They are super nice, so we had a lot of fun.
What was it like having Beavis and Butthead critique the video for “XXX?”
Dumb, but good for record sales.
Are there any bands or singers that you’re ashamed to be a fan of?
Oh, maybe the Moody Blues, or Chicago. I love those bands.
Are you a practitioner in any religions?
No, not really. I was raised Catholic, but I’m pretty religion-less, at the moment.
What would you like to be doing, if music wasn’t paying the bills (for a day job)?
I always thought I’d be an English teacher, actually!
What would you consider to be your greatest accomplishment, as a musician?
I think that would be being a musician, doing it, getting by, and supporting myself.
Are you aware that the “American Jean” 7” regularly sells for $15.00 – $20.00 on eBay?
No, I didn’t know….that 7” is pretty embarrassing to me, actually.
Do you still go see shows often, or have you outgrown “the scene?”
I see shows pretty often. I go to the Berwick in Boston, there are interesting shows there all the time. Recently a guy from Philadelphia, called Vertebrae, played. He was really, really great. There are interesting sound-art shows there pretty often. Tonight I’m going to see French Toast at some DIY show in Allston.
What can Mary Timony fans expect from you within the next year?
I hope to deliver a new record soon, this one more arty and instrumental…. we’ll see!!