Concert preview: Wild Flag’s surrender makes way for Ex Hex

  • Jonah Takagi photo
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From the March 13, 2014 edition

When Wild Flag called it quits in late 2013 — just two years after releasing its celebrated, self-titled debut — Mary Timony was expectedly bummed.

“I wanted to keep going,” said the singer/guitarist, who was joined in the indie-rock super group by members of Sleater-Kinney and The Minders, reached at home in Washington D.C. for an early March phone interview. “It was kind of depressing … but I totally understand because Janet [Weiss] and Carrie [Browstein] are really busy.”

The split, which was precipitated by the players’ hectic schedules (Brownstein, for one, co-stars in the IFC sketch comedy series “Portlandia” in addition to her various musical pursuits) and the geographical distance separating the musicians (Weiss told The Skinny in December ’13 “it’s hard to have a band when you live five hours apart by plane”), was far from acrimonious, and Timony hasn’t abandoned hope the group will reunite at some point. At the same time, the collaboration jump-started her creatively, and she was hesitant to come to a full stop when momentum was so clearly pushing her forward.

“I was at a point where I was like, ‘Maybe I want to take a break,’ and then Wild Flag just kind of happened,” she said. “And I’m glad, because it got me motivated and … psyched to make music again. I wasn’t ready to stop.”

Thus, Ex Hex was born.

Like Wild Flag, the newfound trio, which shares a name with Timony’s 2005 solo album, specializes in driving, guitar-fueled rock tunes — a not-altogether-unexpected development considering the frontwoman penned a handful of its songs while playing alongside her former mates.

“There are three songs that were written when I was in Wild Flag, and the direction of this band definitely came from that,” said Timony, who is joined in Ex Hex by Fire Tapes bassist Betsy Wright and drummer Laura Harris of The Aquarium. “I wanted to really make it loud and guitar-oriented. I went back to standard tuning on my guitar with Wild Flag, which makes it easier to write those more rock ’n’ roll sounding riffs.”

Ex Hex’s debut single, “Hot and Cold,” builds around one of these, Timony laying down a strutting six-string riff that’s at once glammed-out and grizzled, like a pair of bedazzled military boots. It’s a tune that hints at the shape the music will likely take once the band convenes in the studio later this year to begin work on its full-length debut for Merge Records, which the guitarist hopes to release no later than January 2015.

Timony is no stranger to collaboration, having previously played in Autoclave, Helium and Soft Power, among other bands, and she said the musical direction within a group is generally shaped by the personalities of the various players. Even so, the guitarist came to Ex Hex with a clear idea of what she hoped to accomplish.

“Even before this band started I was like, ‘I want to write songs that sound like they could be on Casey Kasem’s [American Top 40] Countdown,’” she said. “I was really thinking about what music meant to me when I was a little kid and first started listening to the radio in the early ’80s. We were really going for that classic sound.”

Fittingly, the three musicians in Ex Hex have shared connections that stretch back decades. Harris’ mother taught history to one of Timony’s earliest friends, and Wright attended the same D.C.-area high school as the singer.

“We’re all weirdly tied together from childhood,” Timony said. “It makes sense because D.C. is such a small town in some ways.”

This connection has been further amplified in more recent weeks by intense tour rehearsal sessions — “This last month we literally practiced every day,” the frontwoman said — which have served a dual function of tightening the crew’s sound and allowing Timony to move beyond her initial disappointment in Wild Flag’s unexpected dissolution.

“I was a little sad [it ended], but it’s fine now because I’m really busy with this,” she said. “If Wild Flag ever happens again, that’d be great, but for now I’m just going to put all the energy that was going into that band into [Ex Hex].”