In many ways, Mary Timony is just now learning the tricks and pleasures performing live. The guitarist and co-vocalist of the all-female punk rock supergroup Wild Flag is two decades into a fairly successful career as a professional rock musician at this point. Her claim to fame is her lead role in the bands Helium and Autoclave, as well as her subsequent solo work. But it's now, as she finds herself surrounded by long-time musician friends whose résumés include the legendary Sleater-Kinney (Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss) and The Minders (Rebecca Cole), that Timony is finally learning to enjoy the live aspect of her gig.
"I've always been a studio person and really clueless about playing live," Timony says over the phone from Southern Illinois during a break in touring.
In the past, she says, she simply viewed her live shows as something that just needed to be done to support a record. These days, she sees things differently.
"The other members of the band have always been about the live show, with the record capturing that experience," she says. "That approach just blows my mind."
The announced formation of the band, of course, was plenty enough to blow the minds of those in the indie-rock press. It created a lot of excitement for the still-grieving fans of Sleater-Kinney, for one thing. But as Brownstein has warned in numerous interviews, this is not a Sleater-Kinney redo. It's new and different. Even for Timony.
You wouldn't necessarily be able to grasp that from the band's live show, though. With bandmates who Timony gushes are "amazing live performers," Wild Flag was definitely one of the highlights of this past spring's South by Southwest Festival in Austin and the post-SXSW Bro Fest bash at Dada. Watching Timony and Brownstein laughing and trading guitar licks while performing is simply a visual and sonic treat. And that onstage chemistry has only increased in recent months, Timony promises. Since their coming out at South by, the band has racked up a lot more shows and recorded their debut, self-titled album, which earned its released in late September.
The momentum the band is enjoying now was actually cautiously throttled by the members; their legacy bands had often toured together, so the women were no strangers to each other. And Brownstein and Timony had worked on a side project before. But it was Brownstein, Weiss and Cole working on a couple of songs for a documentary soundtrack that led them to reach out to Timony for some vocal assistance. It was a bit of a reach: Timony lives in Washington, D.C.; the rest of the band resides in Portland, Oregon.
Though Timony recorded her parts remotely, the results were promising — satisfying enough that the women wanted to explore working together further.
"I took a few exploratory trips out to Portland," Timony says, referring to a couple of trips to write songs and jam together with her new bandmates as they were in Wild Flag's earliest stages. "Actually, I was sure it would work from the beginning."
Before long, schedules and commitments were rearranged to allow them to give the band a chance. Some of those commitments were pretty serious: Brownstein had been writing and reporting on music for National Public Radio since the Sleater-Kinney breakup, and was developing and acting in the IFC series Portlandia. Weiss, meanwhile, was pulling duty as the drummer for Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks. But once those schedules were cleared, the women got behind the work.
"We toured a lot before recording, testing the band out and working out the songs," Timony says. "It would have been a far different record if we hadn't toured first."
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Indeed: In the studio, the band simply recorded live parts as if they were performing them on the road, giving their album an especially vibrant feel. It's a promising start, but this much is for sure: No matter how much success Wild Flag enjoys, don't expect Timony to become another Portland transplant.
Timony actually laughs at that notion.
"I live today in the house that I lived in until I was four years old, when we moved about a mile way," she says.
The road, for now, will have to do.