Mary Timony: Teaching guitar one day, jamming with Carrie Brownstein the next.
Mary Timony: Teaching guitar one day, jamming with Carrie Brownstein the next. Credit: David Torch

Wild Flag is made up of some of the most respected punk-slash-indie musicians of the 90s, with a lineup that’s sort of a late-period riot-grrrl who’s who: Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney), Janet Weiss (Quasi, Sleater-Kinney), Mary Timony (Autoclave, Helium), and Rebecca Cole (the Minders). In Wild Flag they take the ethos and attitude of their previous bands and infuse it with an irresistible pop sensibility. Representing Washington, D.C., in this bicoastal supergroup is Timony, a veteran of the Dischord scene. She formed Autoclave in 1990 and shortly after went on to front Helium, who released several records on Matador. For this week’s Artist on Artist she’s interviewed by Chris Thomson, who used to run in the same circles—in fact Timony’s first band was with Thomson, as part of Marion Barry’s Summer Youth Employment Program. “The job was you got paid minimum wage to play music all day at Murch Elementary School,” she told the Washington City Paper last year. Thomson sang for several excellent D.C. bands (Circus Lupus, the Monorchid, Skull Kontrol) before finding his way to Chicago, where he fronted Red Eyed Legends. He currently sings for local punk revivalists Coffin Pricks. Wild Flag plays a sold-out show at Metro on Thu 4/5. Coffin Pricks open for Joan of Arc at the Double Door on Sun 4/22. —Luca Cimarusti

The Reader has like a musician-on-musician thing, and they kept going, “Do you want to ask Mary some questions?” And I didn’t even think about it. And then they were like, “OK, we’re trying to find Mary,” and I was like, should I have some questions to ask? I’m improv-ing this interview. That’s good—it’s just like talking. I want to hear this band that you’re playing in now.

Oh, yes—the Coffin Pricks. I’ll send you the link to our Soundcloud page. How long have you been doing this band?

Like a year? There’s been a lot of momentum. That’s awesome. Are you playing bass these days?

No, I’m just singing. When I’m a singer and guitar player, I— It’s so hard! To actually do both well? Instead of just doing both medium? I totally hear you. That’s awesome. Well, I love your vocal stuff, so that’s really exciting. I’d love to hear it.

Let me ask you—I guess when I think of you, I always think of a crazy guitar player, and I revisit Helium now and then, and I think it’s amazing. I’m just wondering if anybody—have you gotten a lot of requests to collaborate over the years, to play on people’s records or anything? Well, not really! I mean, I feel like it’s one of those things where, there are so many people who play guitar and most of them are also songwriters, so nobody ever really needs a hired guitar player. Everyone plays guitar already.

Chris Thomson, of the Coffin Pricks
Chris Thomson, of the Coffin PricksCredit: Andrea Bauer

But they don’t play it like you, Mary! Aw, that’s nice of you to say!

How did this group [Wild Flag] come about? Was it unexpected? Yeah, I wasn’t really expecting it, but I guess that’s why it was so fun. I’ve been a teacher for a while—ever since I moved back to D.C., that’s been my full-time gig. I really concentrate on that, teaching guitar to kids. And then I hung out with Carrie [Brownstein] at some point, and then this band just started happening. I guess what makes this really fun is that I was at a place in my life where I’d kind of just accepted that I wouldn’t be doing rock music professionally anymore. Teaching, that’s cool. I wasn’t really looking for this—I wasn’t counting on it.

It sounds like everyone in the band is busy doing other stuff. It’s nice. I’m able to keep up with teaching my students, although the younger ones have kind of dropped off because they need something really regular every week. But the older ones—I’m still teaching older ones, and we have this show every spring that I put together, so I’m getting them all ready to do that. I’m pretty busy when I come home. But Carrie is probably the most busy of anybody because she has her TV show. They’ve been touring on that as well. We’ve been doing a bunch of shows—actually Rebecca is doing it too, so they’ve been out this whole year, either with the Portlandia tour or our tour.

What’s it like being a guitar teacher and being on the other side? It was really, really hard to transition back to thinking of music in that way, like analyzing and explaining it. But I’ve gotten a lot of good energies from it, messing with the kids. But I was also getting kind of burned out doing it full-time, and I wasn’t able to focus on my own music at all. This band has been really good in that way. It’s given me a chance to focus on being creative, which I was really missing a lot.

Do you find your students inspiring? Are any of these kids really good? Yeah, definitely. There’s a few of them that are just really, really good. There’s one kid who—I had to find him, actually, a new teacher. He’s so good. He can play technically anything I can play, and even—he’s in a jazz band. He needs to seriously study jazz for real. He’s gonna study with this guy who’s like a college jazz guy, so it’ll be good.

Do you read music and tabs? Well, reading tabs is not very hard. But yeah, I read music to a certain extent. I’m not very good at it, but I teach the little kids how to read music up to a certain level. Even though I did go to music school, I’m still not very good at reading music. You know what I was thinking about? The very first band I was in was with you. Remember the music-program band?

Yeah, yeah! Fat Kids Rule?

I don’t remember the name. I think it was called Fat Kids Rule.

Did you have a hollow-body or something? I did—it’s like an Epiphone, actually. I still have it. It’s fucked up now.

I don’t remember how we got—because I don’t think we were official. I don’t think I was official. I don’t know, maybe I was . . . I don’t know—I think we just went and hung out there.

I think we played a couple of times, for some reason. Yeah, we probably did.

What a great idea. Pay kids to be in bands! I remember the songs. We did a Wire song, “Ex Lion Tamer” I think.

Oh wow. I don’t remember the songs. And “Cold Turkey,” by the Beatles or whatever [John Lennon released it with the Plastic Ono Band], and “Manny, Moe and Jack” by the Dickies.

I remember one time I was like, “Take your pick and, like, scrape the strings!” Oh really? I don’t remember!

I was like, “Make it loud!” [Both laugh] Oh well. That was fun!