Six Questions with Helium's Mary Timony

(Image credit: Steven DeWall/Redferns via Getty Images)

Guitarist Mary Timony—of Helium and Ex Hex fame—recently sat down for the "six questions" treatment. It went a little something like this.

What inspired you to first pick up a guitar?
My brother played. He got a guitar for Christmas when he was like 15 and I was 13. I took viola lessons, but I was really bad and hated it! [laughs] But he was writing a bunch of songs and would teach me how to play them on guitar.

What was your first guitar?
The very first guitar I had belonged to my cousin. When she gave it to me it was already missing like two or three frets, and the braces inside the guitar were loose and knocking around. Then the body cracked and the whole back started coming off. It was basically the junkiest thing you can imagine. [laughs] For my second guitar, somehow I convinced my mom I wanted an electric.

She took me to a guitar store in D.C. and I got an Epiphone Sorrento. At the time, in like 1984, it was $200. I still have that guitar. It’s a ’64 and this pretty cool faded weird green sunburst color.

What do you remember about the first gig you ever played?
My brother’s band had a gig at a high-school party and their name was Moon Spew. [laughs] I started this band with a few friends, and our name was...oh my god, I can’t remember my band name! Anyway, we played at that high-school party which was in my friend’s basement. I think I was in ninth grade. It was fun.

Ever had a nightmare gig? How did you get through it?
I’ve had a lot of nightmare gigs. One time we were playing at some college, and we were competing against a bingo game. [laughs] It was pajama breakfast bingo—but at night—and all these kids were in their pajamas eating pancakes and playing bingo. It was really loud and most of the kids were at that; there were only a few people watching our show. We could hear the announcer calling bingo while we were playing. [laughs] It felt kinda humiliating. It was at a point in my career where I was about to give up. Things were already going bad and then we played that show. [laughs]

You’re revisiting your Nineties Helium material this summer on tour. What will be your main guitar and amp for these gigs?
I’m using an Orange AD30, but for the Helium gigs I might go back to my Fender Bassman that I used in that band. The guitar I’m using now is made by a builder in Portland named Saul Koll. I haven’t played a guitar with humbuckers for a while, but it has them and it sounds amazing. For Ex Hex I’ve been playing a Les Paul Special with P-90s, but I think that Koll is the guitar I’ll be using for the Helium shows.

You went through the Helium archives to compile the new rarities LP, Ends with And. Was it like reading journals from when you were a kid?
It was tough because I’ve never been organized with my music. I tend to hold onto things but it’s all in a huge pile in my basement. [laughs] So it was a pretty intense treasure hunt. Listening to the stuff wasn’t as painful as I was thinking it would be. I think enough time has gone by that it was more interesting. There was a time I would have cringed a lot harder, but I tried to stay objective about it.

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Brad Angle

Brad is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor and video producer. He is the former content director of Revolver magazine and executive editor of Guitar World. His work has appeared in Vice, Guitar Aficionado, Inked and more. He’s also a die-hard Les Paul player who wishes he never sold his 1987 Marshall Silver Jubilee half stack.