Ex Hex is, from left, Mary Timony, Laura Harris and Betsy Wright. (Courtesy Michael Lavine)

Ex Hex’s Mary Timony’s terrible 2018 inspires positive music

Songwriter creates ‘It’s Real’ in wake of tragedy

Over Mary Timony’s nearly three-decade showbiz career in several successful bands — Autoclave, Helium, Wild Flag and currently the punk-powered Ex Hex — she has dismissed her achievements as unimportant, even worthless.

She felt guilty just for being a musician, since it wasn’t a serious adult pursuit.

“I mean, it’s not like you’re trying to cure cancer or something,” she says.

But now, after the horrible year she had 2018, which led to Ex Hex’s cathartic new sophomore confessional, “It’s Real,” which the group premieres in The City next week — Timony believes that a good song can save your life.

“I can really see the power of music now, more than I was ever willing to acknowledge before,” she says.

Timony’s calm life in Washington, D.C. went off the rails so fast, she barely saw it coming. One day she and bassist Betsy Wright were starting work on the high-pressure followup to Ex Hex’s hit 2014 debut “Rips,” and then it was one tragedy after the next, each worst than the last.

Friends of both died unexpectedly.

“Then you find out two days later that your brother needs to be hospitalized, and then two days after that, dad’s back in the emergency room, and then my relationship fell apart. It was just a nonstop onslaught of the most stressful stuff, in the s——iest, just s——iest year imaginable,” she says, sighing.

Initially, the jazz-schooled guitarist sensed that “It’s Real” was a project too thorny to complete.

But as she grew more lyrically brazen — in the rubbery “Tough Enough,” a 1960s-swinging “No Reflection” and the Blondie-evocative “Cosmic Cave” and “Talk to Me” — she saw it in a completely different light.

“Actually, as I was losing everyone in my family to darkness, and everything else in my life was falling apart, the album became this wonderful, super-positive thing, a real life saver,” she says. “I just poured all of myself into it.”

The more Timony wrote, the more she understood about mortality, the brevity of existence. Her conclusions became more concise.

If everyone is dying — just at different paces — she decided, why waste valuable time sweating the small stuff?

No longer taking her craft for granted, she sees it as a rare gift, with an attendant social an attendant imperative that she share it with other peope.

So the bandleader is grateful to have created ”It’s Real,” no matter how uncomfortable its process: “Now I see music as a really positive thing that’s always giving, never taking. And I feel lucky that I can still do it.”


Ex Hex

Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 23

Tickets: $20 to $22

Contact: (415) 885-0750, www.eventbrite.com

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