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Let It Rip

Washington-based Ex Hex on weird yoga, rock idols and bringing fun back to the stage.



Punk-rock bands aren't known for their longevity. Instead they tend to multiply when members splinter to form new bands. So it comes as no surprise that Ex Hex, one of the year's most energetic acts, has a long musical résumé.

Guitarist and vocalist Mary Timony is a familiar name to many. She fronted Helium, an alternative-rock trio that managed to capture MTV's — and Beavis and Butt-head's — attention. She later released a few solo albums and in 2010 joined Wild Flag, which featured Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney and "Portlandia" fame.

Wild Flag disbanded after one album, so Timony made calls to Laura Harris and Betsy Wright. Harris formerly played sticks in a drums-and-keyboard duo, the Aquarium. Wright sang and strummed for the Fire Tapes — a talented experimental group with members from Charlottesville and Richmond.

Ex Hex takes cues from these previous efforts, but ultimately sounds more like the Ramones filtered through '70s glam and garage rock. Timony's bombastic guitar solos get stuck in your head for days, and the fastidious rhythm section spins in tight orbit. Songs frequently clock in at three minutes.

Wright, the bassist, spoke with Style about Ex Hex's tour and its highly acclaimed new album, "Rips," which it released Oct. 7.

Style: There are a lot of cameos in Ex Hex's new music video for "Waterfall." It's like a who's who of punk rock. Is that how you met Mary and Laura, through the Washington music scene?

Wright: Overall, D.C. still isn't a very kind place to artists. So the music scene feels like a small, welcoming town. Laura works at the Black Cat, which is basically our home. Mary and I went to the same high school at different times. You end up finding others who feel like an oddball or an alien. We share a practice space with [Fugazi drummer] Brendan Canty, you know?

Is it true that you never played bass before joining Ex Hex?

Kind of. As a music teacher, I'd shown kids how to play the bass lines for songs like "Money" and "Come Together." Nothing fancy. Mostly I had been a guitar player, since before I was 13. I studied piano in college, too. With Ex Hex, though, there are only three of us. All my notes have to be in the right place. I can't hide behind a layer of sound.

You're about halfway through your tour. How's it going?

The shows have been good, but sometimes our schedule is grueling. The drive from North Carolina to Los Angeles took us five days. Now we have the day off in Spokane. Mary and I just came out of a free yoga class, actually. It was a little … weird. We were under black lights, and club music was blasting.

So you're open to trying anything once. Is that how you'd describe the band's dynamic?

We're definitely not Type A. We're all a little spacey. Each of us is just at a point in our lives where we're tired of being down. I moved back to D.C. last summer, feeling ready to make some fun, danceable music again. Luckily, we all get along naturally and have a mutual appreciation for each other's musical abilities.

Reviewers of the new album are describing it as a straightforward rock record. Does it easily translate into a live set?

"Rips" was meticulously arranged. The songs sound simple, but they're a real challenge to perform. Still, it's the most fun I've ever had playing live. We do some jamming to lengthen the songs. Mary's guitar solos make you feel like you're flying. And I'm absolutely hooked on Laura's rhythms.

You wrote a couple of songs for "Rips" including "Radio On" and "How You Got That Girl." Did Ex Hex inspire you to listen to any particular artists?

Joan Jett and Johnny Thunders. Certain songs, really, like Dwight Twilley's "Looking for the Magic." Tom Petty was playing bass for him before going solo. We're all such big music fans, in general. I've taken every opportunity to see the legends, like Lou Reed and Patti Smith. Patti's just incredible. Seeing her, it's like you're going to church! S

Ex Hex plays at Strange Matter on Nov. 6, with Speedy Ortiz. Doors open at 9 p.m. Tickets cost $10 in advance or $12 the day of show. Ages 18 and older.


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