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All week, Arts Desk profiles area artists heading to Texas for the South by Southwest Music Conference, March 15-20.
District shredder Mary Timony—-of the great ’90s bands Helium and Autoclave, a wealth of jarring solo product, and most recently local sleeping giant Soft Power—-is in a new band.
Since announcing the existence of Wild Flag last year, a sort of all-star indie-rock outfit, Timony and friends—-Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney, Rebecca Cole of The Minders—-have been maddeningly coy about what will emerge from their new moniker. Wild Flag’s guarded online presence emphasizes only two adjectives: wild, flaggy. Only a Velvet Underground cover on YouTube signaled potential. Even the helpful Merge publicist quipped via email: “I wish we had something to sell with all of this press.”
Fans would tune in based on the players, so the long wait to taste material had to be about building mystery in a wide open world. Or a calculated revolt against hype. Something punk.
“We decided we wanted to play a lot before we recorded,” Timony says. “It’s the best way to get really get tight, so that’s why we booked all of these shows.”
Timony is straight-forward and likewise quick to admit defeat on questions about legacy and context. Our interview is littered with referrals like, “I’m sure Carrie could give you a better answer,” and qualifiers like “I can’t speak for the rest of the band.” But her explanation of Wild Flag’s creative process not only makes perfect sense, it’s a big reason why there’s anticipation for more than a throwaway album of super-group jams.
“[Super-group] was one of the first things written about us and it stuck,” Timony says. “It’s kind of ridiculous. But I’m really psyched to have a chance to play with these people I respect so much.”
In Helium, Timony toured Europe with Sleater-Kinney. Wild Flag is a culmination of 15-plus years of friendships brought to life with airplane miles.
“Over the last year it’s been me flying to Portland every few months and for weeks at a time,” Timony says. “Carrie has a TV show; Janet is in two other bands. So we see when we can get together.”
Throughout her career, Timony has been on an assortment of seminal labels—-Matador, Lookout!, Kill Rock Stars, Dischord—-but next week will only be her third trip to Texas for South by Southwest. Her enthusiasm for a muggy marathon of southern shows is unexpected.
“I’m not that jaded,” Timony says. “I didn’t book any of the shows; I don’t worry about the business side of things. This is the first time I get to hang out. We’ll be there Wednesday through Saturday and doing at least two shows a day. It’s exciting.”
Timony assures me that a tangible Soft Power album will exist but gets far more excited talking up her kids. In between sold-out West Coast dates, Timony’s been coaching fifth through seventh grade band students from her home. She has 20 guitar students she’s been assembling into bands, and there will be a big showcase in June.
A few hours after I speak with Timony, Wild Flag forks its stellar debut single over to the Internet. Timony doesn’t mention “Glass Tambourine” or its dissemination in our interview, though surely she had no idea it was about to be released.
She also isn’t one for colorful adjectives. Describing Wild Flag’s sound, she says: “I would say influences from punk to classic rock and I dunno. We like to play loud and fast. I try to avoid thinking about how someone else perceives the music.”
Wild Flag performs with Yellowfever and The Aquarium 8 p.m. Thursday at the Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW. $13.