The four rock goddesses who make up the band Wild Flag are nothing short of legend in indie lore. When The L finally caught up with one of them, Mary Timony (formerly of Helium), who shares lead vocals and guitar with Carrie Brownstein (formerly of Sleater-Kinney), she was sitting on an unglamorous, grassy highway divider in view of a strip mall in Champaign, Illinois, but eager to gush about the music, her bandmates and guitar students.
Before Wild Flag, you and Carrie Brownstein were in a band called The Spells, and you covered The Who's "Can't Explain."Both you and Carrie have cited classic rock as a major influence. How do you think that fits into the music that you're making with Wild Flag now? And what was it about bands back then that maybe bands now are lacking or unaware of?
I can't really make a judgment on all bands now. I mean, I grew up with that music, and that's probably why it influences me. Rock and roll in the 50s, 60s and 70s was just a newer art form and people were doing new things with it, really creative things. I feel like people haven't done new stuff since like, Sonic Youth or something. I think the computers and editing and sampling—that way of making music is actually kind of new, and people are doing creative stuff in terms of those instruments now.
There's this interview with Kim Gordon from the late 80s up on YouTube where she talks about a guitar being an extension of a person. How's your relationship with your guitar these days? What keeps it fresh? What keeps it sustainable?
I think a lot of what's kept it interesting and new for me in the last five or six years has been that I've been teaching it, before this band, pretty much full time. So that's sort of allowed me to see the guitar in a new way. From playing three or four hours a day, so that I can do different things than I could do before. And also I had to think a lot about music and share my love of music with kids, which has been a really positive experience for me. I've gotten a lot out of it. And I actually really miss them when I'm on tour. I've been thinking a lot about my students.
What's the most gratifying thing about teaching? Do you have any specific examples of when you know you're really doing something right and they're really getting something out of it?
I know when they start practicing on their own and when they form their own bands that I'm doing something right. That's just so great. Actually, one of the most incredible things—my student, Shauli, I think he's in 7th grade now—he just started teaching.
I know! I'm so proud of him! He tried out for the jazz band at school and the teacher's so psyched to teach with him. I should find out what happened, actually. He just tried out for the national jazz band, like, for the whole country. I was like, "Holy shit, that's amazing."And it's not me—he's just so incredibly smart, this kid—and just goes online and learns all this stuff on his own, you know. He's so great. And he's got a band. They're really great. They're called The Union of Sgt. Teddy, and they're amazing. They write all their own tunes. They're so inspiring to me.
That sounds like a much better guitar experience than I ever had. I remember my old guitar teacher used to eat hoagies during my lessons.
That's so funny, because my old guitar teacher in high school used to eat hot dogs. That's so weird.
He'd say, "So, show me that thing you've been practicing,"and he'd open up a sandwich. And I'd be like, "You're not even listening!”
[laughs] Really? That's horrible. I'm sorry. That's so funny.