That experience would come in handy. When she finished college, Timony remained in Boston, and in 1993, at just 22, she began her creep into mainstream consciousness as the lead singer of Boston-based Helium, an indie band known for surly, cantankerous rock.
Timony was captivated by the riot grrrl movement that had taken hold in the nation’s capital and Olympia, Wash., and much of Helium’s music — provocative, angry, combative — was a reflection of the politics and feminist drive that fueled riot grrrl bands.
Listeners were captivated by Timony’s off-kilter riffs and the unsuspecting power of her hushed, haunting vocals. So were record executives. After touring in support of such artists as Belly and Liz Phair, Helium was signed by Matador Records. The band released two critically acclaimed albums and toured internationally before disbanding in 1997 — a split Timony attributes largely to the impact of the group’s quick success.
In the early 1990s, it was still a big deal to see a young woman riffing on an electric guitar, let alone fronting an underground band that had signed with an established record label. Music journalists and pop culture critics began to look to Timony, who could now be seen by any kid in America on MTV (Timony became a virtual paramour for Beavis and Butt-Head) as a de facto mouthpiece for a new generation of women in rock. Timony says she really wasn’t prepared for the attention or the questions.
What is it like for a woman making music? Are you a feminist? Isn’t that what your lyrics suggest?
“They seemed to want a poster girl for female rage or something. But I was never like, ‘I’m gonna play my guitar to make some big statement about “girl power,” ’ ” she says, with a slight eye roll. But Timony did have something to say. Many of Helium’s songs, all penned by Timony, addressed gender roles. They also expressed a pent-up anger. Sometimes vehemently so.
For instance, in the video for “XXX,” a single off the band’s “Pirate Prude” EP, Timony took on the role of a streetwalker vigilante. Appearing both forlorn and seething in a hot-pink mini-dress, she deadpanned, “I’ll get in your car/ I wanna make some money/ That was just a joke about the money/ You’re gonna pay me with your life.”
Today the revenge fantasy is closing in on 1,000,000 YouTube views and continues to inspire feverish comments (“We must follow Mary or all is lost”). The persona, Timony says, “has followed me, for better or worse.”