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- Posted on Sep 29th 2011 4:00PM by Eric R. Danton
That's how singer and guitarist Mary Timony describes it, anyway.
"It sounds cheesy," Timony tells Spinner with a laugh. "If I could have imagined who ideally I wanted to play with, it's those three people."
She's referring to Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss from Sleater-Kinney and Rebecca Cole, formerly of the Minders. Together with Timony, late of Boston indie band Helium, they are a formidable musical unit that rocks out with ferocious joy on Wild Flag's new self-titled debut, out now on Merge.
"It really is so much fun to play in this band," Cole tells Spinner. "To play with Janet and Carrie and Mary is to play with three people who are very comfortable with their instruments, very comfortable with songs and comfortable stepping out of their comfort zones, if that makes any sense."
It makes so much sense it's hard to fathom why it didn't happen sooner.
"Just logistically, we were doing other things, let's just be honest," says Brownstein, whose other projects have included blogging for NPR, writing a book and, of course, the sketch comedy show 'Portlandia.' "But I do think all four members of Wild Flag are aware you have to be greater than the sum of your parts. No matter how great you are in your other band, you still have to be great together."
The greatness of Wild Flag wasn't immediate. Brownstein convened a version of the group in 2009, recruiting Weiss and Cole to play on the soundtrack for Lynn Hershman Leeson's documentary '!Women Art Revolution.' The trio added Timony the following year, when there was no good reason not to see what would happen if they formed an actual band.
Although everyone in Wild Flag had worked at one time or another with someone else in the band, the first Wild Flag practice was the first time all four musicians had ever all played together.
"I don't think it was immediately like we knew exactly what it was going to be -- we were just trying to figure it out and work together, which takes a little trial and error," Weiss says. "The excitement was there, and the possibility was there, but until we played live, I don't think any of us knew what it was going to be."
Even live, the band didn't find its groove right away.
"I didn't really feel it until this second batch of tours," Brownstein says. "We played some tours in fall 2010, and we were OK. But we were not great. I felt like we weren't working in concert. It wasn't discouraging. It was just that simple realization that we needed to get better."
They had solved that issue by time Wild Flag hit SXSW, where the foursome stirred up considerable buzz with high-energy sets full of songs balanced between sharp-edged guitar arrangements and irresistible melodies.
By then, Wild Flag was writing more collectively than at the start, when Brownstein or Timony would bring in tunes that were mostly finished.
"As we wrote more collaboratively, it seemed like the songs that were more specifically Carrie songs or more specifically Mary songs, we just cut," Cole says. "They were good ideas, but they didn't work for our band."
All that accumulated energy spilled over into the recording sessions for 'Wild Flag,' which took place in Sacramento with engineer Chris Woodhouse soon after SXSW.
"It's a document of what we sounded like right after that SXSW tour," Timony says. "We booked a couple of tours with the idea that we wanted to really hone ourselves and get really tight, so we intentionally toured for a while right before recording. I'm really glad we did that, rather than just recording first before touring a lot. I think it really helped us figure out what our sound was."
Not everything is figured out yet: Brownstein, Cole and Weiss live in Portland, while Timony calls Washington, D.C., home. It's a bi-coastal relationship that makes for epic rehearsals when Timony heads west. Yet Wild Flag has the basics down: great songs, plenty of energy and a marked willingness to explore on stage. The rest is up to listeners.
"There's some complexities working that I think are interesting to people," Weiss says. "People don't just want to be spoon-fed, like, 'Here's the lowest common denominator in music, we're going to put it on a spoon for you and put it in your mouth.' We're just not interested in that. We're not interested in telling everybody what it is, or making it easy on people."