Inspired by bold and brash glam rock, power pop, and punk, Washington, D.C.'s power trio Ex Hex was founded Mary Timony, whose intricate experiments with Helium in the '90s and as a solo artist in the 2000s couldn't have been further from this band's tough, melodic sound. On their 2014 freewheeling debut album, Rips, Ex Hex paid homage to Thin Lizzy, the Cars, and Cheap Trick without following too closely in their footsteps, while 2019's more crafted It's Real added extra studio polish to their rock & roll fantasies.
The band began when Timony's previous project Wild Flag -- which also featured Sleater-Kinney's Janet Weiss and Carrie Brownstein -- folded in late 2012. Timony had been writing stripped-down, energetic songs for what would have been the band's second album and wanted to continue in that direction, so she began jamming with former Chain & the Gang bassist Betsy Wright and drummer Laura Harris (who also played with Benjy Ferree and the Aquarium). They found common ground in their love of '60s garage rock as well as the punk, power pop, and new wave of the late '70s and early '80s. Timony also drew inspiration from her work as a guitar teacher, which found her revisiting many of rock's classic songs and playing in standard tuning more often than she had with Helium or as a solo artist.
The trio began recording in Timony's basement and playing shows with artists including Superchunk's Mac McCaughan. In 2013, Ex Hex signed to McCaughan's label, Merge Records. The band's debut single, "Hot and Cold," arrived in March 2014 with an even more streamlined and straightforward sound than Timony pursued with Wild Flag. For their first full-length, Rips, Ex Hex worked with producer Mitch Easter as well as Timony's frequent collaborator Jonah Takagi; Bobby Harlow of the Go and Conspiracy of Owls mixed the album. Rips arrived in October 2014. The group toured for the better part of two years following its release and issued a cover of the Real Kids' "All Kindsa Girls" in 2015. Ex Hex's members then took some time to pursue other projects: Wright formed the group Bat Fangs, Harris joined Death Valley Girls, and Timony reissued Helium's The Dirt of Luck and Magic City. The band spent a year recording their second album, working with Takagi once again and using gear that included the Rockman, a small amp designed by Boston's Tom Scholz in 1982. The more elaborate-sounding It's Real appeared via Merge Records in March 2019.