The city of Boston attracts the best and brightest — in science, in academia, in rock ’n’ roll. It can be a transitory town where the great and gifted are just passing through, and Helium guitarist and vocalist Mary Timony was no different. A Washington, D.C., native who came north to attend Boston University, Timony stood apart from her ’90s alt-rock contemporaries, her work with Helium inhabiting a liminal world between punk and progressive rock, between introspective songwriting and in-your-face guitar sounds. In the intervening decades, Timony has released three acclaimed solo albums and led cult-heroes Wild Flag and Ex Hex, cementing her status as one of indie rock’s guiding lights. The Globe caught up with Timony as she prepared for the first tour with a new incarnation of Helium. They play the Sinclair Saturday.
Q. What was the musical atmosphere like when you first arrived in Boston?
A. The very first show that I ever went to in Boston was in October of 1988 and it was at this club called Molly’s which was on Brighton Ave. across from Brighton Music Hall. It was a band called Phish. There were maybe 20 people there. I was like, they’re kind of like hippies but they’re really good. I never heard of them again until the late ’90s. I was like, “Oh my God that’s insane.” I realized that was the same band I saw when I first moved to Boston.
There was a real jangly poppy thing going on. I grew up in DC and was around the whole Dischord [Records] punk thing. That was really more of my scene. Playing music in Boston, since I went to college there, I didn’t really feel like I fit into either world really. I was more of a punk rocker. Riot Grrrl was going on in DC. I always felt more like I came from that scene.
Q. When did you begin assembling the recently released rarities compilation “Ends With And”?
A. It’s been about a year, I guess. I was talking to Matador [Records] on and off about it, and then we officially started getting the tapes together. It’s hard-to-find stuff. It took a while to look through old cassettes lying around in my basement, trying to find demos, demos that I didn’t have. And some of the 7-inches, I didn’t have the masters for those. So that took a little bit. Then compiling the artwork, I had to track down people who had taken photos. It’s like a treasure hunt.
Q. What was the most challenging part of reengaging your back catalog?
A. The biggest challenge was sorting through old cassette four-track tapes that [Helium bassist] Ash [Bowie] and I had made. What I realized is that tape is just so fragile — even some of the master tapes sounded different when we mastered them for vinyl again. I guess the most fun part of doing this for me was just saving it again. It’s the same feeling when you back up your computer on a hard drive. “OK, I got it all in one place.”
Q. One of the striking things about the recent Helium reissues and the new compilation is the vibrancy of the sound, the freshness even after 20 years. How did that come about?
A. On [debut EP] “Pirate Prude” stuff, a lot of that is [producer] Adam Lasus. He’s a real genius engineering dude, so a lot. He’s really great at guitar sounds, so he helped me out a lot. And then “[The] Dirt of Luck,” that’s a whole different sound. I think we were really pushing, trying to push everything to sound really extreme on that record.
Q. What can we expect from this newest incarnation of Helium?
A. The shows should be really fun. I’m playing with three musicians, Brian Betancourt, David Christian from the band Hospitality. And Nicole Laurence is also playing, and she’s a sick guitar player, she’s so good. Brian is such a good player and David is just a great drummer. It’s just been such a blast playing with them. I’m really looking forward to doing these shows.
Mary Timony plays Helium
At The Sinclair, Cambridge, June 10 at 7 p.m. Tickets $18-$20, www.axs.comSean L. Maloney can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanLMaloney.