I recently crossed paths with two beautiful and musically talented women, Emily and Susan Hsu, of the popular DC indie pop band Exit Clov. After being captivated by their sweet melodic voices and thought-provoking smartly-composed lyrics, I was inspired to find out more about their life paths and what drives them to do what many people only dream of… to be rock stars! Here is my interview with the lead singers of Exit Clov:
H: Hi Em and Susan! I’ve actually known you both for a long time… probably since the 80’s when you were both known for being talented violinists back in Illinois. It is so good to cross paths with you again and to see where you’ve gone since then!
S: Thanks Ho Chie, we do go way back. I think Emily and I had those crazy sheep perms when we first met you.
E: I’m a little upset that you recognize us.
H: Haha! I’ll try not to be so star-struck the next time. So, tell me a little bit about your backgrounds. I hear you both are quite an educated duo.
H: Your music is smart. In fact, I had to google things like “MK Ultra” and “DIY” to find the deeper messages beneath the captivating melodies. Who writes the lyrics, and what kind of process do you go through in creating the final version?
S: Emily and I usually craft the lyrics while we’re writing the vocals, but the whole band talks about what we want the songs to be about.
E: One time, Aaron wanted to write a song about hate (which eventually became The Hate). It was inspired by something kind of personal to all of us, but by now the song is about so many things… genocide and regret, and even some references to the film The Battle of Algiers, which we watched around that time, and Hurricane Katrina, which happened then too.
S: Same with Communist BBQ. John said something about Che Guevarra t-shirts and how funny it is that his face has been sorta hijacked by people who profit from it. So we played off of that idea and now it’s a satirical take on the socialist movements in Latin America. We basically just write whatever comes out. If we sound like a nerdy bunch of musicians who can’t get over school, then that’s who we are. I don’t really have exciting love stories to tell. But then again, the rest of the band wouldn’t really want to hear them . So we save those songs for singing in the shower.
E: We have this t-shirt with a robot holding a heart, and it says “My Plastic Heart Cannot Love.” It’s so true.
H: That’s cute! I want a shirt like that! Anyways, I know that Exit Clov recently finished touring the West Coast and South. Any interesting highlights to share?
S: It was a lot of fun. We had very little money on us, the van was always semi on the verge of breaking down, but with all of us together and one goal of playing music, everything felt like it was all ok.
H: Exactly… The immigrant story…
S: I think a lot of us second generation Asian Americans are spoiled with financial comfort in our childhood. But we’re spoiled in a good way because it lets us start thinking about what we can do with ourselves beyond just a professional career which we already take for granted anyway. You can see how there’s gradually more Asians in the media, in journalism, in law, government and nonprofits. There are people like yourself who take the time to promote awareness about Taiwan and its culture and politics. If you want to know what’s inspiring, I think that is!
H: Awww… I’m going to start blushing! But, thank you for that compliment! That’s so kind. Tell me, what do your parents think now about your life in the arts?
E: They love the band. I can safely say that there was the initial shock and horror about us doing music for a living, but ultimately, they can see how happy it makes us and I can tell it makes them happy too. They always ask us on the phone how everybody in the band is doing.
S: People automatically think of Asian American parents as ridiculously strict and conservative, like Pai Mei in Kill Bill or something, but our parents aren’t cut from the same cloth. They’re kind of bizarre in their own ways.
E: Like our dad is an artist too. He’s a retired neurologist, and he does seasonal exhibits of his works in Chicago. He likes to read books on Zen and send out his Wise Sayings of the Day by email.
H: Hmmm… I might need to get on that email list…
S: Our mom is a writer too, even though we didn’t get to see that side of her until we were grown up because she never had the time to write. She always has really colorful stories to tell, and her writing style is really playful and lighthearted, which was surprising because she’s always been a really practical mom to us.
E: But to answer your question, they fully support the band thing. Our mom even volunteered to help front us money to repair our van’s A/C while we were on tour. She said, “Otherwise, you’ll all be in bad moods because it’s so hot. You’ll fight with each other and the band will break up!” We thought that was funny.
H: Haha! I can hear that being said in the Taiwanese mom voice! So tell me, if you could share any advice to young people who aspire to be artists, musicians, or want to take the road less travelled, but hopefully with some working A/C, what would that be?
E: Living safely is for losers. No, just kidding.
S: How about this: Would you rather look back on your life and see that you suffered while doing what you loved? Or see that you suffered while spending your life worrying that you might suffer?
H: Aiyo. That is so profound. I’m going to have to think about that one for awhile… Oh! I heard that Exit Clov has recently been picked up by Livewire Recordings, and that you have a new CD coming out nationally. Care to give a plug?
E: It’s the best one we’ve put out so far. It was recorded to tape, so it has a nice, fat, thick sound.
S: Just like yo momma!
E: No we’re really excited for it and hope that everybody goes to get a copy to support us!
H: Em and Susan, I think you guys are simply wonderful. Your passion and talent for your music show so clearly. You guys are garnering a tremendous amount of attention on the music scene, and I have no doubt Exit Clov will be quite a success story. Thanks so much for sharing with me. By the way, can I have your autographs?
S: I only autograph boobs and buttocks…
E: Let me think about that one…
H: Well, keep thinking while I expose my booty… just kidding!!
To find out more about Emily and Susan of Exit Clov or to buy their EPs, check out their website at: http://exitclov.com or listen to sample tracks on Myspace at http://myspace.com/exitclov. Look out for their upcoming CD release Respond Respond and national radioplay of their music starting this month!
If you’re in the DC area, their CD release show is on Friday, October 20th at the Rock and Roll Hotel, 1353 H Street, NE.