An Interview with twins Emily and Susan Hsu of Exit Clov

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.

E: We both studied journalism because we were writers and we had visions of shaking some things up. But we also played music in our free time. We moved to DC to start working, and after a few years of that we decided we seriously needed to do something else.

S: Everything felt stale and dead. It was around that time that we met the three guys in our band. They were still students then and they literally liked to play music 24 hours a day. It kind of sparked something in us because it was so different from our own perspective. We ended up going back to grad school to free up our schedule and start reading books again.

H: How did Exit Clov get its start? And did you guys play in other bands before Exit Clov?

S: Em and I mostly played together as a duo. We started calling ourselves Exit Clov for a month or two before we met Brett and John at a party and decided to start the band. Brett, John and Aaron were in other bands too, but we try not to talk about our past…

E: We like to think that history started only after Exit Clov started.

H: Who inspires you?

S: I think creative people inspire me. So do people who are always productive and never satisfied.

E: I get inspired by listening to or watching other artists. The great ones always make it look so easy, so I go home and try to make my own art, think up my own rhymes.

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.

E: We met lots of generous people who took us around and gave us a place to stay.We met some nice fans and we also had hecklers. This one dude came up to us and started rattling off these random awards we won like two years ago that we could barely even remember. We were like, ‘Who ARE you?’

S: There was another guy who had to be escorted out because he was getting up in our faces during our sound check. He kept saying, “JUST PLAY! THIS ISN”T SOME KIND OF CLASSICAL RECITAL”

E: Playing at Google Headquarters, too, was a lot of fun. It feels like you just stepped into the future when you’re there. They had heated toilet seats! and little scooters for employees who were just out taking a break.

H: I know right? I’ve visited too, and their international gourmet cafeteria is amazing! But, I digress… OK, I’m sure this is a question you get a lot being twins… do people have a hard time telling you apart? And how do your personalities differ?

E: Some people don’t even know we’re sisters when they see us, if you can believe that. And other people can’t tell us apart.

S: Em’s psychologically a little darker than fiction, I’m a little spacier than Neptune. Em pines for a past forgotten life, and I can’t seem to wait for the year 3000. It’s kinda like that.

E: I’d say so.

H: I know you can relate to the many pressures that I believe Asian American kids face when choosing career or life paths. What sorts of challenges did you both face growing up as Taiwanese Americans?

E: I think Asian American kids are lucky because they have the opportunity to go into professions like medicine and science. Asians have totally excelled in those fields, but then they tend to be underrepresented in other fields like politics or the media, and you almost never see them in entertainment.

If you’re asking about challenges, I was never overtly discouraged from going into journalism or music… maybe that’s because nobody has to discourage Asian Americans from things like that. Most of them don’t choose to go into those fields! But I think more of them should because these are roles that are influential to society in important ways, maybe not in academic but in social ways. I also think that the more Asians are in those fields, the more Asian American kids will grow up considering those jobs for themselves too.

S: Also, one thing that kind of relates to your question is that I recently learned about a friend of my parents who is an MD but his specialty is in prosthetic limbs. His name is Dr. Yeongchi Wu, and he’s gotten recognition for his work helping victims of landmines whose legs or arms were blown off.

H: Hey Susan! His family lived next door to mine when I was growing up in the Chicago ‘burbs! I know them very well! I think it was his passion for sculpting and art, which made him uniquely suited for crafting prosthetics for his patients. Anyways, go on…

S: The other day, my parents were talking about what he does, and I remember being moved to tears. I can’t explain it but maybe it was just how uncommon it is for me to associate the first generation Asian Americans with social justice and causes for humanity. I’ve always perceived the older generation as being more focused on individual success and professional careers, which is really great in itself. I’m sure that because they grew up less wealthy, their life goal was to make a more stable life for themselves, which is difficult to do. Most of them succeeded in one way or another, partly because they worked extremely hard for it and partly because they moved to the US to find those opportunities.

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: or listen to sample tracks on Myspace at 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.

Leave a Reply