On an unseasonably warm November afternoon, the members of Exit Clov gather in a basement apartment, picking at gourmet bagels in flavors such as French toast, mocha and pumpkin. The night before, the band played a successful Halloween party. While the rest of the neighborhood is either hung over or asleep, the musicians are surprisingly sharp, and eager to share their philosophy.
Formed only three months ago, Exit Clov was born from a blending of musical backgrounds. The twin sisters who played nominal gigs around the D.C. area for the past few years, Emily and Susan Hsu (vocals, guitars, keyboards), brought acoustic folk-tinged styling and pop sensibilities to the band. Over the summer, they teamed up with GW students Brett Niederman (bass and keyboards) and John Thayer (drums), who added elements of funk and blues. Finally, at the end of August, the band was complete with the addition of guitarist Aaron Leeder, also a GW student, who contributed his jazz-influenced playing to the band.
How does the band perceive the sum of its parts? “It’s rock music,” Niederman said, simplifying things quite a bit. Central to Exit Clov’s sound is the Hsu sisters’ sweet and emotionally rich harmonies, evoking a sound similar to The Cranberries, Jewel and other women-fronted bands. Much to the band’s dismay, Thayer says, “We hear that a lot.”
The band’s lyrics read like excerpts from an English major’s thesis.
“They’re not love songs,” Emily Hsu explained, adding that the band takes its name from a character in Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame.”
The extremely literate lyrics, which are like series of word collages or absurdist allegories, introduce the listener to mythical beast-women, murderous sea creatures and drug-induced escapes from reality.
“We don’t write about things that actually happen to us,” Susan Hsu said. “You can’t go line by line and say, ‘Oh, this is what they mean.’ It’s more literary.”
As high-minded as Exit Clov may seem – Samuel Beckett and jazz scales are not the foundation upon which rock music is built – the band’s music remains instantly catchy and accessible.
“We like to write songs that people enjoy listening to,” said Thayer. More important than writing atonal music is “playing shit that sounds good. We want to make music that people like but also gets our point across.” He went on to concede that writing atonal compositions are a challenging intellectual exercise.
The band seems genuinely happy with the inroads it’s made in its few months of existence.
“We’d like to be the best band in world,” Emily Hsu joked.
“No, we’d like to be the best band in the United States and Canada,” Niederman amended, lowering the stakes a bit.
Thayer seemed to think he and his bandmates were on the right track.
“The one thing that’s nice about this band, that never happened with any music I’ve ever done before, is that people seem to like it,” he said.
In short time that sentiment might prove to be a dramatic understatement.