Exit Clov's music overshadows the 'gimmick'


Exit Clov was never a normal band.

Its first EP fused dark prog rock with light pop melodies and politically charged lyrics. Lead singers Emily and Susan Hsu are identical twins - an aspect the press loves to lap up.

While the twins are fine with the way this lures the curious to their concerts - the band plays the Funk Box tonight - the sisters want the music, not themselves, to keep the crowd's attention.

"My hope is that if you have more stuff to your band, and if there is real musical talent, then that will, in time, surpass whatever gimmick it appears to be initially," Emily said. "We're working on that."

Last weekend, the band recorded a couple of more tracks for the third and final EP of a trilogy. The first two, 2003's Starfish and 2004's Saskwatch, illustrate the band's evolution in music and titles (fish came before mammals).

Because the music has changed so much in the past two years and continues to change at such a rapid pace, the group has held back from releasing a full-length album for fear of pigeonholing, Susan said.

"It's hard to say when it's time to put out your debut album and say, 'This is who we are,'" Susan said. "It's so definitive, and that's not what we're about."

Exit Clov's diverse sound mirrors its members' musical backgrounds. Emily and Susan, both classically trained on violin and piano, were sick of playing Washington bars and coffeehouses as an acoustic duo. To amp things up a bit, they started culling musicians from other circles. They broke up a band called the Sneeks to get bassist Brett Niederman and drummer John Thayer. Guitarist Aaron Leeder came from Adoption Agency, a traditional bluegrass group.

The eclectic lineup comes with blessings and drawbacks, they said. They did not hang out together that much at first, which changed when they started touring. When they compose and record, each member has a different opinion, and working it out can be tough, she said.

"We're all coming from such different backgrounds and opinions about what the song should be, how our song should be, that it's hard to really put out anything that we're all going to rally around," Susan said.

Of the guys, Thayer writes the poppier songs, and Leeder handles the progressive pieces, Niederman said. All recent graduates of George Washington University, the three of them live together and practice in Arlington. Most of the songs the guys write start as jams, Niederman said.

"That's kind of what's cool about this band," said Niederman. "It starts with the groove and then goes to the lyrics and the melody."

Usually the twins write the lyrics together, because they can finish each other's sentences, Emily said.

"We'll be jamming in different chords on the piano and [Susan] will be doing a vocal line that's really hot and I'll finish the vocal line," she said.

The result is a layered sound with plenty of chord and melody changes, smoothed over with intertwining harmonies. It is a totally original sound, Leeder said.

"That's something that prog rock in the '70s never really had," he said. "You never had the prog rock band with identical twin sisters laying gorgeous vocals on top of it."

Exit Clov encourages people to think and act independently through its political lyrics (the band is from Washington) and name. A character from Samuel Beckett's Endgame, Clov constantly talks about how he is going to leave the underground room (possibly a post-fallout bomb shelter) that he is in. In the end, he remains there as the lights go out.

"It's not all talking - it's doing what you want to do, and not letting your situation get the best of you," Susan said. "Taking action."

Exit Clov plays the Funk Box at 9 p.m. today. Tickets are $8. The Funk Box is at 10 E. Cross St. Call 410-625-2000 or visit www.thefunkbox.com.

For more club events, see Page 28.

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