Exitmusic has always had a flair for the dramatic; between their music, with its wall of sound intensity, and their backstory (two teenagers meet on a train), it’s easy to see scrolling credits at the end of each album. Their latest (and perhaps final) record gives fans the depth and the darkness they’ve come to expect.
Created during the chaos of Exitmusic duo Aleksa Palladino and Devon Church’s divorce, The Recognitions is not all gloom and doom. There is surprising lightness throughout the album, with songs like “Iowa” giving off a feeling of rebirth, though Church describes the song as the moment “our relationship finally cracked.”
“…Aleksa took a break from recording to work on a film in Iowa. It takes place on a lake so deep, indigenous people believed it had no bottom, and was a portal to the spirit world. When Aleksa returned from shooting, I could tell immediately something major had shifted. She described an experience of standing up in a boat on the lake and seeing her reflection in the water, and having the realization that we had only been living on the surface of life—that there were fathomless depths to be explored if we were able to set each other free.” It’s in these moments of reflection that Exitmusic’s ten years of music-making truly shine, their ability to work through the pain made clear.
We sat down with Aleksa to talk about the album’s genesis, how music and acting intersect, and what the future holds for her as a musician in her own right.
AF: Tell us a little about your upbringing. Your grandparents were painters and your mother was an opera singer. Were you artistically inclined at an early age?
AP: Yes. Art was what we used in place of religion in my household. My grandfather thought communication was the most important thing humans could engage in and felt that art was the most universal language. I grew up really absorbing a lot from all of them. They never sat down to teach me anything, I just learned from watching their passion and their dedication to their craft. I started playing instruments, mainly piano and guitar really young and wrote songs. When I was 13, my mom bought me a 4 track and then I started recording, but it really seemed to me that nothing had more power than art.
AF: What was the subject matter of those first tunes?
AP: They were weird. Pretty dark and clumsy. Mostly about feeling alone in a body that would decay… I felt very connected to my family, but not so much with the rest of the world at that point.
AF: Did you listen to opera and draw from that? Or were you totally off in a different direction from your mom’s music?
AP: Yeah, I didn’t like opera when i was little. I couldn’t find a way into it until much later and then it did influence me a lot – the drama, the life or death urgency. And I also like playing with the idea of musical themes within a “pop” song structure.
AF: You and Devon met on a train in Canada when you were just 18 years old. The story goes that he started writing you letters after that, but got no response for a couple years. It’s very Before Sunrise.
AP: We heard that a lot, we never saw the movie because we heard so much about it. But yeah, that’s how it happened, it’s all true.
AF: You’ve worked together musically for over 10 years. Can you tell us about what the collaboration process is normally like? Do you start with lyrics or does the music establish the initial base?
AP: Music always first. We record as we write. We’ll both sit there with our instruments and start layering one thing at a time… Once there is a mood, or as I call it a “world,” I’ll start playing with a vocal melody; once I find that, we layer more sounds to finish the world, then I bang my head against the wall and try to find the right words. That’s the typical process, but on rare occasion the words just flow while I’m laying down the vocal scratch and that’s when it feels like magic.
AF: Many people might know you as Angela Darmody in Boardwalk Empire. How has your acting career affected your music? Do you find that certain roles inspire your writing? Or is your inspiration drawn mainly from personal experiences?
AP: Less and less people know me as Angela Darmody as time goes by. There is a whole generation in the mix now that has never seen the show. It’s an interesting feeling to experience being forgotten, a small glimpse of my own actual fate. I think my acting career made some people more interested in listening to EXITMUSIC, just because it was something that they could identify right away. But I was more surprised by how many people never made the connection at all. I think the media is more interested in things like that because it’s “something to talk about,” but I find people just go with what they like and don’t really read the press too much.
Roles that I am living in definitely inspire my writing. They inspire my whole life actually. I don’t think of acting as pretending at all! To me, it is like moving different traits and experiences you all ready have to the surface. It’s all you, just in different configurations. You can’t play what you can’t see, and you can’t see what you haven’t experienced in yourself. It’s all personal experience in the end, the scripted and the unscripted.
AF: The Recognitions was created as you and Devon went through your divorce. Did the writing process change at all during the making of this record?
AP: Surprisingly, no. We had written so much together at that point that that part of our relationship was the only part that had any comfort still intact. EXITMUSIC was a passion for us. We shared it so fully that it seemed more important to engage with even while we knew as a couple we were disengaging.
AF: Your music has always felt like a cathartic release of emotion – a wall of sound, a deep well of feeling. Who are some music artists that currently inspire you?
AP: It’s always the same ones for me. Like I was saying before, Art is what I have in place of religion really so I always go back to the good book, so to speak. Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, John Lennon, Roberto Murolo ( a Neapolitan singer). These people make me need to write. Where they connect to in themselves mirror where I connect in myself and then I have to do it. Other bands have influenced me more sonically, but these guys make me HAVE to do it.
AF: We’ll see you next on the The Irishman, an upcoming American biographical crime film directed by Martin Scorsese, that will premiere on Netflix. With Exitmusic ending, where does music fit into your life right now? Are you planning on focusing mainly on acting or can we expect to hear solo work sometime in the near future?
AP: I’m always writing and recording, but I don’t want it to be my job. I want to release music, but in a different way than I have before. I’ve written two short films that I want to direct, one of them this year, and I’ll score the soundtrack to it. I might wind up releasing music this way, but who knows. I’m sitting on an album’s worth of finished songs, so it could be possible. I wouldn’t count me out.
AF: What advice would you give to a young artist who, like yourself, is balancing a career in two different art forms?
AP: One feeds the other. Mental breakthroughs in one craft inform the other. Just be authentic, don’t try to fit in to the moment. It’s all fleeting and everyone is searching for something that feels real.
Exitmusic’s new record The Recognitions is out now on Bandcamp. Get it HERE.