Exitmusic’s Passage is No Secret
Exitmusic is like musical Instagram. Everything feels slightly overcast and distorted, but thoughtfully so, with skillfully applied lo-fi elements enhancing the duo’s deeply saturated ambient post-rock anthems. Stream-of-consciousness lyrics are anchored by reliably incantatory arrangements, with pulsing guitar and keyboard sounds wedged between ballast electronic elements and singer Aleksa Palladino’s pliable siren croon. Palladino (likely recognizable from her role as Angela Darmody in Boardwalk Empire), and Devon Church, who are incidentally married, construct a darkly sonic and literary narrative with Passage that betrays their happy courtship. Cataclysmic in subject matter but sonically enchanting, Exitmusic’s third full-length explores birth, death, and only the most relevant details in between. Passage has a discernible center of gravity without feeling claustrophobic, an elusive achievement in a contemporary musical milieu where more is not always more.
Hours before they departed for a tour of the U.K. and in the days leading up to Passage‘s release, we eagerly entered into the world of Exitmusic.
AMANDA DUBERMAN: How did you guys meet? Did you make music and then get married, or get married and then start making music?
ALEKSA PALLADINO: We met for the first time when we were 18 on a train in Canada. I grew up in Manhattan, and I was traveling after school with my best friend. We met Devon on a train and sort of felt like an instant recognition and sense that [we were similar]. After probably four days into being on the train and talking and wandering around, then we each went home.
DUBERMAN: Then what?
PALLADINO: He went back to his house, we went back to New York. He sent me letters but I didn’t respond. A few years went by and I wrote back. He was in Taiwan teaching English at that point. We started corresponding through the mail for a year.
DUBERMAN: How retro.
PALLADINO: Finally he came to New York to visit me and then he moved in. So that’s going to be 10 years ago this summer. We started writing music together right away. We’d always been writing music separately, so that was just sort of a natural thing to start writing it together.
DUBERMAN: There’s a lot of anticipation for this record, even thought you’ve had prior releases. What is different this time around?
PALLADINO: It’s definitely been night and day from the first album. We were really naive. We didn’t think to hire publicists or anything. We thought that if something was good enough, then people would hear it. We worked really hard just on our own to get the next record more where we wanted it, but at the same time, other people started taking in interest in it. So it was a very natural progression to get where we were. Then the past year has been totally a different thing.
DUBERMAN: Aleksa, you have a background in acting, most recently as Angela Darmody in Boardwalk Empire. Was the transition from acting to music a transition at all, or were you always doing them both simultaneously?
PALLADINO: I do both at the same time. To me they are both really important parts of how I express myself and understand myself in the world. I don’t ever want to have to choose one over the other in any sort of grand sense of things. Obviously with scheduling you wind up making choices.
DUBERMAN: Do you think they interact, or influence each other, reciprocally? Or do you compartmentalize the two?
PALLADINO: No I think they definitely influence each other. For me writing and acting all comes out of the same place, a compulsion to review and connect to something. For me they are more similar than different.
DUBERMAN: Your character in Boardwalk Empire is a deeply tortured artist. But did any of your research into her affect your songwriting? I know it doesn’t really end well for her.
PALLADNIO: [laughs] It definitely affects me. When I was playing Angela, it’s so different, because you’re living with the character for a long time. Playing her, and really exploring her feelings through me, for two and half years. it definitely just shifts your own focus on everything. To play her, I wanted to really be open to her vulnerabilities and really live in that part of me. I definitely wrote music from that place.
DUBERMAN: What’s the connective tissue of Passages? Based on the subject matter, I don’t think a lot of people would guess you are a happily married couple. It’s not necessarily romantically driven, but it’s still a bit dark.
CHURCH: Since we’re married and we’ve been together so long, we don’t feel compelled to write romantic songs, or to write about relationships all that much. I guess we try and go a little deeper into things that are not necessarily getting expressed on a day-to-day basis.
PALLADINO: I think Devon and I are very similar types of people and these are the types of things that we think of and that we worry about. It has to do with birth and death and feeling isolated from both of those, or from yourself or other people.
DUBERMAN: The songs, even the shorter ones, have a narrative quality. Is that, the structure of a song and the story it tells, important to you?
PALLADINO: We are definitely storytellers. One of Devon’s first loves is novels, and I think he’s very much a writer who writes with that sort of focus, of telling a story. My mom is an opera singer, and I’m also used to music having acts, and having a beginning, middle, and end. The two of us just love intros and outros. We love having it start somewhere, take you someplace, and a distinct end. Let me ask Devon if he wants to add anything.
CHURCH: No, I’m good. I’m just kind of chilling.
PALLADINO: Okay. [laughs]
CHURCH: If I have something that I’m dying to say, I’ll jump in.
DUBERMAN: Maybe I’ll just have to list you as back-up performer.
CHURCH: No, please don’t do that.
PALLADINO: Yeah, say he just does some background falsetto. [laughs]
DUBERMAN: Anyway, if I can entice you, Devon, does the songwriting process reflect that priority? Do you come up with riffs and lyrics and put them aside, or do you start and a song and finish it, then move on?
PALLADINO: For the most part, we start and finish in one breath. Which usually takes us a long time. Maybe one thing that is different about us than a lot of other bands is that we record as we write. We never really know where anything is going. It’s a process of discovery or feeling and trying to build something all in the moment. Build, capture, record, all in one moment. I love doing it that way. It’s really exciting, because you’re preserving the moment of inspiration.
DUBERMAN: And then you can sort out weaker spots as you go along?
CHURCH: What do you mean?
DUBERMAN: I don’t mean weaker, that’s the wrong word. You talked about the concept of Acts informing what you do, so I guess I mean if you finish Act I without too many loose ends, you know where you want to go next and what you want to engage with in Act II.
PALLADINO: Right, so each part informs where the next part is going to go. It’s kind of interesting, too, because I feel like a lot of times when we’re writing, we’re really just listening to hear where it wants to go, rather than forcing it into something you already decided.
DUBERMAN: Your music videos are very interesting. Do you conceptualize them yourselves? Are they fun projects for you do or do they reflect the subject matter for you, even in kind of an opaque way?
PALLADINO: We’ve done all videos with the director Will Jones. We definitely have emails back and forth to talk about what the song means, then he’ll come back with a treatment and it’s always so amazing and things that I wouldn’t necessarily associate with the song or come up with on my own, but it fits so perfectly.
DUBERMAN: Do you consider the visual element during the writing process?
PALLADINO: I think we’re always considering the visual element, because they are so linked somehow, visual and auditory. We don’t think in terms of videos, though, we’re not really going that far down the timeline. But definitely visuals come up and stick. Our ideas are a lot more elaborate than our budget, though. [laughs] During a song I might think of a tornado, but that’s not always feasible to put incorporate into the video.
DUBERMAN: Do you like to perform live?
PALLADINO: I think we like it more and more all the time. At first it was really daunting, I was having panic attacks and stage fright.
DUBERMAN: Even knowing the millions of people that watch Boardwalk Empire?
PALLADINO: But they are invisible to me. It’s a totally different thing. Your crew becomes your family and you trust the director and the other actors on the set, and it’s a very safe place. And it’s not live. You can do it again, you can try something differently. Being live on stage is a very—it has to happen now. But the more you do it, the more you learn to just give into the process.
DUBERMAN: You guys are about to go abroad and you’ve done some touring abroad before. Do you find some places are more receptive do what you do than others?
PALLADINO: Amsterdam gets really excited. [laughs]
DUBERMAN: Sure, I feel like your music would lend itself well to being really stoned. Purely speculation, of course.
PALLADINO: I guess so. [laughs] Maybe that’s why we’re so big there.
DUBERMAN: Do you ever get sick of each other?
PALLADINO: Yeah, but we’re used to it.
PASSAGE IS OUT TODAY. FOR MORE ON EXITMUSIC, VISIT THEIR BANDCAMP.