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Sometimes, listening to Exitmusic, it’s hard to tell exactly whether the goosebumps you’re getting are from the parts that are chillingly beautiful and melodic or the ones that are aching and guttural. Or further, the ones that are creepily sparse and disembodied. The New York City duo — Aleksa Palladino and Devon Church — doesn’t care when the chill runs down your spine, they just hope their music provokes some kind of primal feeling. Church explains, “It’s like what Aleksa sings at the end of ‘The Sea’: ‘And you turn your back to life… Oh, sorrow.’ We want our music to confront people in a gentle but powerful way, to make them feel something.”
“To feel human again,” adds Palladino. “To remind people, and even us, to let yourself be vulnerable.” She says that when she’s writing a song, she knows it’s going well when she feels breathless, overwhelmed by what is stirring inside of her. “The songs themselves are slightly abstract, but where they’re coming from emotionally is always very clear to me.”
Church and Palladino started writing together several years ago, when Church moved to New York following a year teaching English in Taiwan and India. “We had a funny dynamic musically, at first,” says Church, who grew up in Winnipeg. “I was listening to things that had elements sonically of what we’re doing now — Radiohead’s Kid A, that second Sigur Ros album, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Warp Records electronic stuff. But all I had to work with at the time was an acoustic guitar. Meanwhile, Aleksa was recording all these really interesting, odd arrangements on her four-track that would be about a minute long and only have one movement in them, and it sounded more like what I was into than what I was doing.”
Palladino, a New York native, had been writing and recording her own songs since she was in her early teens. She grew up in an artistic family; her grandparents are both painters and her mother is an acclaimed opera singer. Aleksa got her first guitar at age twelve and played it constantly. “When I got the four-track, I got really into layering sounds and playing with what, to me, were shapes. They were music, but they were shapes and angles. I was just committed to sketching, almost. I still wonder if I hadn’t started recording with Devon, if I ever would have finished a song.” The pair spent pretty much all of their time writing together, but things really began to take shape when they moved to Los Angeles a year later.. “We got a computer and recording software and really started to experiment with it and explore things together,” says Palladino. “That’s when it became a real project.”
They self-released their first collection of songs, The Decline of the West, in 2008. At the time, Exitmusic was described by critics as a union of post-punk and trip hop, with apocalyptic overtones. ‘Dark, brooding and beautiful,’ wrote the UK’s Supersweet Magazine. ‘Radiohead meets Portishead in a living nightmare. Genius then.”
The couple married that year, exchanging vows at a scenic overlook on Mulholland Drive. They had moved to Los Angeles so that Palladino, who has been acting professionally since fourteen, could be available for work there. But when she was cast in Martin Scorcese’s HBO series Boardwalk Empire as bohemian artist Angela Darmody, Exitmusic were thrilled to be able to move back east. Since returning to New York in 2009, the band — which currently performs as a four piece, with drummer Dru Prentiss and electronic musician Nicholas Shelestak — has both honed and expanded their sound, as well as their recording technique. Striking a unique balance between darkness and light, their music builds on a foundation of rhythmic electronics and synthesizers, to arrive at a sound almost operatic in scope.
There are currently no tour dates for Exitmusic