FAULT Exclusive: Exitmusic interview & photoshoot

Interview: Kee Chang
Photography: Alix Spence  (Aleksa in L.A.) & Toran Spence (Devon in NYC)

The February announcement of EXITMUSIC’s (potentially) final album The Recognitions and its subsequent release this week has been overwhelmed by critics’ inordinate fixation on the dreamscape duo’s break-up narrative. The ins-and-outs of their relationship lifecycle so much in the foreground in fact, the extraneous details threaten to overshadow the music itself.

The latest addition to Aleksa Palladino and Devon Church’s at once haunting and ethereal sonic catalogue is a thing of rare beauty. As with their self-released The Decline of the West debut, The Silence EP and Passage LP, The Recognitions is something to be discovered and tightly embraced. So is this really their exit music? Will they tour the record and give it a proper send-off? Whatever becomes of the remnants of Palladino and Church’s creative partnership remains to be seen. There are two sides to every story—and there’s also the music.

 

Q&A WITH ALEKSA PALLADINO

So is The Recognitions EXITMUSIC’s final album?

I mean, there are a bunch of other songs. Few of my favourites didn’t even make it onto this record just because of theme, really, and there’s one that I’m crazy for. I keep doubting the decision to not put it on the record. So it’s possible that we’ll release The Recognitions 2 or something like that. I would love for those songs to come out in one way or another, maybe as another record or an EP. It’s this weird thing: when you really love a song, you want it out there.

A lot that has been written about EXITMUSIC and this new record has focused on the lifecycle of your relationship—the marriage and divorce. How do you feel about that being so much in the foreground?

It feels unavoidable because our relationship was so focused on EXITMUSIC. I think for a long time it was the thing that really held us together because, it sounds silly to say, but we really believed in what we were making. It feels natural to talk about it, especially because so much of the record is lyrically based on that need to become individuals again. It doesn’t feel intrusive or anything like that. Also, we’ve had time since it all happened so it doesn’t feel like it’s too personal anymore. It’s already a couple of years ago now that we got divorced so it feels like another life.

You’ve been asked before whether there was ever a question that The Recognitions would get made.

I think I always wanted it to come out. The world is a stage—you need the final act. We go through something privately, but because so much of the band and the relationship was public, it felt like it needed closure on that level, too. It was also important just for the integrity of the project. It wasn’t like two people came out with a record and then never tried again or cared enough to do it again. It’s something that we’re both so passionate about. The band itself is a separate entity from the two people in it. The band itself deserved to have it’s own closure, too. You kind of feel like it’s a child of yours in a way. The band deserves its own life. We still get emails and there are comments on social media—there’s a niche audience that really gets something from it. That’s an incredibly powerful thing for me because you make this stuff that means a lot to you, but I’m always ready for people to tear it apart. That’s what I brace myself for—that people will think it’s shit. So I’m always ready for that. When you hear that people are actually moved by it, you want to give it to them. You make music, but that’s half of it. The other half is it being heard. That people hear and respond to it is the most beautiful gift I’ve ever been given. I’ve never been the kind of person who felt comfortable in the world necessarily. I was always comfortable in my own body and in my own little groups, but I feel like I spent a lot of my youth and adolescence on guard, ready to be sort of rejected by the world. So when people feel and like my music, it’s incredible. It just makes me happy in a really stupid way. [Laughs]

There was a big lull between Passage and The Recognitions where we didn’t hear from you guys. No updates. No singles. Obviously, no shows. Is performing live something that you were itching to do?

I didn’t miss that because it gives me a lot of anxiety. But I do miss it. It’s this weird thing I have with stuff that scares me: I’m so compelled to do them, but I’m also terrified. So I do miss that to some degree. I don’t miss being on tour for months because I need to make a living. [Laughs] When I’m on tour, I can’t act and we never made money from touring. The life of a touring indie band is hard. There was a lot of reality that set in after touring Passage and after divorcing, and then also just getting older in general, too. It’s a reality where you have to make smarter decisions. So I don’t miss touring necessarily, but I do miss just playing special shows. We may try and do a couple of shows, maybe in the fall or when I’m done with my TV show. It’s always an intense experience for me. It’s not a place I’m comfortable in. But I also think that’s part of the performance. It shouldn’t be comfortable.

How do you feel about moving on from EXITMUSIC?

I feel like I moved away from it already. It’s something that I’ll always really love, but if you’re asking if we’ll ever write together again, I don’t see that happening anytime soon. I really don’t know because you never know, but we both have our own projects now and I think that’s important for both of us. EXITMUSIC was a very specific dynamic and that was great for a really long time and now I think it’s time for both people to just do their own thing. That was also part of the divorce. In every way, people need to stand on their own.

I know music has always been a part of your life.

I never stopped writing music. I’ve written and recorded since I was 12. It’s just a part of me. Every real phase or new chapter of my life has to kind of come out in song for me so I have a lot of music that I’ve made in the past few years. I mean, I was recording this morning.

Is it a solo project?

Yeah. It’s how I started and it makes sense that that’s what I’ve come back to. It’s nice when you work alone because then you’re not bossy. I have a very definite style and opinion and it’s just nice to be able to execute it without stepping on anyone else’s toes. I like working alone. I will probably end up releasing the songs. Every time I think I’m not going to do something anymore, few years later, I’m doing it. [Laughs] You can’t stop. It’s such a part of you. It’s such a part of your own identity that you always wind up going back to it. Sometimes I take a break from writing for months, even a year. I’m even like, “I don’t wanna do it anymore,” and then one day you’re like, “I have to sit down and write. I have to.” It’s not even from my brain—my brain doesn’t care. It’s that something in my body that wants to hear my own voice and my own stuff. I want to see myself or experience myself again.

Here’s a hypothetical question: if you chanced on someone who’s never heard music before—they have no concept of it even—what song would you give them that’s most emblematic of EXITMUSIC?

Oh my god, I have no idea! [Laughs] What would you pick?

“The Modern Age.” But that’s so subjective and I’m not the maker, obviously.

I feel like there are so many different emotional pockets to EXITMUSIC. “The Modern Age” is definitely one of them. For me, it might just be “Passage.” There’s something about that song that I’m really happy with. When you’re the one writing it, recording it, mixing it—you always just hear the, “Oh shit, I didn’t turn that guitar loud enough.” You just wish you could go back into that session one more time to fix things. “Then it would be a perfect song…” [Laughs] I hear all the things that I didn’t do that I wish I did. “The Cold” is another very iconic, “This is Exitmusic” song. It’s just very raw and from the gut and not necessarily pretty, but somehow beautiful, you know? There’s a bunch of them.

What about from The Recognitions?

I have a couple. I really love “Crawl.” It’s just always my favourite, but it doesn’t really feel like quite a full song. It’s a little world. “Trumpets Fade” for me is a really beautiful song. But maybe my favourite, for some reason, is “Gold Coast.” Every now and then, there’s a song where the words—everything just comes to you right away and that was “Gold Coast” on this record. It just all came out and I didn’t have to work it, which is such a nice feeling because I usually have to really work on songs. “Gold Coast” is just so filled with loss, but then it’s also the hope of going someplace else and having a new life for yourself. I wrote it when I was moving back to Los Angeles so there’s something in the moment that gets captured. It wasn’t a song that I had to redo vocals on. It’s all in that moment and captured. It’s just really pure.

What is your FAULT?

Feeling too guilty to hurt anybody’s feelings even when it’s completely necessary. Yeah, it sucks sometimes. [Laughs] I always want to protect people from hard truths, but I’m realizing that that can also just stand in the way of their own growth. All of us evolve so profoundly from the things that break us open.

 

Q&A WITH DEVON CHURCH

So is this it? Is this really the end of EXITMUSIC?

Yeah, most likely, unless something changes. We do have a bunch of unreleased material and I hope that stuff will come out at some point. But I personally don’t really feel ready to write a new album from scratch. I have my own record to be coming out later this year so we’ll see where that goes. I mean, anything’s possible, but as it stands right now, I don’t see that in the near future. Although we generally take six years to make a record… [Laughs]

There seems to be a lot of uncertainties right now.

I definitely hope there’s an album of unreleased stuff because I think there are some really good songs that we haven’t released yet. Some of my favourites are from The Recognitions sessions. There’s one from the Passage sessions that I really love that never came out and could be redone to sort of fit into this. So I’d be really interested in something like that. I would be open to working on new stuff, but it’s definitely not something we’ve really discussed. This conversation I’m having with you now is about as far as we’ve gotten with it, you know what I mean? It’s not something that Aleksa and I’ve talked about, beyond thoughts about releasing unreleased material.

Is it comforting to be able to put a definitive end to it with this new album? Does it also feel uneasy?

It was bothering me for years just having these songs sitting there because I think they’re really valuable pieces in our body of work or whatever you want to call it. It definitely makes me happy to be able to share them with people. As far as it making me uneasy—I guess that’s a fair question. My friend and I was joking about this the other night: it’s weird to have a record come out where every single article is about how we broke up. There are painful memories that are associated with every piece of press that comes out. But it’s been long enough now that I feel at peace with everything that happened, more or less. So that’s been interesting and it hasn’t been that bad. It is what it is and I guess people respond to breakup and heartbreak.

I read somewhere that “The Distance” and “Sparks of Light,” for example, were written many years ago and manifested from a different chapter of EXITMUSIC. How did you curate The Recognitions?

“The Distance” is from the same period as “Sparks of Light.” I remember those two songs were really close together. Yeah, it’s just been sitting around and I always liked “The Distance.” Aleksa was hesitant to release it for some reason and we never recorded it properly. We recorded a version of it that was way more guitar-based. There’s really no guitar in the new version of it and we changed some of the piano phrasings around to make it a little more suspended and dreamy. In terms of how we curated, we actually wrote about 16 or 17 songs for this record and then culled them down to the 9 that are on there. “The Distance” becoming a final song really came out of Jeff Owens’s [owner of felte] suggestion. He was like, “That needs to be the last song.” We weren’t sure at first, but then it made sense. I like that the record ends on a quiet and subtle note rather than a big climax. I like the feeling of suspension at the end of that song and the moment of backwards piano with the backwards vocals.

The Recognitions really demands a live experience. Are you going to play shows at any point?

It’s up in the air. It’s something we talked about and, schedule-wise, it didn’t work out to do it around the release of the record. But it’s definitely something that is a potential future for us. I just don’t know to what extent or if that’s going to happen, either. It’s possible. It’s been so long since we wrote those songs—I don’t know how to play them anymore. [Laughs] I guess we’ll figure it out.

How difficult was it to record The Recognitions compared to the previous ones? I know now that you guys didn’t really talk outside of those sessions. That must inevitably affect the process.

I would say it was half-written while we were still a couple and then we finished it after we’d broken up, so that would be six more months, which is kind of ridiculous. It’s an insane thing to do and I don’t recommend it to anybody. That said, in a number of ways, it kind of felt like the recording process was almost more peaceful and professional than it had been before where we’re all up in each other’s shit, all the time. [Laughs] I feel like we fought more when we were making Passage than we did on The Recognitions. Technically, it was recorded the same way in the apartment. We’ve always done everything at home. For this one, we had built a better studio at home and I’d developed better skills for recording, which I think was good since we didn’t have the budget that we had on Passage to hire a mixer and stuff. I think it came out sounding pretty good, given that we didn’t have any outside help.

Can I throw a hypothetical question at you? If you could save only one track from EXITMUSIC’s catalogue that you believe to be the most emblematic of the band, which one would you choose?

That’s tough because I feel like we have three versions of ourselves with three albums. Probably something from Passage. Actually, there’s one song that I really love that no one really listens to, which is “The Silence” from our EP. I listened to it again for the first time in probably a couple years the other day and I really like the mood of that song.

That’s an amazing track. It’s funny you single out “The Silence” because that’s the first thing I’d ever heard from you guys back in 2011 when it landed in my inbox. I didn’t even know who you guys were.

Maybe I’ll say that one just to get people to potentially revisit that song.

How did that song come about?

Oh man, I honestly don’t remember. [Laughs] None of our songs were particularly easy to make. They all took a long time. But I feel like a couple of songs reached an interesting somatic, dreamlike level. “The Sea” is also sort of like that I feel. That happened at the same time and it has this undertow to it.

Going beyond EXITMUSIC, what can we expect from your upcoming solo record?

It’s been an interesting process for me, figuring out how to make music on my own. It took me a couple years of experimenting with different styles. Initially, I just veered left and tried to write songs on acoustic guitar and played some shows that way to test the waters. I made a couple of EPs with that kind of music and just threw up my hands in disgust after the last thing I recorded. Not that it was terrible or anything—it was more that it wasn’t what I wanted. Then over the last spring and summer mostly and into the fall, I sort of surrendered and let whatever wanted to come out, come out, without trying to place a program on top of it. It turned out having more similarities to what I’ve done in the past with EXITMUSIC. There’s a lot more synth and there’s a lot more texture. Learning how to sing and finding what I feel comfortable singing has been interesting, too, and having to write the lyrics on top of writing the music. It’s cool. I’m excited about this record. I think it’s gonna be unexpected. I’m hoping it will make it out into the world in the fall, probably on the same label as EXITMUSIC at felte Records.

Was it daunting going back to vocals and now having to write your own lyrics?

It just took me a really long time to come back to it. When I first met Aleksa, I had been writing my own songs. Then we sort of joined forces. I don’t know if you’re as familiar with The Decline of the West, but I do sing on that record. I kind of withdrew and focused more on the production side of it and the instrumental side of it. At the time, it just seemed to be more coherent for the band to just have one singer. But there was a part of me that always kind of regretted that I hadn’t continued with it—a Blonde Redhead or Sonic Youth approach where there’s both a male and a female vocalist. But I definitely needed to be on my own to find the voice that I have found. I was very shy about singing before so the vocals that I do contribute on that first EXITMUSIC record was pretty understated compared to what I’m doing now, which is definitely more ambitious.

What is your FAULT?

Oh man, there’s too many. One thing that definitely pulls me back is struggling with depression, which is something I always had to struggle with. It’s a huge impediment creatively, as in anything, like relationships. I’ve been trying to learn how to make that an ally almost lately. Most of my creative work comes out of that. Depression is almost like a form of energy that’s kept undifferentiated and feels like this big weight, but if you start moving it around, it can turn into something really powerful if you harness it somehow. I feel like that’s the function of music in my life. But if you don’t do that, I think it can totally fuck you up and almost make you very selfish. I’m not saying that people who are depressed are selfish. It just encloses your world—you thinking that your problems are the most important thing. At least for me, I know objectively that I probably have less to complain about than a lot of people do so I’m trying to remember that.

 

The Recognitions is out now via felte and available to purchase here.

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