Out of nowhere. Stark, shivering, silvery sounds coming out of the speakers. Obsessive simple chord sequences which build layers upon layers of guitar and synth sounds, a rich and emotional female voice that’s soothing as well as menacing in its power. “From Silence” e.p. is one of those records which leave the listener wanting for more and yet amazed that it can surface already so fully formed. With the firm conviction that this is the beginning of something beautiful, we couldn’t help but look into it and were taken to New York, where Aleksa Palladino and Devon Church – who make up Exitmusic – live and work together. And they welcomed us to their intriguing and vulnerable world.
First of all, tell us a little about the story of Exitmusic.
We both wrote music apart, and when we started living together we gradually started recording together. After awhile it started to feel like a real project and we named it and began working on an album. Since then we’ve always recorded at home, just the two of us. One of the things that was a challenge, especially at first, was to figure out how to get the big sound that we wanted out of minimal equipment. We’ve always been a relatively lo-fi band, in terms of what we had to work with, but we didn’t necessarily want to sound lo-fi.
What brought you to writing music?
We both started playing really young. Music was the biggest influence on our lives, so for us it was natural to want to be a part of that.
Pros and cons about having a band line-up of two.
Recently we’ve added two members, Nick and Dru, on computers/synths and drums, to our live band, which has been great. Putting on a live performance, especially one with as much going sonically as we have, is a lot of pressure for just two people, and the other guys have been great. As far as writing and recording goes, we’ve never really felt like we needed more people, but we’re open to trying new things in the future. One good point about working and living so closely together is that we’ve developed a sort of musical telepathy – even a sort of general telepathy – where we can be really confident in each others choices. The bad is that each person takes on a lot of responsibility musically and technically, and it can be a strain. The best part about adding the two new members – and we have yet to really write or record with them, so we’ll see – is that we get that band/tribe feeling that you don’t really get as a couple working together. It’s fun.
“From Silence” may seem to many your debut release, but it’s actually the follow-up to an album, “The Decline Of The West”, which was (self)released over 3 years ago. What happened? How has all the time between the two releases affected your writing and ultimately your vision of the band?
We did have a period in between the Decline and From Silence where we were writing songs that were really different from either record. They were more straightforward, guitar-based songs, and it would have been cool to release them at the time, but we didn’t want to go through the headache and heartache of self-releasing again. And we were searching for a more unique sound, which took awhile for us to find. A sound that could draw from the lush landscape quality that the decline has but with a more direct and urgent pulse running through it.
You covered Space Oddity on last year’s tribute to David Bowie. Is he an influence? If so, who else would you list?
He is, in so much as he has influenced so much of our culture. We actually began to appreciate Bowie a lot more after doing the cover. We’d never done anything like that before, and we learned a lot. As far as other influences, there are so many. Reviewers so far have tended to fixate on the obvious, more contemporary aesthetic influences, like Sigur Ros or Beach House or whoever, but we actually listen more to classic records by people like Dylan, Leonard Cohen, the Stones, the Kinks, Leadbelly, the Beatles, and on and on. Nirvana was a huge influence on both of us as teenagers starting to play music. You need to have that bedrock of good songwriting to build on.
The two adjectives that we would use to describe your music are “spacious” and “insular”, the first one referring more to the sound (or the effect it creates) and the second to the feeling it conveys. Would you agree? How does the writing develop in general, and how do you create the multi layering of sound, especially in a track like The Sea?
We’re trying to make an exterior sonic world that feels like an interior world. So, spacious and insular are good words to describe that. We record as we write, so we never know where the song is going to go. We might build up the verse, or even just an intro, into a really full world, and then see from there what the chorus is going to be like, where the song wants to go. We both keep adding sounds until we feel like all the pieces are in place. The Sea was actually the hardest one to finish, because so much of the movement of the song depends on adding and subtracting layers of percussion and guitars and vocals, while the underlying synth chords remain the same throughout the whole song, which is sort of like the tides of the ocean, while the layers on top are like waves and uprisings from what’s unknown down below. The song is basically about uprising, rebellion. Both on a world level, and rebelling against our own silence.
Aleksa is also an actress, having been cast in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. Is acting an extra quality for a band frontperson? Or is the nature itself of reproducing music (in a live dimension, or in any circumstance which follows the first recording of the song) of an acting/performance kind?
I think they are more related then unrelated. Though I am not entirely sure if that’s a rule. They are both arts that require a commitment to the moment and to one’s own experience.
Why and when is better to listen to Exitmusic.
We just hope people actually listen. It’s not ambient music, or wallpaper music, at least we hope not. And good headphones or speakers help. You’re missing out on a lot if you are just hearing it on your laptop speakers.
“From Silence” is out now on Secretly Canadian.
mp3: Exitmusic – The Sea