Some albums contain moments of stark emotional candor; others channel haunting moments of stunning beauty. The Recognitions, the latest album from Exitmusic, manages the difficult task of doing both. It is at once a neatly crafted work of cinematic pop with an almost tactile sense of atmosphere and a document of the divorce of Exitmusic’s founders, Aleksa Palladino and Devon Church. The album draws inspiration from a host of disparate elements, from the William Gaddis novel that gives this album its title to a number of locations around the world. Palladino and Church answered some questions about the making of the album, their work in other artistic disciplines, and its difficult road from the studio into the world.
You’ve spoken in interviews about some of the books that have influenced you over the years. Has that had any bearing on your lyrics?
Aleksa Palladino: Yes, I’m sure of it. But can’t think of any examples at the moment. But I love words and what words do when they are aligned together. There’s a part of my brain that is a collector, and in some subtle way is always taking note.
Given your work in (and familiarity with) other artistic disciplines, has creating music changed the way you’ve approached them?
Devon Church: I like to draw and write and I’m always surprised at how little there seems to be in common between my styles in each ‘discipline’ (putting air quotes in cuz I don’t feel like I have much discipline at all, though I can sometimes summon determination, at least with music). Drawing for me is like a pure right brain flow state, is often fun and funny-looking, and I almost always finish a drawing in one sitting. Writing is more torturous and analytical and I never finish anything, unless I’m recording my dreams. And music sort of rides the middle.
Palladino: They all feed each other. I find them more similar than different. The medium differs and that’s the thing you have to learn to use or get comfortable with, but the impetus to make something is the same. Its all story telling, or emotional impression telling. But, I have noticed that as you grow in one area of creative execution, the others follow. An opening is an opening… you can drag anything you want through it to the new space.
Is the album’s title a nod to the William Gaddis novel of the same name?
Church: In a way yes. I mean it’s a direct reference to the book that made sense at the time, but I don’t remember exactly how anymore. I was reading The Recognitions off and on during pretty much the entire time we were recording (it’s an enormous book which, truthfully, I never finished) and we sort of absorbed the title by osmosis. I remember it was about a genius forger, at least in part. I think I liked the idea of a forgery being indistinguishable from the original thing. And maybe there’s some correlation between that eerie sense of simulacrum and a marriage in dissolution. What seemed real was false, or the false world invades the real, or is it the other way around, and how do you tell the difference? But this was like 5 years ago and I can’t remember the book well enough to talk about it except as a vague impression from the past.
Palladino: Not for me. I never read it. But I remember when I first heard of the book through Devon, I thought that it was the perfect name for our record. Honestly I felt it was the perfect name for that era of my life.
There are a number of geographic references on the album, including the titles “Gold Coast” and “Iowa.” Would you say that this album has more of a sense of place than your past work?
Palladino: Yeah, thats a really great observation actually, I’ve never thought of it that way. But it makes sense to me. A lot of our past work had been drawn from imagination, projected realities, and past traumas. The Recognitions was all real life, real time. It was actually “of the world.” So it makes sense that it has a more grounded sense of place.
What’s been the most surprising aspect of The Recognitions for you?
Church: That it survived to exist in the world and be released and that people are enjoying it and relating to it after the weird and difficult life it’s had.
Palladino: I don’t know if I’m surprised, but I’m very touched that after six years of silence on our part, that this record is being heard.
Photo: Philistine DSGN