As a moody, introspective only child, Aleksa Palladino never had a boyfriend, enjoyed playing with her cat more than with other kids, and worried about mortality so much she wound up in therapy.
But her New York household teemed with creativity. With painters for grandparents and a mother who sang opera professionally, she says, “It wasn’t really a question of whether or not I’d be an artist — it was more just finding out which avenue I would follow.”
But Palladino, 31, couldn’t settle on one, so she chose two. One outlet — Exitmusic, the 4AD-ish art-rock duo she formed with her husband, Devon Church — brings her to The City Friday to premiere processionals from their ethereal upcoming debut, “Passage.”
The other pursuit, acting, landed her film roles in “Acts of Mercy” and “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” and eventually a screen test in front of Martin Scorsese for a part in “Boardwalk Empire” on HBO.
“The first time I met Scorsese, I was so nervous, for so many reasons,” says the raven-haired beauty, who instantly was cast as Michael Pitt’s painter wife, Angela Darmody. “But within the first 30 seconds of talking to him, it’s like you’re old friends, and you can tell right away how much he loves actors. And any idea you have, he thinks it’s good and wants to try it, and that’s really rare. So ‘Boardwalk Empire’ was a dream job — amazing cast, amazing writers, just amazing in general.”
As Palladino — with Scorsese’s help — researched her conflicted 1920s character, the Prohibition-era history stunned her. How female painters finally refused to work under male pseudonyms. How small changes in fashion — such as a 2-inch rise in hemlines, the discarding of corsets and the introduction of lipstick — made America an alien world for returning World War I soldiers, while simultaneously launching a sexual revolution. “So Angela had the spark of something new, and she was repressed because she was really a modern woman,” she says.
After her great two-season “Boardwalk” run, Palladino has been flooded with scripts. But she’s concentrating on Exitmusic instead. She met Church in her late teens on a cross-Canada train trip. They married in 2003 and made beautiful music together — quite literally, in the home they share with their three cats.
On eerie cuts such as “Stars,” “Storms” and “The Night,” Palladino trills in a style that’s almost Wagnerian, just like her mom.
“Growing up hearing it, opera’s definitely influenced me, and my storytelling through music,” she says. “Now I like songs to have acts — beginnings, middles and ends, and usually an outro, too.”
Opening for School of Seven Bells
Where: Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. Friday Tickets: $15
Contact: (415) 861-2011, www.ticketfly.com