:: Boulder Theater :: December 9 ::
By Brian F. Johnson
It all started over a dead dog.
Los Angeles folk singer Joey Ryan attended a solo show of songwriter Kenneth Pattengale, and found himself ‘taken’ by Pattengale’s song “Memoirs of an Owned Dog.”
“The song is written from the perspective of a dog as he lay dying in the street after getting hit by a truck. It’s morbid and disgusting when I say it that way, but it’s a really lovely song and I thought the perspective of it was unique, especially from what was going on in L.A. and everywhere else I’d seen a guy take a stage with a guitar,” said Ryan in a recent interview with The Marquee.
So Ryan approached Pattengale after the show, and the two singer/songwriters, both of whom had been playing around the Los Angeles scene for years, made plans to get together and play some songs. When the pair met, Pattengale had the forethought to record the impromptu porch session, a move that later was revealed as a crucial decision, for without that tape, The Milk Carton Kids may have never been born.
“I thought it was worthless the first time we played together,” Ryan said. “I didn’t hear it. Kenneth and I are very different in every possible way, including musically, and one of the ways we’re the most strikingly different is in our concept of tempo and how to keep time. I couldn’t hear it as it was happening. I thought it sounded sloppy. I just thought we were pushing and pulling against each other in a way that was really against the grain. It took my hearing the recording played back to understand how all of those differences between us were working.”
And working they were, and still continue to be.
In spring, 2011, the duo recorded a live album Retrospect and released it as Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan. The collection of songs were pieces written by each artist as solo musicians, but performed live together. After getting everyone caught up on where they came from, in the summer of 2011 the pair released Prologue for their official debut as The Milk Carton Kids.
The classic folk revival sound of twin guitars and close harmonies was immediately lauded as “feel-better” music, and highlighted a sophistication both musically and lyrically that is rarely seen in folk circles. NPR featured the group on their series “Tiny Desk Concerts.” Critics fell over themselves calling The Milk Carton Kids the second coming of Simon and Garfunkel and trying in vain to describe why it is that The Milk Carton Kids resonate so loudly above other folk duos.
“When we did Prologue the band was a month old. It’s been 175 shows since then and we’ve spent 90 percent of our waking hours since then together,” Ryan said. “Last summer , the band was about three weeks old, so we hadn’t booked any festivals or anything. This was the first summer we were ‘eligible’ to play festivals. We were really pleasantly shocked at the response and how willing people seem to be to receive something this small in a setting as big as a festival and go there with us.”
All of that time together has also, not surprisingly, resulted in new material. The band just signed to the prestigious label Anti- and have completed recording their new album, due out March 2013. “This is all — with the exception of one of Kenneth’s older songs, at my insistence — brand new material written in green rooms and hotel rooms and during breaks, and obviously it was a process that was more intimately collaborative than anything else we’ve done. It’s still two guitars and two voices. We limited ourselves sonically to the same tools, but emotionally it’s much more encompassing of a broader range of possibilities. I think we push each other to write in ways that are more honest and possibly more sophisticated and have a little bit more of a better perspective on things and are less hyper-indulgent and hyper-introspective than the singer/songwriter genre can tend to veer pretty drastically,” said Ryan.
In addition to the new album, The Milk Carton Kids will also have three songs in the new Gus Van Sant film Promised Land, which will be released in early January. “Gus flattered us in a big way in that the three songs really play a character in the film and are sonically a big part of what sets the film,” Ryan said. “We’re still operating in the welcoming safety of actual obscurity. When someone like Gus starts to pay attention it’s easy on the business side of things to start seeing potential and opportunity and just trying to be grateful for every bit ot it.”
:: The Milk Carton Kids ::
:: Boulder Theater :: December 9 ::
Recommended if you Like:
• Simon and Garfunkel
• The Everly Brothers
• The Smothers Brothers