Joey Ryan of The Milk Carton Kids Interview

After being caught in an awkward introduction I met Joey Ryan last Friday evening at The Media Club in Vancouver, which is on the corner of Cambie and Georgia. After coaxing the bartender to letting me stay before the doors opened, I was invited backstage to chat and drink a beer. Ryan is a really nice guy, who seems to know a lot about the music scene — or at least the scene of americana and folk. I wasn’t able to get a conversation with Kenneth, but I met him as well and briefly passed the other members of The Barefoot Movement, who were also playing that same evening. Ryan and I talked briefly about Kacy and Clayton a band he’s really been digging lately, we then got into a conversation on Orwell and Melville and of course his band The Milk Carton Kids.

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So, tell me about the tour so far
Ryan: It has exceeded all our expectations and it’s very encouraging. Musically it goes up and down still, we struggle some nights and some nights are incredibly inspiring and inspired. All we can ask for is a nice room full of quiet fans and the rest is on us.

What’s one place you’ve wanted to play that you haven’t yet?
To answer truthfully there’s two venues in the US that I’ve wanted to play at. The Ryman in Nashville and the Greek Theatre in Berkeley California.

Tell me how you started playing guitar?
My dad taught me how to play The House of the Rising Sun, and after that I kind of picked up guitar when I was around fifteen. Not taking it too seriously as I still do.

What’s next for you guys as a band?
Well, I’d like to release another album and see where it goes from there. I mean, I want to stay with what we’ve done so far and keep things as simple as possible.

Favourite authors?
Right now I’m doing all the Melville short stories. Over the years I’ve had infatuations with Vonnegut and Huxley, José Saramago’s “Blindness” was great too.

Have either of you had vocal training or music lessons?
Neither of us has had vocal training, but musically Kenneth is trained as a cello player, and I’m not trained in either respect. But that really shapes the way Kenneth plays and hears music which brings a good quality to our process.

What is it about music that you find appealing?
In the very beginning, when I was deciding to play music right after college, which was a really conscious decision. I thought to myself, if I could create for somebody else just one time, the transcendent revelatory experience that I’ve had with music, then it would be worth while. Realizing that one truth or something about yourself, some emotion that’s felt, is what draws me to music.

Most beautiful city you’ve played in?
I love Amsterdam. We just went to Europe for the first time and that city feels like no place else. Cobblestone streets and canals, the downtown area is shaped like a semi-circle, it’s charming and enchanting.

One instrument you’ve always wanted to own or play or both?
Just yesterday, I got to pick up Noah Wall’s fiddle from The Barefoot Movement and got her to teach me a scale and a melody, it sounded terrible, but felt so good. I guess being able to play all the string instruments would be nice.

What’s the songwriting process look like for you?
Usually for me, if I’m by myself the lyrical idea inspires the creative outburst that becomes the song. I’m not somebody that wakes up hearing a melody or is struck by a progression that imposes itself. I’m usually struck by an idea that I need to express or a problem that I need to solve, it always comes out in words. For Kenneth it’s the complete opposite, sometimes he listens to a song thirty times before he hears the lyrics. That’s just one of the many ways we fill each others negative space.

Studio or home recordings and why?
We’ve never done home recording, neither of us is a professional recording engineer ha ha. We’ve had the good fortune to work with some great people.


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