Milk Carton Kids

I was extremely privileged to call Joey Ryan of Milk Carton Kids and talk to him in Denver, Colorado. The band consists of both Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale. Both growing up in Eagle Rock, California this acoustic duet each keep true to their nature of playing with only their guitars and voices. Right now these songwriters are headed across North America with: Aoife O’Donovan, The Barefoot Movement and Molly Tuttle, keep reading to see how our conversation went.

JOEYryan
Hey Joey, how are you?
Can’t complain, it’s a nice day in Denver.

How’s the tour going?
It’s wonderful, better than expected. But we never have very high expectations… No, we showed up to an unlikely spring blizzard in the Rocky Mountains and it was nice to wake up this morning to blue skies. The tour has been really good, so far we’ve had larger audiences and we’re getting along with each other too which is nice.

Are either of you reading or listening to anything right now?
Not for inspiration directly, but we do read and listen. I’m sure it all gets in there, I’m on a Melville kick right now—for a long time I was in a battle with Moby Dick.

How was meeting Conan O’Brien?
I was so nervous when we were there, I almost didn’t have any fun. We actually had a show that night at Largo in Los Angeles, during the three hours of downtime we had to go to sound check. So it was kind of a crazy day, we only got to meet Conan for a few minutes after the show. He talked to Kenneth about his guitar a lot and I talked to Andy Richter, who is a really funny guy and I appreciated that.

Can you tell me what inspired the song “Michigan”?
We avoid saying what inspiration yielded this song. I don’t want to limit what it means to people, by saying what it means to us. A lot of it is personal and it cuts deep into some themes of loss and regret that resonates with people, in a really powerful way.

How was playing at Tiny Desk Concerts?
That was one of those things, that was like a landmark for both mine as well as Kenneth’s careers. It was something we had aspired to and was also a lot of fun. Those people are really appreciative of music and have a nice environment for performing, they engage with you and it’s really great.

So why did you and Kenneth start Milk Carton Records?
We thought it would be cool to have our own label and well the whole thing has been self-funded for two years. We were doing all the work that a regular label would, we didn’t have employees, we hired a few people to promote our stuff for radio and oversaw the operation ourselves. I do think there’s something there and we’ve talked before about releasing other artists records in similar fashion to our own. At some point we might make Milk Carton Records into a label that exists beyond our own personal releases.

What are some of your guys biggest influences?
That’s a common question and I never have a good answer. There is a lot of music that has been important to us personally. None of it seems to rise to the surface on a conscious level, there isn’t a lot of thought put into how we should sound or what we should sound like. It all comes from how we set off together, with two guitars and two voices and to also write from as true and honest a place as possible.

Tell me your thoughts on genre designation and labels?
I think it’s a common experience when you’re deep into something, to feel a concise label in someway misses something about what you’re trying to do. At the same time, it’s a valuable short-hand to discuss something when you’re not trying to discuss it in depth. The labels do have their place, we would consider ourselves some type of folk or americana and we don’t shy away from those labels at all.

What’s your opinion of the “pay what you want” model on websites like BandCamp?
Well we did our own self-contained thing without the option to pay what you want.

What’s the main reason you released your albums for free?
The main reason we did that was to find an audience as quickly as possible. Philosophically, we wanted to have our music be non-transactional. Instead of having the choice to pay, giving it away for free allowed people to receive the music on a more pure basis. It was very important, because we made the music and expected the listeners to give their time and attention and engage with it on whatever level they wanted to. Removing any element of marketing or commercialization from us and the people receiving it, I think it’s a powerful statement.

What’s your favourite on the road food?
Oh there’s so many, we can stand the spectrum. I can get a Cracker Barrel craving and every now and then I’ll crave a chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and collard greens from there. That and we love tracking down a really nice cocktail bar and some gourmet tacos for after a show. We learned a lot of good places from the Punch Brothers. We don’t go lower than Cracker Barrel though, no fast food or anything like that.

If you’re going to be in Vancouver over the 17th of May, buy tickets to see this band play at the Media Club. An intimate venue and the show will be phenomenal. If you haven’t heard of this band yet, visit their website here to download their first two albums free! Definitely worth checking out, these guys are what true, honest music is all about.


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