Neo-folk duo The Milk Carton Kids at Miami-Middletown
By C.C. Hutten
Photo: The Milk Carton Kids, [l to r] Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale, will perorm at the Miami-Middletown campus on Saturday, Nov. 2; photo: Brendan Pattengale
Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan, the men behind the Los Angeles-based contemporary folk band The Milk Carton Kids, collaborate their vocal and instrumental talents to create music that hits home in a way that is unlike modern folk music, or like that of the past.
“On one hand, there’s a long tradition that’s easy to put us right in with folk music and folk duos specifically,” said Ryan. “But at the same time, in the context of a contemporary trend, for what you call folk music, what we are doing is a lot quieter.”
Before collaborating, Pattengale and Ryan both tried their hands at breaking into the music business as solo artists, but were unsuccessful in their endeavors until they discovered the magic that comes with the harmony of two voices – specifically theirs – tapping into a unique way to connect with their audiences.
Ryan said they find that their quietness draws listeners in, taking the act of hearing music to a new level of experiencing music.
“It requires effort and attention in the act of exchange that’s going on.” Ryan said. “We enjoy the connection. It’s a really wonderful thing.”
When the two met and started playing together in early 2011, it sounded like something different that neither had ever heard before. “It shone a new light,” Ryan said. “It demanded our attention.” The rest is history – along with an immense amount of touring, hard work and raw talent.
Soon after the two men met at a musical crossroads, they recorded live their first album, Retrospect, under their respective names. In July of 2011, they released a studio album under the name The Milk Carton Kids, titled Prologue. Both are available to download for free at their website (themilkcartonkids.com) and have had over 185,000 downloads, adding to the rise of their fan base.
Pattengale and Ryan’s new album, The Ash and Clay, was released in March 2013 under the independent ANTI- label, who are known for giving artists complete creative freedom. The album illustrates an America enduring tough times, walking a fine line between despair and hope.
“There’s a lot more harmony the whole way through [the record],” Ryan said. “The writing process was more collaborative.” He said that these changes were the next logical steps for the band in terms of time together and growing closer and more intimate over the process.
“There are songs that I think sum up the record and there are songs that I think are highlights as emotional cruxes to the album,” Ryan said. “I love the album’s closer ‘Memphis.’ I think that it’s one that resonates with people in a very particular way.” He said specifically the city of Memphis is used as a stand-in for the various parts of American culture – the things that have been lost as well as the hope to create new traditions and memories.
“Then there’s a song like ‘The Ash and Clay,’” he continued, “Which I think encapsulates all of the scenes that are investigated throughout the record in one song.”
Recently, the band has been receiving national attention for their musical accomplishments. In September 2013, The Milk Carton Kids received a nomination for Emerging Artist of the Year at the Americana Music Association Awards Festival, held at the famed Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn. After they gave a short performance, they received a spontaneous standing ovation that both Ryan and Pattengale will always remember.
“It was a really special moment together,” Ryan said. “All of our heroes were in the crowd … as we took a bow, we both vowed never to forget.”
In early October 2013, iconic filmmakers the Coen Brothers hosted a concert show in celebration of the music in their upcoming film, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” which showcases folk music in the ’60s. The concert was held at New York City’s Town Hall as The Milk Carton Kids joined artists like Patti Smith, Jack White and Marcus Mumford, as well as actors that sang that are featured in the film.
“I think the concept was to draw a true line from the first folk revival in the ’60s all the way through to what’s going on today in the same tradition,” Ryan said. “It was a surreal thing for us to be apart of.”
In addition to these achievements, “The Ash and Clay,” “Snake Eyes” and “The Jewel of June” from the most recent album were featured on the soundtrack to the 2012 American drama, “Promised Land,” directed by Gus Van Zandt and starring Matt Damon, and the duo has made an appearance on Conan O’Brien’s late show in early 2013.
“Inclusion on shows permeates through press and ensures that we can go out and do the job that we love,” Ryan said.
The attentiveness and dedication that Pattengale and Ryan put into piecing together an album and being on tour constantly is now being reflected in their growing fan base. From touring with bands like Old Crow Medicine Show, The Lumineers, Leslie Stevens and the Punch Brothers, those who hold folk music near and dear to their hearts welcome graciously the quiet and delicate, yet charismatic and powerful sound and messages of The Milk Carton Kids.
The Milk Carton Kids will perform on Saturday, Nov. 2 at the Dave Finkleman Auditorium at the Miami-Middletown campus, 4200 E. University Blvd. in Middletown. For more information about tickets, please visit miamioh.edu/boxoffice or call 513.529.3200. For more information on The Milk Carton Kids, please visit themilkcartonkids.com.