The Milk Carton Kids Embrace Folk Revival’s Serious Side

The Milk Carton Kids Embrace Folk Revival’s Serious Side
Anti- Records
When the neo folk duo the Milk Carton Kids — singer-guitarists Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan — opened for the Avett Brothers earlier this year, Ryan, who brings the band to Ohio Theatre tomorrow at 8 p.m., noticed the differences in their approaches.

“One of the things I realized was that [the Avett Brothers] show is incredibly high energy,” he says via phone from Los Angeles. “It’s not just us with more instruments. It’s a fundamentally different thing that they’re doing at this point, which is they’re putting on a very rock-ish, energetic and exciting performance for stadiums and amphitheaters. The enthusiasm of the fans is so palpable and so clear and everybody is literally jumping up and down the entire time. Nobody sat in their seat the entire night. It was like a revival show, like a Pentecostal revival.”

Ryan maintains the Milk Carton Kids, which formed in Eagle Rock, Calif., in 2011, have “not tapped into that.”

“Our thing is much more subdued,” he says with a bit of sarcasm. “We discourage dancing. We discourage clapping. We discourage singing along. We discourage having any sort of fun at our show whatsoever. Our thing works much better in a theater. For better or worse, we haven’t availed ourselves of the reach of the genre.”

The band’s latest album, Monterey, commences with the plaintive “Asheville Skies,” a song that features soft vocals and acoustic guitars. The rest of the disc follows suit as the duo presents pristine vocal harmonies with the same sort of delicacy as Simon and Garfunkel did back in the ‘60s.

"I think the directive that we gave ourselves was a little bit of a reaction to the directive we gave ourselves on the previous album, The Ash & Clay," says Ryan. "On The Ash & Clay we thought it was important to really get away from our natural instincts to write super introspectively and instead to focus outwardly on more socially conscious or even political songs . . . just sort of singing about the world around us rather than the world inside of us. And I think on Monterey, having just done that on The Ash & Clay, we gave ourselves permission to get inside our own heads a little. Not that there aren’t political songs on Monterey, but I think we were starting to meditate on and investigate relationships in our lives. It is just more introspective."

Given the introspective nature of the tunes, fans shouldn’t head to tomorrow’s show expecting to anything too raucous.

“I feel like our shows a lot of time have the feeling of a recital with some sort of a comedy show, which is just an entirely different experience for an audience,” Ryan says. “You don’t have to wear comfortable shoes if you come to our show because you’re not going to be jumping around.”
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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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