By Marissa Framarini—Contributing Writer
Published: September 28, 2011
Most popular music hits rely on auto-tune and danceable beats, but Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale of The Milk Carton Kids — a minimalist duo — are gaining national recognition for their old-time folk gems.
In March, the duo released its first album, “Retrospect,” followed in July by “Prologue.” Since then, the band has garnered more than 20,000 downloads for each record. It is now headlining a tour across 40 cities, including a stop in Ithaca tomorrow.
Contributing Writer Marissa Framarini spoke to Ryan and Pattengale about their current tour and musical style.
Marissa Framarini: How would you describe your music?
Joey Ryan: We refrain from trying to describe our music. It’s an often-lamented fact of musicians that it’s hard to describe your own thing.
Kenneth Pattengale: Our dear friend Joe Henry said something really nice about us. He likened our album to a “terse but tender film by Elia Kazan.”
MF: What is your writing process like? Do you ever feel like you don’t want to bring personal information to your songs?
JR: We save the songs as the one place where personal information can go, whether it’s masked in another form or not. But I guess music is the one place where I don’t feel bad at all being extremely personal. And where I do feel uncomfortable — do feel a little less appropriate to be personal — is in any other sort of format.
KP: While it’s very important to find a personal aspect to whatever you write, that’s not to be confused with imaginative storytelling. Both Joey and I have various degrees to which we add our own experience or personal emotion to a song. For me, the minute that I am inspired to write something, I allow myself to lean on the rope as far as creating a story that may not be entirely truthful. It’s important, not necessarily to just have a personal experience, but to explore ways to make a personal connection and identification to fiction.
MF: You two are known for your acoustic sound and folk tunes. Do you listen to any music people might find surprising?
JR: I have a history of music-listening peppered with surprises. I guess not so much anymore, but I used to listen to things that would definitely surprise people who think of us as being squarely in the folk world. In high school, I used to be able to recite all the lyrics to “Forget About Dre” from Dr. Dre’s album “The Chronic 2001” featuring Eminem.
KP: Last week I listened to five Destiny’s Child tracks in a row, and I didn’t turn it off.
MF: Why are you giving away both of your albums online for free?
JR: There’s a screen answer and a bunch of other self-deprecating answers, but the real answer, I suppose, is that we always envisioned ourselves as a live band. We thought from the beginning that our success and failure was going to be based on our ability to put on a compelling live show and stay on the road pretty much non-stop. What is driving everything is our free downloads. People are sharing our music and linking to the free downloads consistently, so we’re becoming really widespread in an enthusiastic way.
MF: Do you have any crazy tour stories yet?
KP: Well, I just finished an ultimately unsuccessful sting operation to obtain the things that were stolen from our car in Minneapolis. The most identifiable thing that they stole was my laptop, and it appeared on Craigslist the very next day, so the Minneapolis Police were kind enough to indulge in a sort of six-day operation in order to try and get my laptop back. Turns out the serial number didn’t match mine, so the whole thing was kind of a loss.
MF: You released your first album in March and you already have national recognition. Do you ever wish for things to slow down?
KP: Well, that thought hasn’t crossed my mind yet. I guess in practice, it would lead to a more healthy social life for Joey and I, but definitely the busier we are, the better. We are in the music business not to try and become famous, but to reach as many people as possible. The faster it’s happening, the better for us, and the quicker we’ll achieve our goals.
If You Go
Milk Carton Kids
When: 8 p.m. tomorrow
Where: Delilah’s on Cayuga
How much: $10 at the door