Interview: Joey Ryan – The Milk Carton Kids

Folk music duo The Milk Carton Kids are set to headline at the Adelaide Guitar Festival

Hailing from Eagle Rock, California, The Milk Carton Kids are known for their harmony singing and intricate finger-picking guitar playing, resulting in a sensational folk music delight. Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale joined forces in 2011 and have since released six albums and received two Grammy Award nominations.

The Milk Carton Kids are currently touring Australia, which will include, for the first time ever, an Adelaide performance as part of the Adelaide Guitar Festival.

Joey Ryan shared with Glam Adelaide how performing and music wasn’t always on the cards for him as a career.

“I was planning to go into academia and become a scientist. My undergraduate education was in neuroscience, and I was getting ready to apply to graduate school for that. I also had a band in college that I had for fun, and as we were all graduating, the band members, my friends, had a bit of an intervention with me. They told me that the songs that I’d started to write are pretty good and they thought it would be a shame if I didn’t try and have a go at it professionally. And so I did, and that is how it all really started for me. I never thought that I would have a career in music. Kenneth’s story is a little different. He never really had a second thought about ever doing anything else with his life other than music.”

Prior to forming in 2011, both Joey and Kenneth had successful solo performance careers.

“We were both solo singer-songwriters in Los Angeles in the early 2000s, playing at a club called the Hotel Cafe, where there was a great scene. One day I went to see Kenneth’s show. He was playing a song that he had written from the perspective of a dog that was dying in the street after having been hit by a truck. The dog writes his last memoirs out on a scrap of paper — a love letter to his own life and human companions. It was just this beautiful and really inventive sad song. I introduced myself after the show and that’s how we met.”

Joey explained where the name The Milk Carton Kids came from.

“There was a phenomenon in the US in the late 80s and early 90s when we were kids, where they used to put pictures of missing children on the backs of milk cartons. Every time when you’d be sitting at the breakfast table having your morning cereal, you were looking at pictures of missing children. It’s just sort of a generation-defining, very morbid, ominous thing that we all remember. So we used that as a metaphor in one of our early songs, which is called Milk Carton Kid and we named ourselves after that.”

The Milk Carton Kids have received praise around the world for their devotion to the American folk traditions and contemporary songwriting craft.

“We’ve been flattered to have been spoken about in the company of some of the legendary harmony duos that came before, like The Everly Brothers and Simon and Garfunkel. We also idolised the Smothers Brothers because they had a comedic element to them. We have always loved singing harmonies and we enjoy becoming kind of a third voice altogether, disappearing into this blend of our two voices together. And then as far as the songs go, I think we are just like any songwriter in the singer-songwriter tradition. Our music is our way of processing the world around us, our lives and relationships and things that we observe or that happen.”

Currently mid-way through an Australian tour, Joey shared how wonderful it has been to receive a warm reception around the country.

“The audiences so far have been fantastic – better than expected. It’s our third time in Australia but will be our first time to Adelaide. There’s always been a bit of a feeling that the shows are special, maybe just by being so far away from home. But that has continued on this trip and the audiences have been bigger than ever and we’ve just had a really good time so far.”

On Thursday, July 13, The Milk Carton Kids will be performing a special one-off performance at Her Majesty’s Theatre.

“I’m excited that we’re playing in the Adelaide Guitar Festival — we’ve been to folk festivals and guitar festivals all over the world. I think what festivals do is they bring together communities that are bound by a common interest, whether it’s folk music or whatever kind of music that festival is built around. We always play in folk festivals, guitar festivals, banjo festivals. It kind of draws this from the same community. I like to think of us as a little bit outside the mainstream in terms of people that like this kind of music. And everywhere we go around the world, if you’re at a festival like this, you end up finding your kind of people, your tribe.”

The Milk Carton Kids will be performing at Her Majesty’s Theatre, 7.30pm on Thursday July 13 as part of the Adelaide Guitar Festival. Tickets and further information can be found at .

Interviewed by Ben Stefanoff

Photo credit: supplied

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