Every once in a while, the music scene can fall victim to a saturation of overhyped and underwhelming ‘musicians’. The type that latch onto the ebb and flow of taste and musicality, and ride the coattails of ‘the newest’, as long as it lasts. These times are often followed with a longing for the past, a resurgence of the elemental and a returned fondness for the hint of familiarity.
It is during these periods, that artists with a proclivity for the sentimental tend to reclaim the spotlight.
Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan are two such artists that have re-imagined the perfect harmony and recreated the familiar whispers of a by-gone era in the most comforting of ways.
The pair came about through the humble agreement that they were both suffering from floundering solo careers.
“Career is not really the word to describe what we were doing as solo artists actually.” stated Ryan.
“On the advice of a friend I went to see him play. I walked in and Kenneth was playing a song that he’d written from the perspective of a dead dog. Or more accurately, a dog that had just been hit by a bus and lay dying in the street and scribbling his last words on a scrap of paper – his memoirs.I thought it was a really special song and I told him so after the show. Some weeks later he invited me over to his house to play music together and that’s when we figured out that we could play each other’s songs as a duo and it sounded better than we were playing them alone.”
As such, the Milk Carton Kids were born, out of mutual appreciation of the feeling a perfect harmony can provoke.
Their music speaks to the values of the past. A time where musicality was met with a quiet abandonment of bells and whistles, when lyrics and vocals were as much of an instrument as any other.
Milk Carton Kids’ melodies are a nod to the wistful wanderings of Simon and Garfunkel and the heartbreakingly personal admissions of Emmy Lou Harris.
“I definitely grew up on the folk and rock and roll of the 60’s and 70’s but Kenneth forays into big band jazz where he would go through phases of listening, only, to Duke Ellington and Count Bassie”.
Their predecessors however, are not their only inspirations; “I feel like we are more of a product of our limitations I suppose. By just having committed to two guitars and two voices, it seems like that predetermines a lot of our sound.”
In their case, the limitations imposed upon themselves have created an environment in which ultimate release can be achieved. As if by moving within those self-inflicted boundaries, the pair have realised something new, born out of the old.
This regeneration is a process they carried over to the production of their latest album Monterey.
Instead of recording in studios, the pair sought to capture the natural performance by recording whilst on tour, in the beautiful churches, halls and theatres.
“We wanted to remove the preciousness from it and in that way we got ourselves to perform naturally. Beyond that, we, for the first time were playing in some really beautiful churches and theatres and wanted to capture the sound of our surroundings ”
And capture they did.
Monterey encapsulates the wistful abandon of self discovery in transience; a meditation on the competing desires for permanence and stability amidst restlessness.
Where place and belonging act as thematic tangents and the quiet assurance encapsulated within that longing, is a candid reflection of personal narrative.
“It did feel good to once again, explore the depths of the human psyche and our own experiences. Which is something I felt I at least had gotten away from for some time.”
“You know. If someone gives themselves over to the music in that way and allows themselves to be taken by it, I think that’s pretty much all you can ever ask for as an artist.”
Monterey is out now and will be followed by an Australian tour starting at Sydney’s City Recital Hall on June 28, Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre on June 30, Brisbane at the Old Museum on July 3, ahead of their ultimate performance at the Bello Winter Festival in Bellingen on July 4.