by Adam Wolnski

If someone says they’re listening to the Milk Carton Kids and you’d never heard of them, you may think they’re listening to some goofy 90’s frosted-tipped boy band. On the same note, the name is a reference to kidnapped or otherwise missing children, which is a tragic and heavy. But the apparent paradox of goofy and tragic is actually a perfect name for the folk duo of Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan.

“People often say its like half comedy show, half folk music show,” Ryan said. “We never set out to be funny, we never set out to express ourselves that way. But it so happens that when you write serious and introspective and often sad, slow songs, that there’s no better way to keep an audience engaged over the course of an hour and a half than to lighten it up.”

Monterey is the third full-length album from The Milk Carton Kids, following their Grammy nominated album The Ash and Clay, and Ryan talked about navigating the music industry and where he sees it going in the future. He said that around 2003 was the last of big money record deals, and since he missed that train, he’s had to just figure it out.

“If you know what you truly are and what truly makes you tick… I think you’re going to have a better shot at weathering the storm once the shit hits the fan,” Ryan said. “Which I guess, in the music business, the shit kinda hit the fan in slow motion like eight years ago and we’ve all just been continually covered in shit for a decade.”

Without Pattengale and Ryan there live to lift the mood on Monterey, it’s every bit as heart wrenching as you need to combat all the obnoxious summer sunshine. Like a silent protest, it’s full of energy and feeling but with a penetrating calmness.

Pattengale and Ryan set out to make Monterey entirely on the road, recording at sound checks all over the country. But when the tour was over, they only had about half the album recorded the way they wanted it, so they set out to find the right place to finish it. With Ryan spending most of his time in NYC and Pattengale in LA, they decided to meet in Nashville to complete the music-powerhouse-city triangle.

“[Nashville] is a world class city, and it appears to be a much bigger place than it is,” Ryan said. “You quickly realize that it’s a very small community; a very passionate community; a very supportive community.”

They wanted to keep the album out of a studio, so they tried places all over Nashville before getting connected with Downtown Presbyterian Church. The church gave them the key and they alarm code and they got to work.

When they finished all the material for Monterey, they set up mics in the empty pews and played the whole album from start to finish to record the reverb and give the album consistency. But because of traffic and construction outside, their recordings were constantly interrupted.

“We figured the best thing was just set it up on a loop record and then take off and go down and catch Jack White’s show and say hey to him,” Ryan said. “So our album was just playing to an empty church on a Wednesday night in February in Nashville while we went and said hello to all our friends.” 

Imagining the voices of Ryan and Pattengale quietly serenading a cold empty church just adds to the feel of the album.

Even though Monterey is the third full-length album from The Milk Carton Kids, it’s the first one they haven’t streamed online for free. Ryan talked about navigating the music industry and where he sees it going in the future.

“If you know what you truly are and what truly makes you tick… I think you’re going to have a better shot at weathering the storm once the shit hits the fan,” Ryan said. “Which I guess, in the music business, the shit kinda hit the fan in slow motion like eight years ago and we’ve all just been continually covered in shit for a decade.”

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