Just hearing the name of this band you might imagine a pop-punk band along the lines of Cloud Nothings, who never have a song longer than two and a half minutes—but The Milk Carton Kids offer something unexpected. I certainly didn't expect an indie-folk duo that sounded more like Simon & Garfunkel than NOFX.
Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan formed the band in 2011 in Eagle Rock, Cali., after attempting solo careers. Before they come to Bend they're finishing up a tour for Lampedusa: Concerts for Refugees, with Emmylou Harris, Robert Plant, Joan Baez, Steve Earle, Buddy Miller and others. "We share the stage for two-and-a-half-hours, playing collaboratively on each other's songs. The lineup is surreal. It's been this amazing musical experience for a cause that should be one of the easiest causes for everyone to get behind. It's kind of weird that supporting refugees is seen as political because of this psychedelic political season," says Ryan.
Their new record, "Monterey," is gorgeous, evoking artists like the Everly Brothers and Jose Gonzalez in their effortless combination of vocal harmonics and acoustic guitars. But their sonic connection wasn't as easy as the record would have you believe—at least not initially.
"Creatively there were some differences as Kenneth and I learned how to work together," says Ryan. "Singing together came very naturally on the first day. We have a lot of the same sensibilities, tastes and instincts. The harmonic singing was very easy. The challenge was in learning how to play guitars together."
Their guitars sound like twins when they play, dancing between notes as their voices intertwine in ways both peaceful and profound. "We have very different approaches, especially to tempo," says Ryan. "We really had to learn to breathe together and react to one another. That took a long time, but I think that's the same when you start any band. In this case, there were only two of us, so maybe it was actually easier."
The issues of solo careers not taking off was the best thing that could have happened to them—not just because of the success they've achieved, but artistically as well. Ryan and Pattengale seem destined to play together when listening to their music. It's obviously not as effortless as it sounds, but they glide through each tune with what feels like ease.
Ryan explains the real benefits of starting The Milk Carton Kids. "We didn't really have anything we were leaving behind, so the decision to put our solo careers on indefinite hold and start up the duo was a pretty easy one. I mean, I don't know if we were failed singer/songwriters, but we were definitely failing. It was so much more musically fulfilling from day one. We were suddenly able to find our voices in the context of the duo that we were never able to find on our own."
The Milk Carton Kids
Thursday, Nov. 3, 7:30pm.
Tower Theatre, 835 NW Wall St., Bend.