Interview: The Milk Carton Kids
The Milk Carton Kids have already achieved more in the few short years that they’ve been together than most bands do in their entire careers. The have released three brilliant albums in record time and can even count Amanda Seyfried as a fan. Goldenplec caught up with Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan aka The Milk Carton Kids ahead of their Dublin gig in Whelans.
You have a few days off until your next tour date in Nashville, I’d say you are looking forward to a break.
K: Well actually we are going to New York and we have to play on a radio show called the prairie home companion with Garrison Keillor, it’s really neat. I’ll get two days off in New York before going to Nashville but Joey has to go all the way to California to see his family and then come back to Nashville so not much time for a break I’m afraid.
The Milk carton kids is quite a unique band name, how did you come up with it? I’m guessing it’s to do with the American culture of putting mussing children on milk cartons.
K: That’s right. We actually wrote a song called milk carton kid, and then we named ourselves after that. Which is a little egotistical or just non creative. We liked the image that it put in people’s heads before they heard our songs. It’s usually a dark and depressing image because of what it represents. Band names are kind of pointless, as long as the music is good the name has nothing to do with it.
Who does most of the song writing or is it more of a collaboration?
K: It’s very collaborative, it happens all kinds of ways. I don’t think either of us would stick around if one person was taking over or did most of the work.
Was it hard at the start, seeing as you were both solo artists who came together?
K: It was very easy which I think is the reason the band started. If it was hard then we wouldn’t have persevered. But there was something that happened when we played together. It was just so good and so different and we took it from there.
Is it the same with the vocals? How do you decide who sings what part?
K: There’s a bit of fighting, we bicker quite a bit (laughs)
What inspires your songs?
K: Nobody’s ever asked it that way. It’s a very direct way of asking it and I like it. Experience I guess, it inspires most of the good songs. Imagination and empathy combined with experience. But beyond that there’s always a self-motivation to be truthful and produce something people will love.
Whatever it is its working, you’ve had three albums out already even though you only formed in 2011 which is phenomenal.
J: It will slow down don’t worry.
K: We like to work hard that’s all, my personality is that I’m impatient. Music is no exception. It seems fast but we’ve done so much work that we wanted to get out there.
Do you think the music has matured and you’ve grown since the first album?
K: I think so, we write better songs now.
You released the first two albums and gave them away without charging people. What made you do that?
J: We did charge, but they also had the option not to pay. So that they could choose.
So it was kind of like what Radiohead did, you could choose how much to pay?
J: The way we did it was actually a bit different. You couldn’t choose the price, you either bought it for a certain price or you got it for free. There was no donation about it. You could get it on itunes, you could buy a cd, or download it from our website free of charge. There was a few reasons why, we wanted to be on tour. We felt the real work for us to do was in a live setting I always liked that it implied to the audience that the process of marketing our music was going to be kept out of our relationship with them. Even in the beginning, by making an extreme point by saying you can have it for free without giving any money or email address or anything.
Do you think that’s the way it’s going to go with other bands? Do you think that its’ a good idea?
J: I don’t think that you have to give it away for free to make that point but I do think the quickest way to cheaper or devalue music is to be tasteless and tactless in the marketing of it.
In a way giving the first two away worked as a great unintentional marketing tool anyway because it created a bit of a buzz and had people talking.
K: In a way it’s a great way of putting a mirror in front of yourself. As a musician, and as a band. What’s so interesting to me is that even in today’s day and age you can’t give away shit. If something is shit even if its free people aren’t going to take it just because it’s free.
What made you charge for the latest album?
J: With the new one it doesn’t have a free option but there was a lot of reasons. The main one was because we wanted to work with people, we wanted to work with anti records, and you can’t give a record away for free when you are with a record label.
K: What was interesting to me was when we gave away the first two albums we seemed to sell quite a few of them anyway. I mean, I would guess although we can’t know for certain, that we sold just as many as we would have if we never gave it away. With the label on board it’s just not an option to give it away this time because they can’t wrap their heard around working on something and then just giving it away.
Are there plans for any more albums, or do you plan to slow down?
K: The Ash & Clay was only out last month but I want to get straight back into it. I want to do it as quickly as possible. The rest of the year will include another hundred or so shows to play so I don’t know how much time we will have. But I want to get working on it as soon as possible.