Australian shows loom mid-year (“we’re excited to see you and make you cry!” they say in their announcement), an album is imminent, and this morning one of us will be speaking to the Milk Carton Kids with all these in mind.
So it’s time to button down those white sleeves, tie a handkerchief around the neck of a guitar and get in touch again with Joey and Kenneth as Wind Back Wednesday returns to the scene of (no) crime when they were preparing for their first Australian tour in 2013, and some warnings had to be issued.
DON’T BE FOOLED people, despite being called The Milk Carton Kids you won’t find Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale in tights and capes. Rather than a whiter-than-white, crime-fighting duo they’re a black-suit-wearing, boredom-fighting duo who, with their tightly bound voices and none-more-acoustic guitars, sound equal parts Everly Brothers, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings and Simon and Garfunkel.
In the words of another creamy duo, their gently, gently music is a little bit country (in particular bluegrass) and a little bit rock’n’roll (well, ok, more harmony pop) with often enough a turn for the tragic underneath.
Still, whatever you think of the name you’d have to admit that if they’d gone with, say, Joey and Kenneth, our thoughts would most likely have turned to some teen duo in 1962, possibly doing surf songs.
"That's going to be the side project," Joey Ryan deadpans. “They’re going to open for us.”
Droll comes easily to Ryan. When I saw them do a mid-afternoon show in Austin, Texas, recently, it was easily the funniest show I've seen in years, Pattengale the dry straight man to Ryan’s straightfaced silliness.
At what point over the two years they’ve been touring did they realise they had that kind of comic rapport? Or maybe the question should be, at what point did it become clear that Pattengale was the perfect foil for Ryan’s jokes?
Ryan chuckles, then says quite seriously that "there was a time when nothing we said was funny”.
“I don't know what happened from that time to the time people started laughing but I remember a couple of years ago the sort of awkward, introverted way we are on stage stopped being weird and awkward and people thought it was funny,” he says. “I'm trying not to ask too many questions about it because now I enjoy that part of our show very much. But I tell you, it's no different than the times when people just thought we were awkward."
So we have changed, not them?
"Sometimes I’m just trying to explain something or other and people start laughing,” Ryan says. “I tell you, three quarters of the time people are laughing I am not trying to funny."
I might believe him if I wasn't too busy laughing at the rest of his answer.
"The thing that it does do is it allows us to keep playing really sad songs because at least people are being held up and buoyed by [the humour] and we don’t run the risk of anyone harming themselves out of depression."
So, even without crime fighting we do get one social service provided by the Milk Carton Kids. Which is nice of them don’t you think? And it is “them”, not Ryan and associate as they are complementary in more than just the humour: Ryan taking more of the vocal leads while Pattengale is the more accomplished and prominent guitarist.
With each having had minor solo careers before forming the duo two years ago and being “thoughtful, slow moving people” who “tried each other out for several months” before they committed to the partnership, they have both experience and recognition of what they lacked in their earlier solitary musical existence.
"Kenneth and I are kind of opposite to one another in almost every way and it creates a palpable tension, a push and pull between us,” says Ryan. “I mean that musically, from the way we approached tempo and dynamics, right down to the way we approach driving a van when we are on tour.
“There is something to the fight between us that in my opinion is the reason why anything good comes out of our partnership."
The Milk Carton Kids’ I Only See The Moon is out on May 19.
The Milk Carton Kids will play: Queenscliff Town Hall, June 30; Meeniyan Town Hall, July 1, Theatre Royal, Castlemaine, July 2; Eltham Hotel, July 5; Old Museum, Brisbane, July 6; City Recital Hall, Sydney, July 8; Thornbury Theatre, Melbourne, July 9; Memo Music Hall, Melbourne, July 11; Adelaide Guitar Festival, July 13.