What happens when you achieve a goal in a fraction of the time you expected to? You set another one. The Milk Carton Kids—Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale—have reached a point in their career where they’re playing the calibre of theatres they believed would be unattainable for some time yet.
“It’s a little bit disorienting, because for the first time none of the shows we do we have to struggle against circumstances and the surroundings,” Ryan says, on the precipice of the second leg of the duo’s current tour. “We got so used to having to fight for it, you know, in dive bars and rock clubs where we were presenting a very quiet show that was incongruous to the setting. So I’m finding it actually unsettling that everything goes well every day.”
Ryan begins to call it a case of being careful what you wish for, but stops himself and settles on the duo’s present situation being moreso about remaining cognizant of the fact that once you achieve something you hoped to, you need something else to take its place: “There’s no more deflating feeling than feeling like you’ve accomplished all your goals,” he points out.
But what that next goal is for the Milk Carton Kids, he’s not sure.
“You may have touched on a bit of an existential crisis,” he says. “We had this goal for ourselves to play theatres about the size of the theatres we’re playing now, which we didn’t think was going to happen in four years—we thought it was going to take 20 years—so we’re having to evaluate what that means. What do we want to do now?”
In the meantime, the focus is supporting Monterey, the folk duo’s third full-length album. It’s a haunting, melancholic record that aims to capture the energy of the Milk Carton Kids’ live performance—an often simplistic setup involving unamplified acoustic guitars and one vocal mic. Half of the album was recorded in different venues during their last tour and the other half was recorded at the Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville. Ryan notes that it’s in these live settings that he and Pattengale feel most comfortable. He acknowledges these situations would appear to have more pressure or anxiety attached to them, but he says it’s a liberating experience knowing a performance begins, it goes by and it ends, and all you’re left with are memories.
“The more we can get into that mindset, the liberating mindset of really inspired performance and away from the mindset of this hyper-examined crafting of a definitive version of a song, I think the more the performances benefit,” he says. “So we’ve adjusted a lot about our methodology this time around in order to approximate the feeling of a giving a live show and get away from the feeling of being in the studio.”
Fri, Oct 9 (8 pm)
With Pharis and Jason Romero
Winspear Centre, $39