It’s been a long three years since the Milk Carton Kids released their last LP, Monterey, in 2015. Since then, both halves of the troubadour twosome have undergone serious life changes, with Joey Ryan fathering his second child and Kenneth Pattengale overcoming cancer and the breakup of a seven-year relationship. “Big Time” is the second single from their upcoming All The Things That I Did and All The Things That I Didn’t Do, buffed by Grammy-winning producer Joe Henry. The album marks the duo’s first effort with a full band.
Kicking off with a lively fiddle vamp, “Big Time” features light percussion and buoyant acoustic thrums under Pattengale’s tremulous voice. He takes the first verse and chorus and then supplies harmonies to Ryan, who handles the lead throughout the rest of the high-spirited song, sung from the point of view of someone finally taking control of his or her life.
All The Things That I Did and All The Things That I Didn’t Do will be released June 29th on Anti- Records. The duo will help announce the nominations for the Americana Honors and Awards on May 15th.
You each had momentous years apart before recording this album. What brought you back together?
Joey Ryan: We were slowly working toward that reconvening over the year we were off the road. The main thing was that we stopped touring because we needed a break. Then Kenneth got sick with cancer, his long-term relationship ended, and some other things happened, so it just took longer to get to a place where we were happy with the songs that we had.
Kenneth Pattengale: We also reached a point where there were extracurricular factors and ambitions Joey and I had for giving the band a chance to have a bigger outlet and maybe work with some other people. Then it became clear to us that if anything was going to happen we were going to just have to take the bull by the horns.
How has the band evolved since you released Monterey?
KP: Until the 11th hour, we talked about making another duo album this time. But I think we’re both quite thankful in so far as there was this period of stasis in the duo act, and I don’t think either Joey or I were looking forward to going and sticking to that same format one more time. We’ve done four albums that way, and it felt like we were going to take another lap around the field. We’re glad it shook out the way it did.
JR: A lot of people might think that a string band would have been the more natural extension of our duo, but that’s not the way I’ve heard it. For me, having a woodwind player, a pedal steel and a wailing B3 over a lot of the songs sounds like the most natural thing we could do.
There’s clearly a narrative within “Big Time,” but the lyrics are rather cryptic. What’s it about?
KP: Well, it’s a vacillation between wanting to control your destiny and needing to give yourself over to it. Those two concepts seem to be fairly central to the human condition. From the perspective of this song, perhaps it suggests that it might not be worth the time to think about it. I wrote this song at the end of a long, failed solo career as a barnburner epic to tie together the end of my seventh album. If we’re being honest, there was a success in that track that foreshadowed my true calling as a harmony singer and maybe not as a lead singer. Very shortly after that I met Joey, and, as they say, the rest is history.
Your onstage back-and-forth is part of what makes the act so entertaining. How did you discover that chemistry?
KP: It was completely accidental. The first time I saw Joey onstage, he was wearing flip-flops and shorts. When we started our band, I told Joey, “There are some rules. First, put on some fucking shoes. Second, you can’t talk about the song you’re about to sing because it demystifies the whole thing.” Back then, I was breaking guitar strings left and right. So we found ourselves in these long stretches where I was offstage changing strings and Joey was up there with some rules about what to say, and we found out coincidentally that, whatever he says, people laugh at. He’s also an incredibly sharp and funny person, and that’s made for an element of our career that’s every bit as important as the music.