Sure, relationships take work. But sometimes, chemistry is just chemistry.
That’s how Joey Ryan, half of the indie acoustic duo The Milk Carton Kids, sees it.
In the three years he and Kenneth Pattengale have known each other – the past 21/2 formally as a band – the men have worked hard to maintain a fully shared, equal-partners collaboration. Ryan joked that Pattengale is “my next closest relationship after my wife” and that “being married is much easier.”
But the vocal harmonies that are the duo’s calling card were organic and there from the get-go.
“That happened the first day” they sat down to play and sing together, Ryan said of the harmonies that have drawn comparisons to the Everly Brothers and Simon and Garfunkel, among others.
“Sure, it’s been refined, but we never sat down and discussed phrasing or tone. That part was effortless.”
Since deciding to become a duo, Ryan and Pattengale have remained dedicated to the idea of a 50-50 partnership.
“Nobody gets to write a single lyric without the other’s approval. We have mutual veto power,” he said, adding, only partly tongue-in-cheek, “We operate under the consistent looming threat of a filibuster.”
Ryan explained that “ideas come to one or the other of us separately, but we do all of our writing jointly. We don’t really even send ideas back and forth electronically. We like to be in the room together.”
That same mentality extends to the recording studio and the concert stage. The Kids’ third album, The Ash & Clay, was released earlier this year and the ensuing tour has kept them busy throughout the summer and fall.
“We do all our (studio) takes live, as if we were in the living room. We do three or four takes of every song, and we permit very few edits. And then only edits that you could do if you were cutting tape. We never take one vocal from this take and one guitar from this take.”
The size and nature of their band, Ryan said, necessitated an egalitarian approach not only between the two partners but also in the way a song is presented.
“We only have four things: two guitars and two voices. We arrange them like a quartet, where each piece is important. Sometimes we forget which part was originally written as the melody.”
So intertwined are the parts and their partnership that they can’t make them stand alone, even with great effort.
“It’s impossible to get through a song if the other’s not playing and singing. We’ll forget the words or we won’t know the guitar part.”
The Milk Carton Kids play the Lincoln Theatre Tuesday, Oct. 29. Sean Rowe opens. Tickets are $20. Visit capa.com.