The Milk Carton Kids’ Joey Ryan on Airport Gorillas and L.A. Traffic

Though they only formed two year ago, Los Angeles-based folk duo The Milk Carton Kids have already made quite a name for themselves. They released their third album in March and are currently on tour, with more touring and festival appearances scheduled for the coming months. We chatted with Joey Ryan, one-half of TMCK, about traveling as a musician, performing on Conan and the bright side of criticism before the band plays the Tractor Tavern on Thursday, May 16.

I know you have a flight to catch so I’ll make this quick.

Oh, they’ll hold it. American Airlines is very accommodating. They’re so good about bringing guitars on board. One time I put my guitar in the cockpit.

Did they make you perform?

They threatened to, but they never cashed in.

Have you had any travel mishaps with instruments or equipment?

One time, we had a really tough road case with audio gear in it. It came down the carousel with the buckle ripped off … It looked like they had left it in a room with an angry gorilla. I don’t know how it’s humanly, physically possible to have done this kind of damage.

Where are you flying?

We’re playing Salt Lake City tonight. We had the weekend off. We try to take every third weekend off to remind ourselves that being at home is real life and tour is the anomaly. To get a couple of days, it makes a big difference.

Tell me about performing on Conan .

It was a real sense of accomplishment when that came through … I was so nervous that it was just a big blur [laughs] … Everyone was like, “Conan loved it. The audience loved it.” I was like, “Really?” I had no awareness of what was going on other than trying to get through the song.

Where did the idea behind the videos you did for “Honey Honey,” “Snake Eyes” and “The Ash & Clay” come from?

I’ve always been intrigued by videos that show something that in real life takes [the length of the song]. This brainstorming session drifted to driving because driving around listening to music is such a big part of your life [in L.A.]. Kenneth said, “It should just be somebody driving, listening to the songs, doing whatever they would naturally do.” I thought it was brilliant because I had so many very powerful, emotional experiences … while listening to music, driving in the car.

People’s reactions to it are wildly different because it’s so devoid of any message that is very forthcoming. People have been putting their own meanings on it. To me, it functions like a blank canvas.

Another highlight is somebody said to us how disappointed they were in the videos. I was really thrilled to hear that. Obviously not that they were disappointed, but we had never had the experience before of being in a position to disappoint anybody, the idea that there were people out there that were awaiting our music videos with high hopes … It was a big responsibility, but also quite a flattering thing.

I’m glad you could flip that into something positive.

It means that they care so much as to be disappointed. I took it as a good sign. I wish their expectations would’ve been fulfilled, but it’s better than them just not caring.

Photo by Brendan Pattengale

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