Inside Kenneth Pattengale and Joe Pug’s New Album Collaboration
By Kenneth Pattengale
In many ways Joe Pug feels like my older brother. Truth be told, technically I am his senior. That said, by 2011—when my band The Milk Carton Kids came into being—Joe had solidified a vaunted place amongst our peers, and beyond, with his enviable debut album Nation of Heat.
In the wake of the music industry’s decimation by that lethal one-two punch of Napster & broadband, then iTunes & mobile data—Hymn #101 and I Do My Father’s Drugs were ubiquitous on the CD-r mixtapes exchanging hands in the small corner of our would-be LA songwriters scene. Beyond the singular lyrics and the attitude of his recorded work, Joe impressed with his scrappiness. He turned a buck the inspired way…gave away free CDs in exchange for email addresses…Priceline’d hotels and spent what he saved on Facebook ads. As an upstart at the outset of the twenty-teens—the dawn of a new era in the music hustle—Joe saw the system for what it was and he was gaming it. Joe was showing many of us the way.
We became friends over the years. The way that musicians do. Unexpectedly sharing a beer at a music festival while criss-crossing the country. Aimlessly talking about Tom Petty and streaming over serendipitous last-minute dinner-dates in unknown cities. I’m not entirely sure when Joe became aware of what I do as a musician or a producer. It may not be important. I know he rang me around Christmas of 2016 to ask if I would like to produce an album for him—a request that I eagerly accepted.
And so we embraced a thoroughly modern relationship between artist and producer—an endless stream of voice-memos filling our iMessage thread alongside the ambitions for how we planned to record, the collaborators we dreamt of snaring. (Live band and live vocals, no flashy production—as lean as can be.)
The writing process, as it so often does, proved elusive and fleeting. Incremental gains felt overshadowed by significant losses; a process every writer knows and dreads. Yet Joe’s resolve as a technician never ceased to impress. It became increasingly clear that still burning was what existed during the conjuring of Nation of Heat those many years ago. The same embers aglow, steady and true, waiting for the right spark to bring forth a most magnificent flame.
So we took those embers, and built a new fire. We gathered friends in a studio in Nashville, Tennessee and—over the course of a week—recorded songs live in front of microphones. The old-fashioned way. (We’d later find this was the final record to be made in the iconic House of Blues studio under Gary Belz’ magical watch, as it would soon sell to Capitol Records—ushering in yet another of seemingly endless eras.)
As I listen back, I am awed by the songs that Joe wrote—and we recorded—here. To me it sounds like his most intimate writing in years. And while it does feel like new ground, uncharted territory for Joe’s singular point of view; there remains what lit me up when I first heard Joe’s voice cry out
will you recognize my face when God’s awful gracestrips me of my jacket and my vestand reveals all the treasure in my chest?
Now ten years later Joe sings
listen close now, I was dead wrong.To think that things could work themselves out in the long run…The flood is coming, the flood in color.
Though the flood is coming, the fire still burns bright. I’m most happy to recognize that face.