Published on theMusic.com.au, Apr 2018
Conveying The Internal Process And Desires And Wishes And Dreams And Fears
The path to How I Met Your Mother star Josh Radnor and Ben Lee’s debut album as Radnor & Lee was paved with insecurity and vulnerability, as the prolific Aussie-bound duo tell Daniel Cribb.
“I had to battle some imposter syndrome,” begins actor-turned-muso Josh Radnor on the early stages of Radnor & Lee, his band with Australia’s own Ben Lee. It’s a project stemming from humble begins a few years ago when a couple of long-time friends sat down to write a song.
Things snowballed and they slowly began playing shows, performing to intimate crowds at first. “Neither Josh nor I are deterred by a small audience for our work,” Lee tells. “If you’re a real artist, you make what you make and there’s nothing I would go back and change just because it didn’t connect on a mass level.”
But for Radnor & Lee, the release of their self-titled debut album last November helped expand their conversation to a massive audience, taking them to sold out shows across South America earlier this year; a trip that proved a pivotal movement. “There is a real energy and a conversation that can open up with an audience if they get into it in a way that has momentum, and I think we’ve felt that starting to happen with Radnor & Lee,” Lee explains.
That trip also helped Radnor overcome some of those insecurities he initially had. “I was worried that people [in South America] would be there just because I was on TV,” Radnor reveals. “But then half the audience was singing along with all the lyrics and I thought, ‘Well, maybe they got interested in the music because of that or knew Ben’s stuff from before,’ but now it feels like they’re fans of us. It just shifted something for both of us.”
Radnor gives praise to his musical partner’s experience as another element that helped him find his bearings as a touring musician, but Lee’s quick point out why Radnor’s fresh approach is beneficial to him.
“Josh came into this as a fan of music and it wasn’t a career path decision,” Lee explains. “It’s not like when someone on a Disney show is like, ‘Hey, let’s expand your footprint in pop culture – let’s create a music arm.’ It wasn’t that at all, it was just Josh loving music and this really organic wish to use music to convey the internal process and desires and wishes and dreams and fears.”
“It was something I was going to discover eventually,” Radnor adds. “There’s a part of me that wishes I’d discovered it earlier, but there’s another part of me that feels like it was perfectly timed.”
It’s also taken Lee to brand new territory in his career, with Radnor & Lee marking the first “seriously equal” collaborative project he’s been a part of.
“I’ve had musicians who have worked for me, but that’s a bit of a different thing; you’re essentially paying someone to get your vision across and this is different – this is two friends with equal standing, trying to articulate things together,” he says. “I think I wasn’t mature enough to be open to that level of collaboration before now.”
There’s something about their creative partnership that’s struck a chord with a lot of listeners, with fans immediately making a strong connection to their music, as evident with the Doorstep music video, which was constructed by suggestions from fans. “Being two men, in a friendship, publicly creating together is very healing for people, especially this time when masculinity is being examined,” Lee says.
“As a storyteller, I honour vulnerability and transparency and stories about transformation,” Radnor adds. “I know in my own life, I love to hear artists say, ‘It’s going to be ok,’ or, ‘You will get through this,’ and a lot of our music comes back to that because Ben and I experience all the variety of emotions that come with the human experience, but we’re also fairly resilient and we’re oriented more towards optimism than cynicism.”
They’ve got plenty of stories to tell, and while they’re still in the touring cycle for Radnor & Lee – bringing it to Australia in May for a whirlwind east coast duo tour – album number two is already in the works.
“We’re a band that constructed the [debut] album before we’d played live and now we’ve experienced that, so we’re bringing that experience into the second record,” Lee explains, before Radnor chimes in: “When I directed my first film, Happythankyoumoreplease, I had never been in an editing room, I had never done post-production and on my second film [Liberal Arts], I had done all those things, so I approached the whole filmmaking process differently, and I think that’s what’s happening to us.
“Once we realised we didn’t have to play in these small rooms to 80 people, that we could actually play to more people, our songs are starting to reflect that. The sky opened up to a little more on the second record.”