Interview: Radnor & Lee Get Spiritual With Their New Pop Project
Debut album coming!
Music 2y

Australian veteran Ben Lee has seemingly done it all – from playing in a punk band backed by the Beastie Boys, to the matured pop that’s sprouted from the later years of his career.

However, here comes another curve ball – he’s teamed up with Josh Radnor for a new group, simply titled Radnor & Lee. You might recognise Radnor in his globally recognised role as Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother, and his musical debut sees him connect with Lee for a spiritual, joyous band that blends indie, pop and touches of pop.

With a debut album on the way plus a single called ‘Be Like The Being,’ Radnor & Lee have two shows at Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles on May 9 & May 23. Before the intimate gigs, we chat to the two members about their inspiring pasts, future ambitions and the purpose of the Radnor & Lee project. See their full tour dates here and read below:

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You guys have been friends for a while now. Can you pinpoint the time when the friendship became a music project with an album in sight?

Ben: Josh mentioned being interested in writing songs for a while, and I love to collaborate with friends. We sat down at one point to write a tune, and it happened so effortlessly that writing more was the obvious next step.

Josh: I think it was maybe while we working on our second or third song and it was clear we had such a great collaborative vibe going that Ben said, “we should make a record.” As I’m in the business of scaring myself creatively these days, I agreed.

Josh, you have found global success as a lead in ‘How I Met Your Mother.’ How do you think this stardom will affect the way people receive and interpret the album, if at all?

Josh: If I think about things that way, or even about perception much at all, it tends to paralyze me. It makes no sense that I’m making music with Ben, given what I’ve done previously. But at the same time it does. It’s really of a piece tonally with other things I’ve created. Loving writing songs with Ben was really the only thing that was guiding me on this. Plus, like I said earlier, it scared me in a really great, motivating way.

Ben, you have been releasing music since his early teens, although this will be Josh’s first album. What are the differing feelings and emotions between the two members as we head into the release?

Ben: It’s been great for me to look at the process through Josh’s eyes – I’ve really enjoyed reconnecting to that sense of wonder about recording, performing etc. Hopefully without sounding too old and jaded, you fall into your patterns over the years and sometimes a new collaboration can shake things up in a really good way.

You guys have played some shows, and also have some future shows at Hotel Cafe. What is it about this venue that you think is great to showcase the Radnor & Lee project?

Ben: We know the guy that books it! Honestly, we’ve tried to do things that are fun and easy and have a good vibe. We both love going to that venue, its about songwriters not glamor or anything else. Seems like a good fit.

Josh: Yeah. Just a low key vibe and it’s run by great people. The audiences are there to hear the music. Plus, the lighting is perfect.

Tell us what went down with the xylophone app?

Ben: Josh had a moment of insecurity about not playing an instrument for the whole show so I thought it would be an entertaining part of the show if he played an app…

Josh: Right. Ben said, “during the instrumental part, just hold your phone up to the mic and hit the keys on the xylophone app. It’ll be hilarious.” So I did it. It wasn’t hilarious. At our show the following week telling the story about the failed xylophone app bit was far funnier than the actual bit. Update: We’ve retired the xylophone app bit.

Your gigs have been described as “the intersection of pop and prayer” – what sort of experience do you believe you are providing audiences at your live shows?

Ben: Connection. Inspiration. Wonder. These are always the hallmarks of a great gig or a great meditation.

Josh: Ben and I are both interested, I think, in being sincere, in both art and life. We’re not fundamentally cynical people and we’re drawn to art that’s heart-centered and aspirational. Music, I’ve found, is the medium that most conformably holds sincerity. As Voltaire said: “Anything too stupid to be said is sung.”

Additionally, the album is set to have a spiritual focus. With the election of Trump and seemingly endless talks of a world war, how do you think the album’s tone fits into the larger scheme of things?

Ben: Personally, I think the hipster cynicism of the last decade or two has no place in culture anymore. The stakes are real. People are hurting. We need to talk about big things, real things. We need hope.

Josh: I agree one hundred percent. I feel like we’ve done a pretty thorough cultural exploration into how rotten, greedy, and selfish human beings are. The evidence is in! But there’s been far less attention paid to how resilient, kind, loving, noble, and virtuous we are and could be. I’ll make art in any form that gives some expression to that.

Ben, your old band Noise Addict played alongside Fugazi. Any cool stories about Ian MacKaye?

Ben: We did one gig where Magic Dirt were also on the bill. They actually broke up on stage that night. During the Fugazi set, Ian said, “being in a rock n roll band is nothing slight.” Those words have stayed with me over the years.

What’s on the cards for Radnor & Lee in 2017?

Ben: Releasing another single, maybe, and then the album. Doing shows. Answering the phone and saying yes if the invitation is fun! We’ve also written some new songs that I love.

Josh: Getting together with Ben and writing songs is high on my list of favourite things. Even if we struggle a bit to find something on a given day we always leave with something we’re really excited about. Getting to make things I love with people I love is how I’m defining success these days. So to quote one of our songs: “More of this…”

May 4, 2017
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