“There is a sense of artistic courage to dance in something chaotic,” Ben Lee, one half of Radnor & Lee, said of the duo’s music. During their recent acoustic session at Paste Studio, the pair showed that they have the bravery to dance through the chaos that has come to define their unconventional collaboration.
Both artists come from impressive, if divergent, backgrounds. Josh Radnor, a self-described “deep, deep, deep music fan,” is best known for his role as the affable, perpetually single Ted Mosby on the hit series “How I Met Your Mother,” though he has also written and directed several films. Since his 2010 directorial debut, Happythankyoumoreplease, he’s attached himself to a variety of critically lauded projects and is slated to star in Rise, a new NBC show from Friday Night Lights producer/showrunner Jason Katims. Though a foray into the music industry may seem like a stretch, Radnor explained that it has come to feel like the natural next step for his creative life: “I approached this thing as a fan, but as soon as I did it, I realized that this thing was always weirdly waiting for me.”
Radnor’s lack of traditional musical experience is more than made up for in his partner, Ben Lee. The Australian-born singer/songwriter shot to fame as a 14-year-old with his band Noise Addict, which caught the attention of Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Beastie Boy Mike D in the mid ‘90s. Fans will remember Lee’s enduring early hit, “I Want to Be Him,” written about Lemonhead Evan Dando, but he’s is all grown up now and has an extensive solo discography to show for it. Despite the pair’s evident discrepancy in expertise, they described the writing process as wholly collaborative.
“There are so many ways [our] songs come together,” Radnor said. “A lot of them were written side-by-side on my couch. We couldn’t tell you who wrote what line or what melody.” The blend of backgrounds was evident in their opening song, “The Resignation Song,” a twist on the classic breakup track.
Radnor and Lee have been friends for years, and their connection expands beyond the studio. At Paste, they talked about their similarities in spirituality, with Lee musing, “Part of our shared desire is to bring these sort of more philosophical or spiritual concerns into digestible conversation. Spirituality or philosophy or psychology—they don’t belong just to mystics and priests and academics and monks. It’s all of us. It’s sitting here in a room in New York City, going, ‘What is this? Why are we here?”
Their duo’s second song, “Hello My Beloved,” evoked casual devotion.
When listening to Radnor & Lee, it’s hard to pinpoint one through-line theme, resounding sound, or concrete influence, as they’re constantly in flux. The duo’s final song, an unreleased tune based off of the novel Iron John: A Book About Men by Robert Bly, is more akin to the pop-punk music of early 2000s than the quiet, folky sound they showcased early in the session. This flexibility is what Lee enjoys about the project. “It’s super non-contrived,” he said. “That’s the main thing I’ve always been interested in with art. We’re writing about what we’re talking about.”
You can check out the full session with Radnor & Lee here. Their self-titled debut album is slated for a Nov. 10 release.