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Music Journeys: Josh Radnor and Ben Lee

Apr 30, 2018

Actor Josh Radnor has a new TV project, but the central Ohio native also has a music collaboration with long-time recording artist Ben Lee. The duo performed last night in Columbus, but also stopped by WCBE. 

They recorded a Live From Studio A session that airs this afternoon at 1 pm during the Global Village.  Radnor and Lee also took part in the latest installment of Music Journeys, telling Mike Foley about the inspiration behind their project.

Josh Radnor recalls hearing a lot of music around the house while growing up in central Ohio.

"Well, my mom loved show tunes," Radnor said. "My dad was like a Jim Croce, Bob Dylan guy. My mom was more like John Denver, Judy Collins, Barry Manilow, Peter, Paul and Mary. I think I went and saw Peter, Paul and Mary a couple times when they came through Columbus. So I always loved folk music and deep melodies. I took violin when I was a kid. When I started acting, it was in musicals so I fell pretty hard for musicals. But when I was in college, my musical world exploded and it's continued to explode."

Meanwhile Ben Lee remembers having a record of Jack and the Beanstalk while growing up in Australia. 

"It was like a vinyl record of a British pantomime show, and I knew it back to front," Lee recalled. "Once in kindergarten, my teacher had an emergency and she sat me on a table at the front of the class, and I just did the record to give her 45 minutes. But it crossed over into pick up time, and so all these parents are seeing me sing all these songs. I loved it."

"Wow, I didn't even know that story," Radnor added.

Radnor's acting career took off in 2005 as one of the co-stars of the television series How I Met Your Mother. It's right around that time Radnor and Lee met and became fast friends. Lee has been a solo artist for 25 years, so this music collaboration helped both of them in different ways. 

"I was more ready to get married than I was to be in a band," Lee said. "That's how unnatural it was. But at this point in my life, it's a thrill to do it with one of my best friends. I was used to being all about me. But now I'm seeing, we're stronger as a pair in some ways. For me, that's a radical awakening."

"I was on How I Met Your Mother for 9 years," Radnor recalled. "It was a destabilizing and confusing time in some ways because I wasn't happy in a certain way. But what I came to was that the making of things made me really happy. I directed two films when I was on that show. After I've left that world, I just have the freedom to do things that bring me a lot of joy creatively. And that's what success feels like to me right now. Making songs with Ben and bringing them to people and learning to play guitar - it's bringing me so much joy, and I’m just trusting that. If I've worked hard for anything, it's the right to make things with people I love, and that's just what this is."  

"I think the one that comes to mind is Wider Spaces, which is the first song we wrote," Lee said. "It's about trying to expand into new, creative territory. It became our mission statement, and we're still fulfilling it."

"In terms of a sentimental favorite, I might go with that one too," Radnor agreed. "It has become a mission statement - leaving what you know and stepping into this new landscape. We've kind of lived by what that song says." 

While this first release features 11 tracks, Radnor and Lee says they have even more songs ready to go for another one.

"Our song writing is becoming a little more oblique," Radnor said.  "The first album has some more answers on it, but the second album is more steeped in questions." 

Before performing in Columbus last night, Radnor and Lee recorded a Live From Studio A session that will air this afternoon at 1 on WCBE during the Global Village. The duo now heads to Australia for some shows.