For Josh Radnor and Ben Lee, making music as a tandem is the bonus of being buds. The indie-folk duo, who released an album as Radnor and Lee in 2017, are back with a second album titled Golden State.
Both Radnor, who starred on How I Met Your Mother and features on Amazon’s Hunters, and Lee, who constantly churns out albums and musicals, see this project as a fun side project. That included a notable tour stop in Brazil in January 2018 that led to the genesis of their new album.
“Whether that’s going to Brazil or when to make a record, we do what seems fun,” Lee said.
“Some of it is hard logistically to juggle,” Radnor added. “But when we were in Brazil something shifted. We just wanted to do more of it and on this new batch of songs, we found just the right producer in Justin Stanley to work on it.”
And it serves them both well. As two guys over 40 with busy lives, there wasn’t any urgency for them to hurry up and make another album. Instead, they had some time to figure out what songs and themes worked for this particular album.
“For this one, the 11 songs we ended up with just felt like the right ones,” Radnor said.
Like many aspects of culture that have been self-reflective in recent years, Golden State is a bit darker lyrically than their self-titled album. The title refers more to a state of mind rather than California itself. The vibe, though, is a lot darker than what the shiny title may indicate. That includes the wisdom of experience and being beaten up by life, and ultimately realizing that imperfection isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
With the first record, we were speaking about metaphysical ideas — NOT about the messiness of life, sex and relationships,” Lee said. “On this one, there are songs that are about getting your hands dirty and what that feels like as opposed to trying to escape into an idyllic concept or feelings.”
This is reflected on “Outside In,” the band’s first single from Golden State. The lyrics address how life can be messy, how art is vulnerable and how love, like all things, can be a huge risk.
“I can’t picture any of these songs written by people in their 20s,” Lee said. “They’re the product of hard-learned lessons. We both feel resistance to living from the outside in.”
As both of their schedules fill up with other commitments in the coming months, both Radnor and Lee aren’t worried about what’s next, instead choosing to focus their new material and enjoying the side project before their day jobs beckon.
“It took us a little longer than we may have wanted it to, the stars feel aligned right now to where it feels right,” Radnor said.
Radnor and Lee’s Golden State is out May 8 on Flower Moon Records.