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Joshua Radnor on his debut album and transitioning from TV to music

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Actor Josh Radnor is finding his voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REAL LIFE")

JOSH RADNOR: (Singing) Real life. It keeps coming, it keeps coming. Sunshine. I could use some. I could use some rays of open clarity.

RASCOE: For nine years, Josh Radnor starred in the hit TV series "How I Met Your Mother." He played Ted Mosby, an architect searching for his future wife. But a painful, real-life breakup inspired Radnor to take a road trip with his dog, Nelson, and a guitar.

RADNOR: It doesn't take that long to learn the basic chords on a guitar. And if you get C, G, D, you know F, E minor, A minor, you can write thousands of songs. That's kind of the folk tradition, you know? Three chords and a truth.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REAL LIFE")

RADNOR: (Singing) I will call upon the mystical, the magical, the fanciful, illogical and pray.

RASCOE: Josh Radnor is now releasing his debut album. It's called "Eulogy: Volume I." Talk to me a little bit about, you know, trying to - being associated with such a character that so many people know and are thinking about.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER")

RADNOR: (As Ted Mosby) I'm in love with her, OK? If you're looking for the word that means caring about someone beyond all rationality and wanting them to have everything they want, no matter how much it destroys you, it's love.

RASCOE: But you are also trying to express yourself in different ways. Talk to me about that shadow and living with that.

RADNOR: Well, that is a very big question that we certainly don't have enough time to cover in depth.

RASCOE: Well, this - look, this is a therapy session. This is therapy.

RADNOR: Just bill me. You'll get your full fee. I think that as you get to be maybe in your 40s, you've had enough of a kind of sample size of life where you've had some success, you've had some failure, you have regrets, you have triumphs, you've had - you know, all these things. You've hurt people. You've been hurt. And something about making music, telling stories - I still love telling stories. You know, I was a part of a really big nine-year story. You know, it's both liberating and imprisoning to be a part of something like that, to be associated with something like that. I'm endlessly grateful for it, and I have some frustrations around it. But luckily I get to tell stories and I get to keep moving forward.

RASCOE: Is it difficult to transition between, like, television and acting and music?

RADNOR: Fifty percent of my skills were transferable and 50% I had to pick up, as I - you know, on the job. Learning how to, of course, write songs was a whole new thing and play songs - you know, being calm enough and relaxed enough so that you can play in time so that your fingers don't shake when you're doing finger picking. There are all sorts of things I've had to learn on the job. But they've also been really fun to learn, sometimes scary, but in the best kind of way.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NYC")

RADNOR: (Singing) I'm alone. What a pity. I will be soon in New York City. When I see you, please permit me to tell you everything in New York City.

RASCOE: So your new album is called "Eulogy." And eulogies - that means basically, like, good words, right? Like, I mean, obviously it's what you deliver at a funeral. But it basically means to deliver good words, right?

RADNOR: I don't know that I'd ever heard that definition, but I love it. I think that's a wonderful definition. I'm going to use that from now on. In this case, the title of the album, "Eulogy," came from this idea that each song that I had written was a bit of an elegy or a eulogy to a part of myself, these parts of myself that had served me for a time and were no longer necessary. And I was kind of, you know, thanking them and laying them to rest.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NYC")

RADNOR: (Singing) Oh, oh, oh.

RASCOE: How did you land on, like, the folk sound of this album? Because it is very folksy - you know, kind of guitar-heavy. How did you land on that?

RADNOR: Well, in some ways it's my taste and what I grew up with. You know, there was a lot of Bob Dylan and John Denver and Jim Croce and Judy Collins in my house. So I grew up loving - Peter, Paul and Mary - you know, like, I love the sound of an acoustic guitar telling a really good story. Whenever I hear that, it does something to me. It calms me down, even when I pick up a guitar and start playing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU CAN SLEEP ALONE TONIGHT")

RADNOR: (Singing) I want to call her up, say, how are you? How's things? Are you doing all right? Then a...

RASCOE: "Eulogy" seems to mourn a relationship that has been lost. Can you talk a little bit about that? Was that a - is this about letting go of that relationship that had ended?

RADNOR: That song - I'm glad you played some of that. It's called "You Can Sleep Alone Tonight," and that's one of my favorite songs on the record. And that's really about being in a hotel room in New York City and having broken up with someone and feeling very lonely and thinking it was a good idea to call them. And I kind of wrote that as a way to talk myself out of that because I didn't think it'd be a good idea for either of us to see each other again. You know, there's a lot of songs that are kind of "Baby, It's Cold Outside," come on over. And this is a song that, you know, says, you know, on second thought, maybe it's not a good idea. So it's kind of a sadder but wiser song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU CAN SLEEP ALONE TONIGHT")

RADNOR: (Singing) You can sleep alone tonight. You can sleep alone.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JOSHUA: 45-46")

RADNOR: (Singing) You feel like you are 17. Your back says you are 45, at least it does this morning.

RASCOE: Sometimes the things that we are making peace with or saying goodbye to, even if it's not literally, it's your family. It's the things that you learn growing up or the things that were imparted on you. Do you think that there's a song on this album that particularly stands out in your mind about that? And what are you eulogizing?

RADNOR: The final song on the album is called "Joshua: 45-46." And it looks like a Bible verse, but it's actually - I was 45 years old. I was days away from my 46th birthday. My back had gone out. So I wrote this song as a - I don't know if it was a pep talk to myself. But I grew up, you know, with stories from the Torah, and so I'm still very moved by sacred literature of all kinds. And so it talks about, you know, Joshua and the - bringing down the walls of Jericho and how the same thing's happening to me, that the walls are coming down. You know, and I sing about becoming a songwriter later in life. So it's a - it's quite an autobiographical song, but it's also a healing and there's some real release.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JOSHUA: 45-46")

RADNOR: (Singing) Oh, Joshua. He made a mighty sound and the walls came tumbling down in old Jericho. Now I bear his name, and I'm doing the same. The walls are coming down.

RASCOE: That's actor, filmmaker and musician Josh Radnor talking about his debut album, "Eulogy: Volume I." Thank you so much for joining us.

RADNOR: Thank you so much, Ayesha. It was great to talk to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JOSHUA: 45-46")

RADNOR: (Singing) I wish that I had started sometime in the '90s but I'm not sure I had much to say. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Corrected: December 16, 2023 at 10:00 PM MST
An earlier headline misspelled Radnor as Radner.
Ayesha Rascoe
Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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