For his Guest DJ set, Actor Josh Radnor explores the soundtrack to his life – from the provocative folk favorite of his college days to the somber song that marked his “deep dark unemployment as an actor” in New York City and a new band whose optimism and operatic sound caught his ear. Josh plays Ted Mosby on the hit CBS show “How I Met Your Mother,” which will be celebrating its 100th episode soon. Also, his film “happythankyoumoreplease” is in competition at the Sundance Film Festival.
Chris Douridas: Hi, I'm Chris Douridas and I'm here with actor Josh Radnor who is best known for playing the character Ted Mosby on the CBS show How I Met Your Mother. Hey Josh.
Josh Radnor: Hey Chris.
CD: Good to have you with us. Today we're going to be playing excerpts of songs that you have selected that have inspired you over the years and it's all part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. What would be the first thing on your list?
JR: Joni Mitchell's "All I Want," the first track on Blue. It was just one of those records that I suddenly couldn't stop listening to and it was all I wanted to listen to. My senior year of college, I actually carried Blue around with me in my bag and insisted that it be played on whatever stereo I was near. There was a kind of urgency to the way she was singing like, she would just work the lyrics in no matter what, just like a stream of wants and desires.
Song: "All I Want," by Joni Mitchell
JR: She kind of embraces this ambiguity in that record. Like she says, "I hate you some, I hate you some, I love you some." Stuff like that was making sense to me, like this notion that you could feel something and its opposite all at the same time and she was somehow giving voice to that. There's a lot of this album that I didn't understand at the time but it was so provocative. You know, she says she wants to shampoo someone. I'm like, ‘Whoa what? Really?! What is that about? Why does she want to shampoo someone?’ I don't generally rank things, but I would say this is one of my favorite songs of all time and a huge song in my life
CD: That's Joni Mitchell's "All I Want," from the Blue album. It's part of Josh Radnor's Guest DJ Project here on KCRW. I'm Chris Douridas with Josh Radnor. The next one on the list is actually an artist who has inspired Joni Mitchell greatly.
JR: I think he's inspired every artist
CD: Yeah, right
Song: "Abandoned Love," by Bob Dylan
JR: This is a song from Biograph called "Abandoned Love," kind of a lesser known Dylan song -- this is another college tune. My friend Kip played this for me my sophomore year. You know you have those friends -- like, he turned me on to Leonard Cohen and Elvis Costello and Tom Waits. He was just this gateway music friend. *laughs* It's this great, tuneful Dylan song that I think is underplayed everywhere.
I think it's in the liner notes that Dylan…the band that was playing with him in the studio didn't know the tune and he just started playing it and the band came in underneath him, just kind of learned it. I always think that's amazing just to be able to speak that language, which I don't know how to but I'm in awe of it. There's also this lyric in the song that haunts me, he says, ‘everybody's wearing a disguise to hide what they got left behind their eyes,’ which is not the most optimistic sentiment, but it's also juxtaposed against the peppiness of the music
CD: That's Bob Dylan, a song called "Abandoned Love," from the Biograph album. I'm Chris Douridas, it's all part of Josh Radnor's Guest DJ Project here on KCRW.com. So Josh, what's next?
JR: Joe Pernice is a great American singer-songwriter. He has a few different kind of incarnations. Sometimes he records solo and the Pernice Brothers has also been something he's done a bunch of albums with. This is a track called "Overcome By Happiness." You know, sometimes I listen to music and I'm just responding viscerally to it and then a lyric will catch you and you'll be like, ‘oh, it’s about something totally different than I thought it was about,’ but it always puts me in a good mood. I mean, I think I'm drawn to happiness, how to find more of it, and music makes me happy
Song: "Overcome By Happiness," by The Pernice Brothers
JR: I was doing an Eric Bogosian play in Baltimore in 1999. My friend David Warren was directing it and he's a big musical guru to me, he turns me on to a lot of stuff. There was this great record store in Baltimore and he took me and he said, ‘alright, I'm gonna get you four records that will change your life.’ It was Pernice Brothers, "Overcome By Happiness," Belle and Sebastian, “If You're Feeling Sinister” -- which is still one of my favorites -- Beth Orton’s “Trailer Park” and Richard Buckner’s “Devotion + Doubt.” Those four kind of started me on this new musical journey. It was like right around 2000, with the millennium turning, and this just kind of feels like that time to me.
CD: It's called, "Overcome By Happiness," by The Pernice Brothers. Josh Radnor is our guest here on KCRW's Guest DJ Project, I'm Chris Douridas. I was happy to see Nick Drake on the list.
JR: This particular track, for some reason I associate it with fresh out of grad school -- deep, deep dark unemployment as an actor. There's something about this song that really haunted me because I was living in New York and I was actually sharing a studio apartment with a grad school friend, we were paying $400 a month. I mean, we were literally sharing this room. And I played nothing but Nick Drake for a few months which probably didn't help my mood, my general overall mood. *laughs*
Song: "At The Chime of a City Clock," by Nick Drake
JR: There's something about it that sounds like the city to me. It sounds like New York to me in that the first few verses are dissonant, it's a little breathless and a little, almost scary, and then the chorus is just this lilting lyrical melody. And to me that's kind of the juxtaposition of living in New York. I've always said, my worst days in New York were like the worst days of my life and my best days in New York were the best days of my life.
I remember this one particular morning, at the height of my Nick Drake obsession, there was definitely a rodent of some sort in the apartment, which I never saw but I saw evidence of it. I don't have a cockroach problem or a snake problem or a spider problem but I have a real rodent problem. I remember it was rooting around at around 5:30 in the morning or something and it just woke me up and I flew out of the apartment. I just had to leave. I threw on some clothes, and I watched the city wake up, and this song just kept ringing in my ears. I remember I got a cup of coffee and the guy said, ‘first cup of the day is always free!.’ So I got this free cup of coffee and you look around at a city at 6 in the morning-- there's something about the loneliness and the desolation of a Nick Drake tune, fleeing a rodent in your apartment, and watching the city wake up that this song really brings me back to that time
CD: It's Nick Drake, "At The Chime of a City Clock," it's KCRW's Guest DJ Project. I'm Chris Douridas, our guest is Josh Radnor. There's an artist on the list here that I'm not familiar with at all, you're turning me on to something here, what is it?
JR: Well, I can pay you back for all the stuff you've turned me on to. This is a band called Cloud Cult, they're a Minnesota band. The reason you might not have heard of them is they've refused to sign with major labels apparently. They have their own label that is all green and sustainable. The lead singer is a guy named Craig Minowa and he and his wife lost their child, a baby, when the kid was about one or two and most of their records have been a response to this grief. But it's never maudlin, they have this incredible lyrical transcendent quality to their music that's really optimistic and really fantastic.
Song: "Chemicals Collide," by Cloud Cult
JR: I wrote this really weird thing in this piece I was writing about music. I said when I listen to the Arcade Fire I feel like the world is ending and Cloud Cult makes me feel like the world's already ended and, lik,e now where do we go? Everything's in shards and pieces on the ground and they're building something new. It's really like this transformative experience listening to them. Their albums are a little bit like operas -- it's not like every track is like a single, some of it's just weird and experimental. When people are looking for a new interesting band that not a lot of people know, I always say Cloud Cult. I just think they're really special.
CD: The band is called Cloud Cult, the track is "Chemicals Collide," it's part of Josh Radnor's Guest DJ Project, I'm Chris Douridas with Josh Radnor, who is still a part of the CBS sitcom, "How I Met Your Mother"…
JR: *laughs* As far as I know, I think the table read this morning went ok, I think they're gonna keep me around
CD: "How I Met Your Mother" is the name of the show. Thanks so much for joining us
JR: Yeah, my pleasure
CD: KCRW's Guest DJ Project, I'm Chris Douridas. For a complete track listing and to find these songs online go to KCRW.com/GuestDJProject