When most people go through a devastating breakup, they wallow in bed, binge-watch a show, or get a drastic new haircut. But Josh Radnor has taken his heartache and turned it into a milestone in his music career.
The How I Met Your Mother alum was most recently seen on screen flexing his dramatic muscle in Fleishman Is in Trouble and Hunters, but now he's shifted gears to focus on his debut double solo album, Eulogy: Volume I and Eulogy: Volume II, the first part of which drops Nov. 17. And EW has an exclusive sneak peek at its first single, "Red," out everywhere Friday.
Eli Greiss Josh Radnor
Radnor has been making music for a decade, but when the pandemic hit he found himself getting "backlogged" with music. "Like a lot of people, I was frozen in place, but I had a couple guitars lying around, and my songwriting really exploded," he tells EW. "That's when I wrote 'Red' and a bunch of the songs on Eulogy."
But it wasn't until he went through a tough breakup around Thanksgiving 2021 that the upcoming album really took shape. "I couldn't be at my house in L.A. — my ex was still there — so I found myself in this weird period of exile," he says. "I was hunkering down with my dog, Nelson, in Columbus, Ohio, where I'm from. I was staying in my childhood home and reconnecting with old friends, but I was really just rocked. The breakup was very sudden, and I was angry."
When his songwriter friend Kyle Cox invited him to Nashville to make some music, Radnor knew the opportunity was what he needed to get out of his funk. While in Nashville, he also connected with musicians Jeremiah Dunlap and Cory Quintard, and the foursome began working in earnest on what they wanted to be a classic Americana folk album. "I rented an Airbnb and drove my dad's car with Nelson to Nashville, and then from mid-February to mid-March of 2022, we recorded 24 songs, and 23 ended up on the record," Radnor says. "It was such a hard moment, but out of that hard moment, it turned out to be this really healing, wonderful time."
If the emotional upheaval served him well, Radnor is quick to clarify he doesn't need to be miserable to create art he's proud of. "There's a great, long tradition of breakup albums being some of the best albums, but I wouldn't say I'm someone who looks to be in heartbreak or duress to make things," he says. "I actually find I create more from joy and an orderly life, but you have to just start from where you are."
He works the same way when it comes to his acting. "You just have to use the day you're having to make whatever you can with the hand you've been dealt," Radnor says. "I don't really think of it as an act of bravery or heroic resilience on my part. I was crawling out of my skin, and I got this great invitation to spend time with people I love and make music. And that felt like the sanest thing I could do — go to Nashville and make a record. And it turned out to be the right move."
As for why he titled the album Eulogy, he meant it less as a reference to his relationship ending than to the moment he began to let a lot of things go. "It was recorded in the ashes of the breakup, but not written in the ashes of the breakup," Radnor says. "The more I worked on the album, the more it started to feel like there was a story emerging. It really felt like someone sifting through their life and bidding farewell to these aspects of their personality that had served them up to a point but were no longer serving them. It's almost like mini-funerals for these aspects of myself being put to rest."
Inspired by poet Robert Bly's theories about the chapters of masculinity — red, white, and black — and them representing different phases of a man's life, he originally intended to write a three-song cycle named after the colors, but he only got around to writing "Red." Says Radnor with a laugh, "Maybe I'll get to the other two one day."
He turned to Bly's description of the "red" phase — "this fiery, hot, individualistic, lusty, rebellious, 'screw you, Mom and Dad, screw you, community' phase that every man goes through before they settle down" — to craft what would become Eulogy's first single. "There's this impulse to blow it all up," Radnor explains. "I was a pretty well-behaved kid for the most part, so in some ways I think I was channeling these parts of myself that weren't really allowed to be front and center. I had a really good time writing in the voice of a pissed-off adolescent, and that's where that song came from. It felt really good to write it, and really good to sing it."
He's especially proud of the wordplay in "Red," and how one of his favorite lyrics was written totally by mistake. "There's a line about guys having 'perfect smiles and perfect hair,' and for some reason when I sang it, I sang 'purple smiles and perfect hair,'" Radnor says. "I liked it so much that I just kept it. What's a purple smile? I don't even know what that means, but it sounded more interesting to me than a perfect smile."
He continues, "When you're writing you're always dancing between your conscious and unconscious mind, and sometimes your unconscious mind takes over. Some of [the mistakes I made] are happy accidents, and some of them are probably something smarter than you at work, and I think of 'Red' as having a lot of that in it."
Listen to EW's exclusive premiere of "Red" below. Eulogy: Volume I is out Nov. 17.
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