4Play 4Questions: Jonathan Coulton, musician

I’m extremely excited about this week’s 4Play 4Questions. Geek rocker Jonathan Coulton gave us a call last week to talk about music, life, and video games. Personally, I’m a huge fan. He’ll be making his first trip to Valley on May 15 at the Brickhouse in downtown Phoenix.

I read that you quit the luscious cubicle life to enter the music industry, how long before that were you making music and what was the decision like to make it your full time job?

I’ve been writing songs since I was in high school, and, I guess also recording songs since I was in high school. And it was a very gradual transition from then until now. I would record songs only for myself and then give them to friends and girls that I liked. And then it, sort of, continued through college, and then in 2003, I finally got it together to record a bunch of songs and print a CD. I was not a famous person. I was not even moderately well known. It was, sort of, a vanity pressing, I think.

But I made the CD and made it available online and would sell one copy a month or something like that. Around then, I was involved with this thing called “Little Gray Book” lectures which was a reading series created and hosted by a guy named John Hodgman who is a good friend of mine. I was part of this reading series and write a song for each show based on whatever the theme was for that show. The people who would come to that sort of knew who I was. So, that was sort of the beginning of the fan base there, I think.

And then, it was in 2005 when I quit the day job to do this full-time. It was not that I was making money with the music to convince me to leave the job; it was more of a leap of faith. Enough had been happening that I felt like if I pushed it a little harder I might be able to move a little further downfield and maybe even make some money doing that. It was also a very tortured decision. It was something I had always intended to do. I always meant to become a professional musician, but somehow, I just never gotten around to it.

The few factors that conspired to make it possible for me to do that was one of them being the birth of my daughter which was earlier in 2005. Becoming a parent really does change you the way they say it does. For me, I finally felt my own mortality very acutely. It became clear to me that I had a limited amount of time on this Earth and why wasn’t I doing what I wanted to do. Also, it was important to me to set a good example for my daughter, in terms of, being a person doing what they wanted to do rather than a person who is taking the safe route.
It was a difficult decision and took years for me to get there. I feel very fortunate that it turned out to be a good decision.

Who would you say is your fan base?Jonathan Coulton

There’s no way to mince words about at this point. My fans are predominately geeks. I use that as a term of affection. It’s the way I think of myself. The real core of the fan base, I think, is people who like computers, who write software, who use the internet, who enjoy science fiction, who have played Dungeons and Dragons. Not to resort to clichés, but that really seems to be the core fan base. I think a Jonathan Coulton show is one of the few places where you can hear “This is a song about math” and then screaming and applause following that line.

“Still Alive” has become extremely popular with gamers and is moving its way to Rock Band. Are you planning on making music for any other games?

I don’t have any plans to. I’m certainly open to it. One of the nice things about working with Valve on “Still Alive” was that there was such an overlap of styles and sensibilities that for me to write that song for that game was not really a stretch. Not that I didn’t work hard on it, it was the kind of song that I would write anyway. It was a very lucky thing for both of us, I think. One of the reasons it turned out so well is that they created a game with a character that was the same kind of character that I’m always writing about anyway. In that sense, it was a very natural matchup. I think if something else like that came along, I’d more than happy to contribute to the game.

After the robot uprising, will you join the resistance or welcome our robot overlords?

Well, you know, I would have to say it really depends on the nature of the robots and the nature of the uprising. If they’re enslaving humanity, I think there’s not question: I would join the resistance. If they are pretending to help humanity and still enslaving humanity, I would join the resistance. If they were actually helpful, I’m with the robots.

To truly appreciate the humor of his answer to the fourth question, you really have to listen to his response.

A sampling of our favorite songs:

Code Monkey

Mr. Fancy Pants

Soft Rocked by Me

Originally appeared on the 4Play video game blog on azcentral.com on April 10, 2008.

Posted: December 10th, 2012
Categories: Video games
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