When it comes to geek culture, Jonathan Coulton is your man. No, he’s not some guy in his mid-30’s whose Sheldon Cooper like wardrobe is ironed by his mother…because he lives in her basement. He’s a Yale graduate who likes to incorporate geek life into music, and no, he doesn’t live in anyone’s basement. Coulton made a name for his self by doing what he loved and has gained quite the following in his realm. Now read along as he explores the internet, geek as a trend and what he’s currently up to.
Kendra: When you were attending Yale, did you imagine you’d be this guy who made a life out of geek themed music?
Jonathan Coulton: In high school I used to talk about how I wanted to be a professional songwriter musician guy, but I think by college I started thinking that was maybe too unrealistic. And by the time I was out of college, it seemed totally crazy, but I still kept it in the back of my head as the thing I really wanted to do. The geek-themed stuff was never really part of the goal, it’s just the stuff that I was writing about when people started hearing about me. And it was only after Where Tradition Meets Tomorrow that I realized I had a thematic thing going.
Kendra: If technology hadn’t progressed as much as it had when you were starting out and the Internet wasn’t as relevant, how do you think your life would’ve turned out? What avenues would you have used without the Internet?
Jonathan: I owe my success almost entirely to the rise of the mp3, podcasting, blogging, and social networks. I took a casual attitude toward getting my stuff out there my entire life, making copies of cassette tapes for friends, that sort of thing. It was only after the internet grew up that a casual attitude (post it online and wait) could actually lead to strangers hearing your music. And even a tiny amount of success like that made it easier to push a little harder, and try to get more people to hear it. Without all the technological and cultural shifts of the last 10-15 years, I don’t think I ever would have worked hard enough to do it the old fashioned way.
Kendra: Over the past few years the nerd world has become very mainstream, from the box office comic book hits to the geek chic of The Big Bang Theory and New Girl. Do you ever feel like “dammit, it’s not a fashion statement to be a geek, it’s just a way of living?”
Jonathan: The word geek used to be about being a weird outsider, but it’s become a convenient catch-all label for all sorts of things, to the extent that it’s a hard to say exactly what it means anymore. And as geek has become more mainstream, it has taken on this clubby aspect – having “geek cred” didn’t used to be a thing anyone had to worry about. I think it’s great that this community of people has found itself, and I like that there are shows on television about zombies and everything. But I do think sometimes the flag waving around geek culture takes up a little too much bandwidth in the discussion – it’s 2012 and the internet is here, we can all just like what we like without it being political.
Kendra: Where are you at musically right now? Writing, touring, what’s going on with you in that aspect of life?
Jonathan: Right now touring, but wanting to get back into making things. Artificial Heart was a really great experience for me creatively, and it was fun to stretch out a little. Playing with a band has been very rewarding as well, and I’m still figuring it out, but on this tour it’s really started to come together in a way that ties the old material to the new material. All of the shows on this current tour have been amazing. So I don’t know exactly what’s next, but I hope that soon I’ll find that thing that challenges me and feels like a good direction – it was important for me creatively to do something scary on the last record, so I think I need to find that again.
Kendra: For mixtape we want you to pick 5 songs you’d put on a mixtape for someone who wasn’t aware of geek culture, since you’re kind of the expert at it. We’ll call it “Jonathan’s Guide to Geek,” go!
“Double Rainbow” by the Gregory Brothers – This song reaches the heights to which all other internet memes aspire – weird thing that was awesome plus talented people with a creative idea equals WTF this is awesome.
“Skipper Dan” by Weird Al – If you haven’t checked in with Weird Al in a while, this song will remind you how great he is. He gets a lot of well-deserved credit for parody songs, but he writes a lot of excellent original songs as well.
“25 Days of Newman” by Paul and Storm – I’m biased because they’re my friends, but this is one of my favorite things that they’ve done – 25 theme songs for movies that Randy Newman should have written. Don’t miss the last one.
“Road Trip” by Molly Lewis – if this sad ukulele song about astronaut turned kidnapper Lisa Nowak doesn’t make you fall in love with Molly, then you don’t have a heart.
“Final Boss” by MC Frontalot – there are a lot of delicious, hook-laden grooves in the godfather of nerdcore’s catalog, but this is the one that always get stuck in my head.