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Jonathan Coulton is a musician and songwriter. A former computer programmer and self-described geek, Coulton tends to write quirky, witty lyrics about topics like science fiction and technology: a man[…]

Jonathan Coulton noodles until he comes up with a musical idea that he likes.

Question: How do you write a comedy song? 

Jonathanrn Coulton: I like it best when there's just a little crystal of an rnidea that comes from somewhere, I know not where, and it just sort of rnsprings forth. A little tiny idea. It can be a line, or an image or justrn something that a character would say and, ideally, when it works best, rnit's a thing that occurs to me and then I immediately know everything rnabout that character. It's a little nugget of a thing that makes me rncompletely understand who this person is and then it just sort of comes rnout and it's very easy. 

It's rarely like that however. More rnoften, I have to really kickstart that process at any number of points. rnSo I might sit around with a guitar and just play and play and play and rnplay. You know, noodling until I come up with a musical idea that I rnlike. And then I'll play the musical idea over and over again and sort rnof hum nonsense syllables against it until I hear a word that I think rnworks and maybe that word becomes something. You know, "I know this linern ends with the word 'dissolve.' And so, what rhymes with dissolve and rnthen what could that be about?" And along the way you have to sort of rnkeep stepping back and looking at it and seeing if it makes sense and rnthinking about where you wanted to take the listener and just sort of rnpiece by piece, stringing it together until it's the thing that you rnbelieve it should be. 

Question: What genres have rnproven most influential in your music? 

Jonathan Coulton: I'mrn a real sucker for the slow, sad, sensitive, folky stuff. I really am. rnIt's one of the reasons that I love bluegrass. I came to listen to rnbluegrass relatively recently but it’s one of the few styles of music rnthat actually can move me to tears when I'm listening to it. Some of thern sadder bluegrass songs are so amazingly powerful, have such an rnemotional quality to them even though the music is very simple and the rnmessage is very simple. There's always a child dying or somebody's rnmother is dying or it's somebody just missing their family who's far rnaway. It's very simple concepts but something about the simplicity of rnthe music and the simplicity of the ideas, just expressed in this reallyrn raw way. Really, really hits me. 

And so I try when I can to, rnyou know a lot of the time I am writing funny songs, but I try to bring rnout that emotional aspect of it when I can. I try to find sympathy for rnthe characters that I'm writing about, even if they're ridiculous, whichrn frequently they are. I like to think, "Well, what, you know what do rnthey want?" and more important, "What is it that they want that they're rnnot getting, that they're never going to get and why is that sad to rnthem?" That’s to me the heart of writing a good song, is getting to thatrn piece of it. 

Question: What bluegrass song really rndoes it for you? 

Jonathan Coulton: I can't think of rnthe name of the song now, but it's a Stanley Brothers song and it might rnbe called “My Precious Children,” or something like that, but he's rntalking about how his kids have grown up and moved away and it used to rnbe the family was together all the time and now they're dispersed and hern rarely sees them. I'm getting a little shivery just thinking about it rnand maybe it's because I'm a parent now that, that means so much to me, rnbut that's the one that you know I was driving somewhere in the car and rnthat song came on and I started weeping. It's really, really amazing.

Recorded on May 6, 2010