PAX East 2013

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John Coulton

24 March 2013 | Written by Maxxum, with contributions by Ally

'Portal' is the Pac-Man of the current generation of games - yet more effective in that it ignores any gender stereotypes, unlike that sexist Ms. Pac-man. (How gender specific does eating little balls have to be?) If there were a cereal, every nerd would be eating it, if there were a cartoon show, every nerd would be watching it. Portal has universal appeal across gaming nerds, and John Coulton wrote two very well known songs for the Portal series that many gamers now know by heart. He graciously provided me an interview in between autograph sessions.


click to enlarge

What started your interest in music, and when did you start focusing on science and geek oriented arrangements?

I've sort of always been interested in music, even as a kid, I mean my parents are both musical and played instruments and sang, so it was always just around. And, I took piano lessons, I played in a band, I sang in the chorus, all that stuff. So, it's always been a big part of my life. And, then... I dunno, the geek think just sort of happened by accident, when I just realized at some point that I had been writing a lot of stuff just naturally. I sort of looked back on what I had written over a certain period of time and I was like, there's a bunch of like nerdy stuff in there and it just sort of occurred to me that it was sort of a running theme. So, it wasn't like I'd set out to do it, it was just I was writing about all sorts of stuff, and then I noticed I was writing about a lot of those things.

Do you still work as a programmer, and if not, why did you make the shift to a career in music?

No, I left that job in 2005 because it was not, y'know, I felt like I had more to offer as a song-writer and performer. And, I've been doing this full-time ever since, and I'm lucky enough that I'm able to make a living this way.

Coming from a programming background, has that influenced your music?

No more so than liking cheese-steak sandwiches has influenced my music, I mean it's just a part of who I am. I think that I'm the kind of guy who likes to solve puzzles and figure out how things work and so that explains both why I am a song-writer and why I was a software designer, to me they both sort of spring from the same source of interests and abilities.

In Concert

When you're not writing music what do you like to do in your spare time?

Well, I have kids so I don't know what you mean when you say "spare time" (laughs). What do I do... I don't know. I, uh, I live in New York City - it's a pretty social city because I live within walking distance of a lot of friends so I'm really a hang-out and have dinner together kind of guy (laughs) that's it, y'know. I just like being with my friends mostly.

Tell a little about your family, when did you meet your wife and how many kids do you have?

I met my wife when I was in college, although we did not really get to know each other until after college; we were part of the same circle of friends in New York for many years. And, then eventually fell in love and got married. And, then I have two kids, a daughter who is 7, and a son who is 4.


Journalist Comments:

If you didn't attend PAX, I'm sorry to say you missed a couple good performances with John Coulton. His song schedule is available through his website; I suggest visiting to see when he'll be near your area next.

Photos by Maxxum