Need to Know: Michael 'Chase' DiMartino

6.17.2010

By Joseph Hassan

The singer-songwriter talks about his double life as a sign language interpreter, translating meetings by day and pop stars like Lady Gaga and Britney by night.

Michael 'Chase' DiMartino is a new breed of Clark Kent. By day, the 26-year-old serves as a sign-language interpreter -- translating meetings for a deaf business woman in New York City. By night, the Bay Ridge, Brooklyn native is using his hands -- and his moves -- for another lofty purpose: To bring the likes of Britney Spears and Lady Gaga to the deaf and hearing-impaired communities through the art of sign language. After he posted interpretive videos of 'Womanizer,' Britney Spears herself had them posted to her website, bringing DiMartino's videos over the 700,000-viewer threshold. He's been asked to interpret Lady Gaga's upcoming sold-out show at Madison Square Garden (check out his sign-language video for 'Bad Romance' here). A singer-songwriter and performer in his own rite (he performed at Carnegie Hall at the age of 16), Chase is unveiling his own original material and, in doing so, hoping to bridge the hearing and deaf communities in a way that has never been done before.

Out: So break it down for me. What's your day job?
Michael 'Chase' DiMartino: I work as a sign language interpreter. I'm a personal interpreter for a deaf woman. My day consists of seven or eight meetings in which I interpret communications between the hearing people in the room -- ranging from lawyers to teachers -- and the deaf woman. Everything that's happening, I interpret.

How did you get into sign language in the first place?
I needed a language requirement ' and can't roll my r's in Spanish. It just didn't work. I used my hands a lot. And then after I took [the course] -- I remember it was like two or three weeks into it -- in college, I started to be really fascinated. It kind of hooked me. I felt like I was in the right place. And it snowballed from there. It took two years to learn the language and then two years to interpret it.

Describe the difference between learning and interpreting.
You learn the language as in the vocabulary. But when you're interpreting there are different modalities. You can sign word-for-word, which is called 'pigeon sign language' versus ASL [American Sign Language], which is strictly conceptualized. You can't just know vocabulary and be able to interpret. You can communicate, you can chat, but you can't necessarily interpret.

How do you make the bridge from a more formal sign-language interpreter and say, You know what, I really want to interpret music?
Prior to sign language -- I mean, I'm a New Yorker -- I'm an actor, singer. The whole extravaganza. I always felt the desire to perform. I've been in plays before. I've been reviewed by The New York Times. And when I learned sign language there was a class that was for music. They had a talent show and I said, I want to do something different, I want to do a rap song. And I did 'Gold Digger' from Kanye West on stage in front of a whole audience. And it felt like this is where I belong. And to see to the people there watching and loving it and knowing that it was something different that hasn't been done before, that was kind of the moment it happened.

Then what?
And then I decided -- let me see what people think on the Internet; I started getting views, and it started snowballing. And then I learned how to edit [video]. The next thing that happened was Britney Spears. I had done 'Womanizer' and her camp put it up on her website [see why by checking out Chase's video for that song herehere]. At that point I started thinking to myself -- it's really great doing other artists' songs'

But you want to share your own inspiration, too.
After 'Womanizer,' there was this shift in my mind, where I no longer wanted to do just that. I wanted to show people who I am, what my voice is, what my influence on music is. That's why I started to go into the studio and started to write songs with another artist, Adam Joseph. He did the instrumental and we wrote lyrics together.

So, as an artist, where are you right now?
It's been just a wonderful time. I have my videos, which are an extension of myself and now I feel like I have my music, which is an extension of myself and it really feels like a baby. I've always heard people say that but I never understood it until now. It feels like my baby. I put so much into this -- and it's my emotion. It's going onto a limb. It's taking a huge risk.

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