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.

On the idea of risk, describe what it's like going into your day job and keeping that completely separate from your entertainment side.
It's actually really tough. Interpreting is my world. Sign language is my world. Music is my world.

But while it's your passion, it's something that you're hiding in a way, too. Especially from your coworkers, who you see every day. That can't be easy.
Interpreting is creative in and of itself. You have to learn how to take someone else's words, interpret them, and then put them out there in a manner that would be as understandable and as equivalent as the initial person wanted it to be. It has a degree of creativity, but you're bound. When you get be your own performer and your own artist you get to kind of realize the dream. There is this shift that happens. And to go into work and have to not tell my coworkers 'Hey, come to my show,' or, 'Hey, I'm recording this music.' It's hard. It's hard to go and sit in a cubicle in a quiet environment, when inside of me I'm ready to pop. It's not a desire, it's a necessity.

You're using one of the same skills, but they're very different jobs.
And they're two different hats. One is very professional and one is the [shirtless] guy with blood on his face in the video. So it's hugely different.

So tell me a little bit about your coworkers and what you think the reaction is going to be when they discover this other, shirtless, side of you?
My closest coworkers know. But the older ones'

And when you say 'older,' we're talking'
Sixty-five, 70 years old. I'm not sure what the reaction will be. I'm very playful at work so I don't think it'll be a shock to them. But I think that it will be, um, I definitely think if they come and see the show it will be something they've never seen before. And something they might not expect of me. You know, singing [my own song] called 'Hard Candy,' making these innuendos, thrusting. All that kind of stuff' things that come with performing. [Pauses] It might be better if they don't. [Laughs.]

But they're invited, of course'
They're invited. Absolutely.

Tell me about the show you've got coming up in New York [at the Laurie Beechman Theatre on Sunday, June 20.]
It's about 45 minutes. We pack in six songs, a dance break. I'll be doing a YouTube set, which is two or three videos, and I'll be showcasing four of my songs that will be coming out on the upcoming album. I have backup dancers, who are going to be showing you the full-on brunt of what dance is -- and they also learned sign language. They're coming forward and they're signing the chorus with me. We're all coming together.

What I find interesting is that music is, inherently, about sound. Well, there are two components -- lyrics and sound. But for a hearing person, music is about sound. People who are going to come to your shows will be both hearing and deaf and, in a way, they're essentially going to be experiencing the same thing -- but differently.
Here's the thing. When you learn to interpret, you're learning to relay a message equally. So the question that's posed to me is how can I deliver this message equally? How can I show you what music should look like? You might think at first that it's a little tricky. But we've been watching music since forever. We watch dance. That's music. And if you shut off the volume, you'll see [artists] moving to music. You'll see contemporary, you'll see the slow, a ballad, you'll see hip-hop -- it's much faster. If you can imagine each pop-and-lock having a different lyric attached to it. All of a sudden you're understanding a song by the rhythm. You can look at it and you know: that's music.

What's it like building the bridge between the hearing and the deaf communities?
It's almost like it's the epitome of what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to take dancers who are from a music world and show them what music could mean in the deaf world by teaching them sign. And, ultimately, I'm taking sign language and bringing it to the music world. So it really is a collision of two different worlds.

Two worlds that are similar in way, but haven't necessarily seen that connection?
Never before has this been done. So it's going to be interesting. If you've ever watched an interpreter, there's something very fluid about it, something very beautiful about it. And a lot of the hearing people who I come across and they ask me what I do, they say, 'Wow. I'm always drawn to watching an interpreter.' So you can easily see how it can be portrayed as poetry, as music.

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