Tag Archives: Theatre

Interview in Razorcake Magazine

5 May
A couple of months ago, Martin Wong and Todd Taylor interviewed me for Razorcake 
about our play “Falling On Deaf Eyes” our upcoming punk rock/deaf community documentary “Live At The Deaf Club”, and balancing being an ASL Interpreter with being a musician. The interview is now available online, below and on Razorcake’s Website Thanks again to Martin and Todd for taking the time to do this interview.

When Justin Maurer introduced himself to me at a Save Music in Chinatown benefit show last winter, I was already a big fan of his garage punk band Maniac and knew a little about Clorox Girls and Suspect Parts, too. But it was news to me that he and his Deaf filmmaker pal Delbert Whetter whom he also introduced, were making a documentary about the San Francisco Deaf Club. Like everyone else, they were excited about seeing The Dils play their first show in four decades, adding that they wanted to interview Chip Kinman for the movie, too. The Dils had played the social club for Deaf people with Catholic Discipline during the first wave of West Coast punk. Wow!

Not more than a few minutes later, my wife and sister were excited to tell me  they just spotted the guy who was all over the news doing American Sign Language interpretation at the LAUSD teacher strike rallies. To us parents of elementary school students and supporters of public education, he was a big deal. And he turned out to be Justin!

We became friends. Over time, I’d notice Justin signing at appearances by big-time speakers like Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders, as well as local concerts by punk legends like Alice Bag and The Avengers. It was sort of a combination of the two worlds when he signed for my daughter’s band The Linda Lindas at a benefit gig my family helped organize to get educator and activist Jackie Goldberg elected to our school board. That’s when Justin told me he was going to make a play about his life as a punker and a Child of a Deaf Adult (CODA) and bringing the subcultures together.

Sure enough, just a few months later, my family attended the premiere engagement of Falling on Deaf Eyes at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. The totally DIY production told his life story with punk rock, signing, and incorporated a Deaf director, a Deaf producer, and a Deaf actress who played his mom. I loved how the piece showed underdog cultures overlapping and supporting each other in unexpected and wonderful ways, and I thought it was too good and too important to reach just the handful of people who caught performances in the shoebox-sized theater in East Hollywood. So I brought Justin to Razorcake HQ for a chat.

Introduction by Martin Wong

A quick note from Justin: Someone who identifies as culturally Deaf (big “D” Deaf) stems from Deaf cultural traditions: story telling, values, literature, and theatre. These capital “D” Deaf folks consider American Sign Language their native language. Big “D” Deaf is more Deaf-friendly. Medically—but not culturally—deaf folks when discussing purely medical hearing loss usually spell deaf with a lowercase “d.” It’s a political thing or a personal preference.


Martin: Justin, your life seems pretty random, but even crazier is the fact that you wrote and acted in a play about being a punker and a child of Deaf adults that ties the two subcultures and makes sense of them. Can you tell us about that?

Justin: Well, I was born in L.A. and went to high school and middle school on Bainbridge Island, Wash. I’m what you call a CODA: a Child of a Deaf Adult. My mom is deaf and my aunt and stepdad are also Deaf, so I grew up with sign language. And, being the oldest in my family, it was my job to interpret for my mom.

Fast forward many years later through punk rock bands and touring and everything, and I started working as a sign language interpreter. I started in Long Beach, and now I work all over L.A., Orange County, and Ventura County.

I met Delbert Whetter last year, and Delbert is a deaf filmmaker. I found out he‘’s doing a documentary on the San Francisco Deaf Club. What a lot of people don’t realize is that it was actually a hangout for the deaf. This was before the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ADA, passed, and before technology. So if deaf people wanted to meet up, they would just go there and hope their friends would be there.

To pay for the club, you’d have to have a membership card and pay your dues, but they were running low on money and—at the time in the late ’70s—there were hardly any clubs for punk bands to play. The Mabuhay Gardens and Dirk Dirksen kind of had a lock on the early San Francisco punk scene, so the manager of The Offs, whose name was Robert Hanrahan, went to Taqueria La Cumbre on Valencia and saw across the street a sign that said “hall for rent.” He went in, found out it was the Deaf Club, and communicated by writing on a piece of paper back and forth with the deaf people. They said, “Fifty bucks a night and it’s yours.”

So he started throwing shows at the Deaf Club, where the deaf people ran the bar and the door. He booked pretty much every single major West Coast punk band—The Bags, The Germs, The Dils, D.O.A., The Zeros—’78 to ’79 played the Deaf Club.

It was two marginalized communities that somehow came together and, even though they wouldn’t normally be in the same room, the deaf people liked the punks and their strange clothes. And the swearing didn’t bother them.

Todd: You told me before that they could touch the speakers and feel the volume of the punk rock in their bodies.

Justin: They would hold their hands on top of wooden tables or go right up to the PA speakers or sometimes hold a balloon in the air to feel the vibrations. The Deaf people at the bar who weren’t interested in the music could talk through it because sign language is their mode of communication.

Martin: They’re reading lips and saying, “Stop yelling at me! I got your order!”

Todd: “Rum and Coke, I got it!”

Justin: The punks would order Budweiser because it was the easiest thing to lipread. And maybe for the price: I think it was a buck a beer or something. But they would write it down on a piece of paper or say “Bud” really clearly to be lipread or make the sign for beer, which is just a “B” up to your chin.

Anyway, Deaf folks at the time were marginalized. They weren’t required an interpreter by law. For example some landlords wouldn’t rent them apartments—discriminating against their disability. It was fairly common that employers wouldn’t hire Deaf people, thinking that it’d be too hard to deal with their disability in the workplace. The ADA didn’t exist yet, so this was their sacred space and the fact they invited the punks in was a big deal. This went on for about a year. Last year I met Delbert and he said, “I’m doing a documentary about the Deaf Club. I’m like, ‘No way!’”

Todd: A dream job!

Justin: Afterward, I took him aside and said, “My background is playing in punk rock bands, and if you need help with the documentary, a lot of these people are still around.” So we did the first round of interviews.

He also wants to show it half from the deaf perspective, but the deaf people were ten to fifteen years older at the time so a lot of them have died off. And because of the pricing in the Bay Area, a lot of them have moved. It’s hard to track a lot of them down because this was pre-social media, so it’s all word of mouth.

Martin: That’s why you gotta do it now.

Justin: We did the first round of interviews: Penelope Houston from The Avengers, Chip Kinman from The Dils, and Hector Peñalosa from The Zeros. So we’re on our way.

Martin: What an amazing soundtrack it will have, whether you hear it or hold your hand up to the speakers!

Justin: And so, fast-forwarding a tiny bit, I was the sign language interpreter for the L.A. teachers strike.

Todd: And how did that happen?

Justin: I had interpreted for the teachers union before because there are probably one hundred deaf teachers in L.A. and each division—they call them chapters—has a chapter chair. One of the public schools has two Deaf chapter chairs and for the union meetings, they needed sign language interpreters. I met them by interpreting a few of their meetings. I was interpreting at a funeral—and I’m the worst person to do that—when I got the call.

Todd: Why is that?

Justin: I’ll just burst into tears because I’m facing the audience and every single person is crying—and it’s probably the Deaf client’s family members who passed away. So I got a message asking if I could be in Downtown L.A. by 5 PM and I said, “Sure, I can do it.” And it was them announcing their strike. I got along well with them and they found out that I understand Spanish, too, and that I could do Spanish to ASL, so they wanted me for the duration of the strike for that reason.

So I was doing press conferences in the morning and afternoon, marches in the rain, and the rallies with musical guests: Wayne Kramer from the MC5, Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine, and Latin hip-hop guys like Ozomatli. I was thrown into the fray and it was like interpreter boot camp!

But Delbert’s brother Jevon was a teacher on strike. He’s a teacher at CSUN and also at East Valley High School. I met him there, and we got along. Then I found out he had a background in theatre. He had been on tour with the National Theatre of the Deaf and Deaf West Theatre out here in L.A., and had been involved in all these productions. Now he’s a filmmaker with his brother.

So working every day with the Deaf community, I realized that none of my events are deaf accessible. If I do a book reading, it’s in a bookstore, and there’s twenty people. There’s no interpreter and there’s no way a deaf person could come and enjoy it. If I play a punk rock show, sure, deaf people could come and probably enjoy it, but there’s nothing to really invite them in and no interpreter provided, if anyone would want one. So I wanted to put on a show that could bring in the deaf community and the hearing community.

Martin: Did you have any theatre background going into this?

Justin: I hadn’t done theatre since high school, but I had done a lot of writing and written a lot of autobiographical stuff, and wanted to do a show. I noticed one-man shows, like right now in L.A. John Leguizamo is doing his Latin History for Morons. It’s possible to write something and you don’t have to rely on these flakes who you play music with. And maybe you can tour and maybe there’s some kind of future for it, and I love storytelling.

A friend of mine said, “Deaf people aren’t going to be interested unless there’s a deaf person on stage.” I said, “Good point.” So we got a deaf actress to play my mother and two sign language interpreters. One is to sign for me when I was voicing and then for the other half of the show when I’m talking with mother, I sign and talk at the same time, which is called sim-com. And then there’s another interpreter for the deaf actress. It became a whole production—a clusterfuck.

Martin: It sounds complicated, but it all really works like a well-oiled machine. At first you’re figuring out that this person is signing for that person, but then you don’t even think about it and it becomes natural after a couple minutes. It’s ingenious. How many months did it take to put this together?

Justin: It was my new year’s resolution to do the show, and I wrote the first draft in probably a day. I figured I wanted it to be sixty minutes…

Todd: Sixty pages…

Justin: So I banged it out in a day and then I bugged Jevon Whetter. “Will you please direct this?” Because I really wanted to have a pair of Deaf eyes on the play, which I ended up calling Falling on Deaf Eyes, which is based on something my mom used to say. She’d be able to know if I came into the room. I’d say, “Mom, you didn’t hear us walk in. How did you know?” And she’d say, “I saw the curtain move just a little bit. Be careful, I have Deaf eyes.” She could always tell if I’d been somewhere where there was cigarette smoke or if there had been drinking—she could smell it. All of her other senses were just honed.

Martin: Like Daredevil!

Justin: When I was growing up, my friends’ parents wouldn’t want their kids to ride in the car with my mom because they’d say, “Oh, she can’t hear sirens. It’s dangerous. Or “Don’t go over there because she won’t be able to hear the smoke alarm.” “She won’t be able to hear you guys getting into trouble.” I don’t think they notice that Deaf people use their other senses, and my mom would be the first one to pull over because she could see the sirens coming from a mile away.

Todd: She could see flashing lights, reflections…

Martin: Everyone else is blasting music and can’t hear anyway!

Todd: Or just completely distracted: “I’m just driving my road couch…”

Justin: Which was a benefit, when my mom was driving. I could play Minor Threat’s discography at full blast at twelve years old and it didn’t bug her.

Martin: That’s one of my favorite parts of the play, where you talk about turning it up when you were practicing and how you could do that because your mom was Deaf.

Justin: She started to get upset when the neighbors were calling the police and the cops were showing up once or twice a week.

Martin: So was the crowd at your play as divided like you hoped it would be, with a lot of Deaf people and a lot of punks?

Justin: It really was! I really made a point to have interpreters, and I think we had interpreters for four out of the seven shows. And we really tried to promote it to the deaf community as much as we could. In Southern California I think there’s from 800,000 to one million Deaf and hard of hearing people, most of them in L.A. County. And, Jevon, being well connected, and our actress, Lisa Hermatz being well connected, she teaches at Pierce College and Glendale College—the Deaf community is small so they spread the word. I’d say we had some nights with a 50/50 audience. In the end, I’d say we did the show for almost four hundred people.

Todd: That’s fantastic.

Justin: It was a small theatre, but we packed it on most nights, which was cool.

Martin: It was the size of the Anti-Club or something. It was pretty small, and it felt like you were going to a punk rock show because you’re waiting outside and then sitting on wooden benches in a room with no air conditioning. And then there was loud music!

Justin: We actually found the air conditioning switch around halfway through the performances. And, like a real show, I almost smacked some people in the front row with my guitar kind of like I was actually playing!

Martin: Do you feel like you got a lot of press? Did people talk about it as much as you hoped?

Justin: We were part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival and they had almost three hundred shows this year, which was a lot of really stiff competition. Even though, I think our show was unique. We were the only show that had interpreters and a Deaf actor, Deaf director, Deaf producer, and sign language as part of the show rather than as an afterthought.


Martin: I liked seeing wheat-pasted posters around the neighborhood, too. It felt like a show!

Justin: One of the guys from Form Rank did that. I won’t say whom, but he asked me if I wanted that done. I was like, “Well, I don’t really want to get fined.” He ended up doing it, but he was smart because he left off the name of the theatre, so it was just the name of the show. That was right off in Hollywood on Highland, where you see all these “Post No Bills” signs and they’re cracking down on that.

Martin: So around four hundred people got to see it, including me, and we’re pretty stoked on it—enough that I want to talk to you about it here. So who gets to see it next?

Justin: I want it to go on tour, but it was such an expensive show to do because of everybody involved and hiring interpreters. I paid for it and maxed out all my credit cards. It really screwed me up financially but, in the end, I was glad I did it. It was my first time producing a play.

Martin: We were still talking about it a week later, and there are so many things you can get out of it. The use of DIY to support deaf people—no one would imagine that! So after the play, it’s not like you’ve discovered there’s this scene of punks and deaf people, is it? Did you discover there are more people like this or is it just one crazy unicorn wandering around the forest?

Justin: We’re in L.A. so there are pockets of everything. People will travel across L.A. County to go to a destination to see a band play. I think Deaf people, too, have their little pockets and they’re spread out. Because this was one of the few events that had sign language in it that was part of the show and had deaf actors and a deaf director, it was something special. So deaf people traveled. One person was from Minnesota. Someone else came from Oregon. People came from Riverside and San Bernardino and the Valley. People made the trek to check out the show, which is really cool. Whereas L.A. people, they’re like, “Hollywood? That’s too far!’

Todd: Did you tone down any of the punk rock stuff for the deaf community?

Justin: What I was worried about was knowing there were a lot of kids coming. Even Martin’s kid. I thought, “Should I take out the swearing?” And I was like, “No! It needs to be in there.” I was trying to make it authentic to how I would have talked as a teenager because I’m a teenager in the play. It’s weird because I’m in my thirties playing a teenage version of myself, and I found my old punk clothes from that era: the same leather jacket, the same denim vest that says The Jerk-Offs with the sleeves cut off…

Martin: How about the flyers on the wall?

Justin: Those were actual flyers off my teenage bedroom that I happened to find in a box.

Martin: What were some of the bands on them?

Justin: Mostly local bands. I went to high school on Bainbridge Island, Wash., so the bands were like The Rickets, Pud, The Scandals, The Unabombers, The Cleavers, and my high school band was called Maurice’s Little Bastards.

Todd: So I have some questions going back to your personal history. Did you ever feel like you have to separate punk and the Deaf community? Growing up around  Deaf people and being around Deaf people, did you feel you needed to take a break? Was that one of the things you rebelled against when you were growing up?


Justin: I think the experiences of a lot of children of Deaf adults and first-generation immigrants are probably very similar. Like a letter may come in the mail: “Hey, this letter is important. Tell me what it means.” And they’re asking a six-year-old kid. “Hey, there’s a meeting at my work and they can’t find an interpreter. You’re coming with me.” When my parents got divorced I had to interpret for my mom’s lawyer, and I was like nine years old or something.

I started playing in bands and went on tour with people ten years older when I was fifteen, and it was something where I was able to have my own voice, rather than being the voice for my mom.

Todd: Being the interpreter.

Justin: Yes, exactly. So I didn’t really think of it as rebelling, it was just an outlet that I needed to have. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties when I thought maybe I can bring them together onto one stage where both parties can enjoy it.

Martin: I don’t want to spoil the play for people who haven’t seen it, but there’s this part where you have a series of crappy jobs and then you realize you can be an interpreter—that you are an interpreter. And it just kind of happens naturally where you see that it’s a tool. It’s a gift.

Justin: When you do your whole life in sixty minutes, it’s an abbreviated version. But I was a traveling dental supply salesman. I was a graveyard shift delivery driver. For a lot of people in L.A. now, you almost have to have a side gig or second or third job just to survive. That’s almost everyone I know, and it isn’t just for musicians. And you don’t even think about music as something that brings in money because it probably doesn’t.

Martin: Multiple jobs used to be poor people coming over or people without a lot of dough or connections, and now it’s normalized. It’s so crazy.

Justin: I live south of Koreatown, so my neighborhood is mostly people from El Salvador, and everyone in my building wakes up at five in the morning and works two or three jobs. And on the weekend they’ll set up a shop in the doorways of their houses to sell clothes and shoes. And anyone who says that immigrants are not hard working… {shakes head}.

People are hustling hard.

Martin: It’s really interesting how you compare being a child of Deaf adults to being a child or immigrants. I never thought of that.

Justin: I grew up with a lot of people whose parents came from Mexico or Central America and it was them who had to interpret the phone calls, letters that came in the mail, and stuff from bill collectors and banks that maybe kids shouldn’t be involved in. And, to me, growing up with a Deaf mom it was the same thing. She was like, “What is this letter?” “It says they’re going to repossess your car, mom.” Or, “You’re three months late on this bill” or “They’re going to turn off your electricity.” Then it becomes your problem.

Martin: How many bands have you been in? I’ve heard maybe three, but I know there are way more.

Justin: Maybe ten?

Todd: I first saw you in the Clorox Girls at Juvee. That was a fun show… So your dad was in a punk band, too.

Justin: They were called The Defenders. Yeah, I guess more like new wave. They’d play clubs where the skinny tie bands would play like Madame Wong’s West and places like that.

Todd: Are there any legacies, besides the Deaf Club, of Deaf folks playing in bands or has it just not happened?

Justin: There’s been a few. Most famously, there’s a band called Beethoven’s Nightmare. They were in a documentary that came out recently.

Todd: Wow. It just seems that most music is played on the radio or podcasts. And that’s terra incognita for Deaf people.

Justin: There are also different levels of hearing loss. It’s not one-size-fits-all. I’m sure there are people who are Deaf in one ear or people like Beethoven who became deaf at a later age. The bass player in my dad’s band The Defenders became deaf at a late age and they started the band after he was diagnosed as more deaf than hearing.

Martin: But if you turn it up loud enough, he could still totally play?

Justin: Well, as a bass player, you can feel the low end. My mom liked feeling the low end. We used to go to a Deaf church in South L.A. They had the speakers for the organ underneath the wooden pews and they would completely vibrate. It was a crazy feeling, and I’m sure multiple women got orgasms from it.

Todd: Or were creeped out.

Martin: Men, too.

Justin: Deaf people absolutely loved it. Now they have a lot more interpreters doing shows, so Deaf people feel like that can be part of the experience.

Martin: Tell me about doing translating for The Avengers and Alice Bag.

Todd: Did you know the lyrics ahead of time or were you just riffing?


Justin: I was at the show at Alex’s Bar, and Alice Bag was like, “So, when are you going to interpret for me?” I was like, “I don’t know. Tonight?” So she wrote out the lyrics for “Gluttony” on this tiny piece of paper and said, “Okay, it’s going to be the last song.” I did the best I could.

Usually, you’d need to prep. For Martin’s daughter’s band, The Linda Lindas, I got to go to practice and know the set list beforehand. When you see interpreters just killing it, they probably prepped for at least a week and practiced at home and became familiar with it.

Todd: Almost like a conductor, emoting and knowing what’s happening?

Justin: Well, it’s an actual translation because ASL doesn’t have a written form. It’s usually written to English but it doesn’t follow English word order. If you’re doing that on the fly, the quality will suffer if it’s music because it’s usually a little more artful.

Martin: Usually you have to do a GoFundMe to get lyrics from an artist like Alice, so I hope you kept that…

Justin: I did! I have “Gluttony” on that little piece of paper.

Martin: I also love how some of the words are your call. Like for “I Wanna Be Sedated” with The Linda Lindas, you had a choice of how to sign for “sedated.”


Justin: Sure. “Sedated” could be taking a pill or having something injected into you or just calming down. I chose the injections sign, so it was eleven-year-old girls playing and I was signing “I want to be on drugs.” But I thought that was the best translation because he’s not talking about being given a pill; I’m imagining him in a straightjacket getting the injection to calm him down.

Martin: It must be a different sort of energy signing at a concert than… well, you’ve signed at some pretty big speaking engagements for Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren recently.

Todd: How are you on their radar?

Justin: I’m freelance, so when there’s an event where there’s a sign language interpreter requested each agency has contracts. It’s the organization renting the hall or maybe something like that.

Todd: And do you get their speech prior? Or do you read off the teleprompter and interpret?

Justin: In those two cases it was just on the fly.

Todd: Has anyone ever come up and said, “You killed it,” or, “You got a couple of things wrong there, buddy.”

Justin: Um, my mom.

Todd: [laughs]

Justin: And that’s why a lot of interpreters don’t want to be on TV because you can be picked apart because you’re doing multiple voices, it’s live, it’s on the fly, there are TV cameras on your face, and you just have to go, so there will be some mistakes.

Todd: I think just doing a language translation is hard enough because you’re hearing in one ear and talking simultaneously.

Justin: And it’s quick or you might hear something wrong or there’s ambient noise. After doing it for a while, if you want me to do this, I need a binder with laminated speeches on a music stand with a light clip. I need a headset monitor or floor monitor, just like if you were performing, so you can hear everything and know what’s going on. It’s like your set list when you’re in a band.

Todd: So you are in your thirties and you’ve been around the Deaf community for your entire life. What are some advances in technology that have really changed or improved the quality of life for Deaf people?

Justin: Well, think about something like Facetime. Deaf people can Facetime each other on their smart phones and sign language live in the moment. There’s something called the Video Relay Service. For a Deaf person to make a call, an interpreter will pop up on their computer screen and make the call for them. They’re on a headset and they’ll speak for the deaf person and sign directly back to them.

Before, the technology was called TTY and it was a relay service, so you’d call up and they’d say [in a slow robotic voice], “This is relay operator 5414 with the call.” And then there would be a long delay. And then you’d hear [in a slow robotic voice], “Hi, Justin, this is your mom. How have you been?” It would drive me insane. “Mom, mom, I’ll see you later,” and just hang up.

It was below phone booths in train stations and airports, and it was phone book-sized. It would pop out and you’d set the phone on it and it would make noises like a fax machine.

Martin: Like an old modem.

Justin: Yes, and it would convert the sounds into letters and there would be tons of typos. It was really hard for deaf people to make phone calls, and—the Americans with Disabilities Act, in the early ’90s with George Bush I, finally started to be enforced—so deaf people had to have professional sign language interpreters for job interviews, work meetings, and all of the above. But before that, it was just deaf people mainly using their  kids friends and neighbors who were hearing to interpret for them.

Martin: We see pictures of you signing for Michelle Obama, but aren’t most of your jobs for employee meetings at Kaiser and stuff like that?


Justin: Yeah, anywhere a deaf person has a meeting, an event, a workshop, training, or a lecture: government meetings, Social Security, doctor appointments, dental appointments, hospital ER—all of the above. We take our ability to communicate for granted, and that’s the limitation for deaf people: communication. Interpreters bridge that gap and provide equal access.

Martin: Suspect Parts is your most active band now. Earlier you mentioned that you’re in bands and you have shows, but there’s not a lot of access. Since this play, have you thought of ways to change that?

Justin: Sure, but the amount of money a band gets paid isn’t even enough to cover one interpreter for their half an hour set! Unless they’re volunteering, and  Deaf people are into the visceral experience, too. Delbert grew up in Oregon but went to college in D.C. at Gallaudet—one of the only four-year liberal arts colleges for deaf people in the world—and would go to shows at the 9:30 Club. I think the first or second time he went, the friend he went with got a black eye, and they both said, “This is the best thing ever!”

Todd: “We’re going next week!”

Justin: Exactly, and he was hooked for life. That’s how Delbert got into punk, and he was one of the  few deaf people from Gallaudet who would go to the 9:30 Club and check out all these bands. How to bridge that gap? I think the key is that if deaf people go, they just have to let people know. Then you can arrange the interpreter.

Todd: I feel the same way. With the punk rock that we’re involved in, it’s limited in financial resources, period. If somebody expresses a need and it’s reasonable—you’re in a wheelchair, we’ll try to get you in—we got it. That makes sense. So I’m sympathetic to both sides, and the big thing is people wanting to work with each other. Everybody should have equal access.

Justin: Absolutely. If it’s a venue like the Echoplex or even Alex’s Bar, if they send an email and say, “Hey, there’s going to be a few Deaf people showing up, can we provide interpreters?” Then it is on them, legally, to provide it. Under the ADA, they have to. Whether a lawsuit will be filed is another story. But they should, and probably could, find a volunteer or something. If someone said, “Hey, Justin. We don’t have a budget for this but would you mind interpreting for this event?” I’m more than happy to do it, but for music it takes preparation. For Penelope Houston, I know “We Are the One.” I’ll do that one, okay? And she says, “Okay, it’s the first song.”

Martin: Not many people can say they’ve been onstage with Alice and The Avengers. That’s really cool.

Justin: It’s really cool. As a teenager, I never thought I’d be up there doing sign language for The Avengers or Alice Bag. No way. But if someone asked me to do rap or something, nah.

Martin: Although you’ve done standup.

Justin: Yes, I’ve signed for standup comedians.

Todd: How did the jokes land?

Justin: Unfortunately, no Deaf people showed up! I was hoping they would. It was rough, and I was wondering if some of the humor would translate, like any language, like Spanish to English or Japanese.

Todd: For people who have mobility issues, a large thing that has happened in the last twenty years or so is doing curb cuts in sidewalks so people in wheelchairs can go all over the city. And when we look at it, people don’t know that’s the reason why it happened. They’re like, “Oh, I get to pull my luggage over that thing,” or “Oh, I get to push my shopping cart over the curb now.” Is there something the Deaf community pushed for and everyone benefits from now, like having closed captioning.

Justin: Yeah! That would be one example—closed captioning or subtitles.

Todd: I prefer watching TV with the subtitles, reading along.

Justin: And feel like you don’t miss something. Or Americans watching British TV. I need it but also I want to know what they’re saying.

Martin: Or some of us go to a lot of shows and our hearing sucks now.The Razorcake community, right there, benefits.

Justin: One thing I’ve really noticed is that you can say about twenty-five percent of Americans have some kind of disability, whether it’s dyslexia, ADHD, or visible or invisible disabilities, which includes deafness. And it’s now becoming part of the diversity conversation.

Here in L.A., every single film studio now has a diversity and inclusion department, and now they’re finally starting to consider the twenty-five percent of Americans with disabilities. Why not have an accurate portrayal of that on camera and behind the camera working on the set? Steps are being made to employ people with disabilities, including deaf people, and I think deaf people have been a vocal part of that, saying, “Hey, you need to make stories about us. Show us on screen. We want to see ourselves.” The next Avatar has CJ Jones, a deaf actor, who is creating a type of sign language for that planet and he’s in the movie as well. And Millicent Simmonds, a deaf actress, is going to star again in a sequel to A Quiet Place.

Martin: Spoiler alert! So Suspect Parts has a new 7”and some of you are in the U.S. and some of you are in Europe?

Justin: Well, when Clorox Girls fell apart, we were really badly in debt. So rather than go back to no job, no girlfriend, and no place to stay Portland, Ore., where I lived at the time, I went to Madrid for a couple of years and taught English and deejayed. I started this band when I was living over there because Chris from The Briefs had moved to Germany, and so we ended up getting together and recording a 7”. Later, we recruited Sulli, the guitarist who lives in London, and Andru, who lives in Berlin.

Martin: So three of you are in Europe, but not even in the same city.

Justin: Chris was in Berlin before, but now he’s in Munich. For a while, we were getting together once a year to record and tour, and this was our last recording. This year, because of the play and the Maniac tour, which lost a bunch of money, I’m not able to go back and do that again. I’m nose to the grindstone right now.

Todd: Are you fully employed signing now?

Justin: Yeah, I interpret five to six days a week.

Martin: And took a night off to do this interview. You could be out there right now.

Justin: There was a request from a hospital in Glendale.

Todd: Is there anything you say no to?

Justin: Interpreting math classes isn’t my favorite thing, although I just said yes to one.

Todd: That’s interesting because a lot of math is so visual.

Justin: But I just struggle with it myself. Plus my back is to the board, so when the teacher’s saying something I have to crane around to interpret it correctly. And if it’s a concept I’m really terrible with, like advanced, college-level math… But the rudimentary stuff is okay.


It all depends on the personality of the interpreter. Some don’t want to see blood, so they don’t want to go to the hospital or dental office. That doesn’t bother me, and I actually find medical interpreting to be rewarding because if you tell someone the wrong thing, it could literally be a life-or-death situation. You can’t be shy. You’ve got to get in there, and you can be in some gnarly situations sometimes.

Martin: That’s okay. Some interpreters don’t want to go to punk rock shows, so it all balances out. In a strange way, do you feel more whole than ever before? Because all these parts of your world are connecting now and there’s a narrative to it—one that you’ve even shared.

Justin: In screenwriting, they say, “Find your authentic voice.” Well, my authentic voice coming from a Deaf mom but growing up with punk rock, too, and to be able to bring both of those worlds together in some way. I’m still figuring it out, but I’m thinking about adapting the play into an episodic miniseries. From the stage to the screen, doing something like that could be really interesting. I’m thinking about writing a book, which is the extended version of the play but it’s different formatting and tweaking things. What can you do on the page that you can’t do on the stage? What can you do on screen?

Martin: And out of all these options, you have to think about the one that loses the least amount of money.

Justin: Right.

Todd: Start with that one first.

Justin: I think the fact that Hollywood is starting to tell Deaf stories from a Deaf perspective is really exciting. And I’m excited to be a part of that in a small way, whether it’s being an interpreter on set, writing something original that gets made, or being part of production with a Deaf director or producer like Jevon or Delbert is really cool.

Todd: Or all of the above. So I have a question: What can we do as an organization to be more Deaf-friendly?

Justin: I think just printing interviews online. It’s that simple.

Todd: Why online versus print?

Justin: Just because someone who is in Northridge or Riverside may not have access to a print version. And they might see a band on the cover of the magazine and have no idea about them. But online, there’s access to everybody. Not only Deaf people but international people.

There are so many apps now that it’s a pain, and I struggle, too, but once you figure them out, add subtitles to YouTube or Instagram videos. And if you’re a band, just putting the lyrics on videos makes a big difference to deaf people. On the Suspect Parts music video I made sure we had lyrics as subtitles so it’s not just a talking face. You know what I mean?

Martin: But bands out there should probably work on having good lyrics before putting them out there!

Justin: [laughs]

Todd: And some bands are intentionally cryptic and don’t want their lyrics out there.

Justin: Sometimes direct is good. Rock’n’roll has a lot of dunderhead lyrics that are sometimes great and then you realize, “That’s what they’ve been saying the whole time?”

Todd: The entire Ramones catalog.

Justin: I was listening to Tom Petty on the way here and he’s very straightforward. If it were said out loud, it would sound stupid. But because it’s to the tune of the song, it just makes sense.

Martin: The difference between poetry and a song, pretty much. I don’t know what else to say, but what you’ve been doing blows my mind.

Todd: I really appreciate you coming in. I think that a lot of doors are opening right now, and people are going to have a lot of conversations and share things. And making a living off these things is very important because we don’t want to fetishize people or tokenize people. But I want this to be a larger conversation for the entire culture—recognizing other people and taking steps to being more open.

Justin: Sign language is being offered in more schools than ever before and popularity is so high they can’t keep up with the demand. In Southern California, a lot of the high schools now offer ASL as part of their foreign language credit. A lot of community colleges are offering it. Cal State Northridge is the school with the third largest Deaf population in the U.S. So it’s an exciting time.

And for people who are interested in learning sign language, it’s possible to learn for free off of the Gallaudet University website, off of YouTube, or a cheap or free class from GLAD, the Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness.

Martin: I also think it’s cool how punk rock was a way to rebel when you were a kid, and now you can use it to rebel against this other hierarchy. As an adult, you can use it to address this huge problem we have where people assume that everyone is the same, hears the same, and listens the same.

Justin: I think the good I can do—especially working with people like Jevon and Del as filmmakers—if they go to an event, how do they network if there’s not an interpreter there? Everyone’s talking and meeting people: “Oh, what are you working on?” Communication’s a real pain in the ass. Being able to help out really  talented filmmakers like that and getting their dream told…

I think I’m allowed to say this, but they’re making a feature film right now about Jevon, who was on the Oregon School For The Deaf’s track team who won the state track and field championship in 1986. I’ve been interpreting for a lot of the meetings and events. The momentum is going very well for them and hopefully that will be made. If so, it will be the first Hollywood movie with a Deaf director and a Deaf ensemble cast.

Todd: Again, thank you so much, that was really interesting.

Justin: Hopefully, people will like it and won’t be bored.