My Q&A With An ASL Interpreter Who Raps In Sign Language

How would you like to rap alongside Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, or Future?

Because that’s what Amber Galloway-Gallego is doing, except she’s doing it with American Sign Language.

Galloway-Gallego, who says she once wished to be the “first white female rapper,” is a nationally certified ASL interpreter with over 14 years of interpreting experience. She translates music into sign language so the deaf community can better enjoy live concerts.

Over the years she’s parlayed this into a career as a kind of arena interpreter for the stars, amassing a resume of over 400 artists ranging from Adele to Billy Joel, Destiny’s Child, the list goes on and across myriad genres.

In addition to expressing the emotion and tonality of the music, she is responsible for interpreting lyrics into ASL, which is more difficult than it sounds.

Interested in learning ASL? This seems like a good book to start with: Learn American Sign Language

ASL is its own language with its own rules for grammar — you can’t just take the lyrics of “She Loves You” by The Beatles and sign every word as Paul McCartney sings them.

Galloway-Gallego has to actually interpret one language into another, English to ASL.

And that’s where things get difficult. That’s where she has to get creative, i.e. pantomiming a character shooting-up on Red Hot Chili Peppers‘ infamous heroin undercurrent on the hook of “Under the Bridge.”

Below is a Q&A I did with Galloway-Gallego for via email (link to the original article at the bottom).

More on Galloway-GallegoThis Woman Is Rapping Kendrick Lamar Songs In Sign Language

What were some songs (besides ‘The Monster’) that were difficult to interpret and why?

“Rap God” was by far the hardest song I have ever had to interpret because of the incredible genius Eminem is, how to make equivalents in ASL, and to truly represent him and his goal for the audience is always a challenge with keeping in mind the sheer speed he raps in that song. It took me two months to break it down. Rap is always a difficult task but I respect the culture and the artist so much that I do not mind doing extra homework.

What is your process for interpreting a song? I imagine each song has its own challenges.

So this is what I typically do. I first research who the artist is. I use several different websites. I then listen to the artist, hear the pace, the way they form words and concepts and then I look at lyrics to make sure I hear it correctly. I am hard of hearing so I have to truly memorize the lyrics. I then take the song and make pictures in my head of what emotions are being evoked, what should each character look like, then deliver that to the Deaf audience.

What do you hope for the future of music accessibility for deaf folks?

That all venues will provide professional music interpreters and stop making Deaf people fight for their basic human rights, which is access to the communication. Deaf people fight daily for access and it has to stop.

Who is your favorite artist to interpret and why?

My favorite artist is whoever I am interpreting at that moment. I have to love them because they are being represented on my hands and the Deaf fans deserve that and so does the artist. [O]n my song list when I am not prepping for a show, you will hear me jamming to Queen Latifah, 2Pac, Melissa Etheridge, Tegan and Sara, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fleetwood Mac … I am extremely eclectic.

A version of this article was originally published on

U2 And The Cranberries Visit This Woman In Her Musical Hallucinations

In 2004, strange things started happening to IUP professor Dr. Annah Hill — specifically, strange things with her hearing.

Musical hallucinations

“I felt like I was hearing things, but I knew I was missing things,” Hill said. “At first whenever it started happening, it did freak me out. Because I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going crazy and I’m hearing things that people aren’t hearing.'”

For example, she would hear a doorbell that didn’t ring, or a microwave beeping when that wasn’t the case. And for someone who at the time was earning a master’s degree in deaf education from the University of Pittsburgh, this was serendipitous.

“I thank God every day,” she said about the coincidence. (She’s now a professor of Disability Services and certified educator of the deaf).

Music was one of the sounds that crept into Hill’s hearing — “sensations” and “hallucinations” are two words she used for these occurrences.

The following year, in 2005, she was officially diagnosed with unilateral hearing loss. By 2008, she had hearing loss in both ears, and the sensation of hearing music was even more prominent.

The songs that come and go through her mind are regulars, like folks at a local bar. The most common songs are The Cranberries’ “Zombies,” which she said is one of the more annoying songs, and U2’s “Sweetest Thing,” about which she says, “That’s one that I can handle.”

“If it’s a tune which is more like Metallica…it just drives me crazy and I get very stressed out,” she explained. “But if it’s a tune more like a kid’s song that I’m hearing…then it’s different. I don’t mind it.”

This phantom music usually comes with stress or the migraines she often gets; that head pain, when it’s very bad, sometimes is accompanied by flashing lights.

“It’s almost like the flashing is connected to the beat of the tune,” Hill said. “It’s almost like strobe lights that are connected to the music.”

But her phantom music can be a good distraction from the pain, she said.

Musical hallucinations

“Sometimes it does get me off the idea of trying to get rid of the headache and the migraine…I’ve tried medicine, I’ve tried sleeping, I’ve tried teas, I’ve tried everything. And just nothing seemed to work.”

She also said the music tends to visit her when she’s driving in the car alone.

“It usually is when I’m not with people,” she said. “It’s usually when I’m by myself. I have three girls and my husband at home, and it usually doesn’t occur whenever they are there.”

Despite all of her experiences, some professionals don’t believe Hill actually hears music.

“Some of the audiologists I’ve been to chalk it up to just my tinnitus making me think about the songs and not really hearing the song,” she said.

Nowadays, though, the music isn’t as prominent as it once was, and her migraines are less frequent. Hill said she’s not certain if those two things are connected.

Whether or not the tinnitus or the migraines have something to do with the sensations, she’s not faking it.

“I know I’m hearing music somehow,” she said.

Originally published in Musicateur

Help Singer-Songwriter Brooks Ritter Define His Musical Style (A Conversation)

Brooks Ritter admits even he has a hard time describing his musical style. He sometimes refers to it as soulful-folk, bluesy-folk, or bluesy-rock.

Brooks Ritter
Brooks Ritter (photo via Bandsintown)

Whatever the case, with a voice that rises up and sits somewhere between Adele and John Legend, Ritter exposes his listeners to a harmonious concoction of acoustic tenderness, gospel soul, Kentucky country and expressive rock.

His ability to hit notes, especially dissonant ones, within the melody keeps listeners connected to his words.

“My desire is to sing with emotion because there’s something to be told here,” Ritter told me via email in 2012.

Ritter may not be sure how to label his music, but he’s confident of what he sings about. Taking his cue from the great Johnny Cash, Ritter writes about three big topics: God, love and death.

“Honestly, sometimes I don’t know what to think about things so I write about them,” Ritter said.

Below are select questions from our Q&A…

Can you talk about your writing process? Do you tend to get very personal?

I know I’m probably not alone in this, but I write about what I see, how I feel about it and those things most dear to me. Vague, right?

A quote that has stuck with me a long time was in a magazine article about Johnny Cash and his writing process-paraphrased, mind you:

“I write about the things that are most important to me — Love, God and Death.”

I very much agree with this philosophy, because everyone experiences each of these things in one way or another.

RELATED: In The Streaming Age Of Music, Songwriters Need Loyal Fans

Would you prefer that your music not be labeled by any particular genre or category?

No, I don’t really care. People will have their opinions about my music, I just want to keep doing what I’m doing, while loving my family and the community that God has placed around me.

What’s your most memorable experience at a show?

One of my favorite memories from a live show was at a house show I was playing in Bowling Green, Ky.

There were two rooms in my friend’s house that were pho-living rooms that were packed with friends and folks I didn’t know. It was during the ending of “Song For A Loving Husband” (from The Horse Fell Lame), where everyone in the whole place was singing at the top of their lungs:

“We’re building houses of light, that shine through the night.”

That experience is forever etched into my mind and forever ringing in my ears.

RELATED: This Is Why Live Music Will Never Die

What album can’t you live without?

I am an extremely sentimental guy, and a lot of the records I love mean different things to me…that said, A Ghost Is Born by Wilco has been a consistent record that I come back to, whether I’m feeling dry or whatever.

I’d say Wrecking Ball by Emmylou Harris is another one that leaves me wrecked (in a good way) after listening to it.


Singer-Songwriter Aaron Espe Asks Toddlers To Be His Critics

Aaron Espe made one of my favorite albums, Songs From A Small Town (listen below).

I was fortunate enough to do a Q&A with him several years ago.

Aaron Espe
Aaron Espe (via Bandcamp)

One thing you should know about Espe is that his music is both simple and well thought out. He said his best critics are four-year-olds.

“When I want someone’s honest opinion about my music, I ask a four-year-old,” Espe told me via email. “My little cousin once told me that my music is boring. He kind of made my day. I’m not sure what he’d say about this new album [Three]. He’s too old now and polite.”

Here are some select questions from our convo:

Would you prefer not to be labeled by any particular genre or category?

I’m not that concerned about genres or whether I’m labeled. If it helps someone understand a little better, that’s fine.

But I think “genre” is really just the very top of a large funnel. You’d have to listen to the music to get further down, and it’s really difficult to summarize that in words — especially one or two.

What themes are most prevalent in your songs?

Family. Faith. Small-town life. Loneliness. Fear. Social class. I don’t know. A lot of things. But family is central to my life experience, so that naturally comes out.

And I was raised in the church, having to sit in the front seat with my three sisters every Sunday. My mom the pianist. My dad a singer. So, spirituality, Christianity — that stuff comes out by default, as well.

You seem to tell a lot of stories in your songs — do these stories come from personal experiences?

Yeah, for the most part. I start with some instance, but I try not to let that lead the song.

For me, the best part about writing is discovering something new about life. Even the most mundane event has layers to it that can teach something or help me appreciate life in a new way or cause me to have some new reaction.

I quote my dad in a song: “…Kids, listen to your mother. Treat her like you love her. Look out for each other. Someday soon, when you have a family, you will know what I mean.”

Now, my dad didn’t actually say that, but he did say it with his actions. And to me it’s much more interesting to invent those lines and put them in a song, rather than write songs like I’m a journalist, documenting events.

RELATED: How To Make A Song (5 Simple Steps)

What is the most memorable experience you’ve had at a show? In the recording studio?

The most memorable experiences tend to be the worst.

I remember playing a pub in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I was placed in a corner next to an old man playing a slot machine. And the bathroom was directly to my right. Between him pulling the slot bar, people using the bathroom, and a drunk guy requesting Coldplay songs — it was all I could do to not walk out angry or just burst into laughter.

When I recorded my first album with Chris Cunningham in Montana, it was all so new and exciting. I remember one night setting up the room with candles and turning off all the lights to record the song Grace live, just me and guitar. We were trying to create a good setting for me to “get into it.”

The room was so still and intense and after recording it we were both teary eyed. It was kind of powerful.

RELATED: As A Musician, Stage Presence Is Crucial

What album can’t you live without?

Probably Tiny Cities by Sun Kill Moon. That album tugs at my core every time I listen.


During the recording [of your album Three], how did your surroundings influence the recording process?

My wife and I turned our spare bedroom into a studio. In some ways it’s really nice to have access to recording within 10 steps of anywhere in our apartment. I think that helped speed the album’s process.

But in other ways it made the boundary between work and home very unclear. That can be toxic. She and I are still struggling to figure that stuff out.

What have you not done musically that you’re just dying to try?

I’d like to record something completely bizarre for me, like a hip-hop record or something. That sounds fun.