Sign language interpreter slays at heavy metal concert

PHOTO: Lindsay Rothschild-Cross interpreted music for deaf fans at a heavy metal concert, June 20, 2018.PlayABC
WATCH Sign language interpreter rocks out at heavy metal concert

How do you shred a guitar and let out a primal scream without making a sound?

One sign language interpreter stole the show at a heavy metal concert by passionately signing the music and lyrics for deaf fans.

Lindsay Rothschild-Cross' interpretation of a June 20 metal concert in Austin, Texas, was caught on video and has racked up tons of views online -- but the high school teacher told "Good Morning America" she is new to the genre.

"I grew up with Guns N' Roses, and Alice in Chains and Iron Maiden and things like that," Rothschild-Cross told "GMA." "I've never actually interpreted for death metal though. This is the first time."

Rothschild-Cross was accompanied by another American Sign Language interpreter during her on-camera interview with "GMA" so that she could share her thoughts with the deaf community.

PHOTO: Lindsay Rothschild-Cross interpreted music for deaf fans at a heavy metal concert, June 20, 2018.ABC
Lindsay Rothschild-Cross interpreted music for deaf fans at a heavy metal concert, June 20, 2018.

The gig was part of Slayer's final world tour and included the bands Lamb of God, Anthrax, Behemoth, and Testament. The sign language teacher said that before each concert, she researches the artist so she can know their background. The key to signing music is to know the emotion behind the lyrics, not just the lyrics themselves, she said.

At first, I was honestly very nervous because I had never interpreted metal. The key is you have to impersonate the singer.

The viral video shows Rothschild-Cross interpreting Lamb of God's song, "Ruin." The lyrics include such hardcore lines as "I will show you all that I have mastered / Fear. / Pain. / Hatred. / Power. / This is the art of ruin."

"At first, I was honestly very nervous because I had never interpreted metal," Rothschild-Cross said. "The key is you have to impersonate the singer. The meaning of the song is a lot of anger. I just took on that feeling of someone that has hurt me before."

PHOTO: Lindsay Rothschild-Cross interpreted music for deaf fans at a heavy metal concert, June 20, 2018.ABC
Lindsay Rothschild-Cross interpreted music for deaf fans at a heavy metal concert, June 20, 2018.

Lamb of God singer D. Randall Blythe said Rothschild-Cross' interpretation stood out so much he jumped off stage to be near her.

“I am always extremely pleased when I see sign language interpreters at our shows, and the show in Austin was no exception," Blythe told ABC News in a statement. "A Lamb of God concert is a highly visceral experience for both the performers and our fans -- we all feel the music together in an emotional and physical way, creating a symbiotic exchange of energy that can and does have profound effects. Deaf fans are no different, and I have long been aware that hearing impaired folks can feel the vibrations of amplified sound waves from a loud P.A. system."

"That day, there were several interpreters taking turns -- they were all working hard and doing a great job, but Lindsay’s interpretation of our performance stood out to me enough that I hopped down off the stage and sang beside her for a bit," Blythe continued. "Lindsay and the other interpreters became a part of that massive exchange of energy that occurs at our shows, just as important as any of us performing on stage. I hope to see her at a show in the future!"

The rock band Lamb of God is pictured in a handout photo. Travis Shinn
The rock band Lamb of God is pictured in a handout photo.

Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, state and local governments, as well as businesses and nonprofits that serve the public, must provide ways to "communicate effectively with people who have communication disabilities." That can include a qualified sign language interpreter.

Rosa Lee Timm is a deaf performance artist who also produces music videos using American Sign Language.

"As we all know, music can be felt through all of our senses. This means we deaf people can enjoy music in many different ways other than hearing," Timm told ABC News via email. "We can experience the power of music through vibration, visual arts such as dancing, film, lighting, colors, and touching. For us sign language users, we also enjoy music through sign language interpretation of English lyrics or through original ASL poetry/songs."

Timm said having interpreters at concerts is crucial so that deaf fans can experience the excitement just like everybody else.

"We want to experience the energy of the show, the inflections of the singer’s singing voice, the intensity of a drum beating and the whole shebang," she said.

But not all interpreters are created equal, particularly when it comes to interpreting music. Amber Galloway Gallego is an American Sign Language interpreter and the owner of Amber G Productions, a company offering interpretation services for all different kinds of music.

I just want people to understand that [deaf people] can think, they can have religion, they can do anything we can do. Except hear.

Gallego said she has been interpreting for more than 14 years and has also worked with Rothschild-Cross.

"If you think about this analogy of how people sing, not everyone is good at it," Gallego told ABC News via email. "The same thing goes for interpreting music -- some are better at it and some of them look like a person who is scraping their nails against a chalkboard."

If venues choose to go with the cheapest interpreter available, she said, "the deaf person often will miss out on the experience which they paid good money to see."

Signing music is about much more than just conveying the meaning of the lyrics, Gallego said.

"Every instrument has a voice. If we choose to ignore those voices, we are taking away from the experience and deaf people are constantly having things not be accessible," Gallego said. "If you only look at the lyrics, then it just becomes poetry. All the layers of music are what drives us to listen. You have to show all of them. And no, we are not playing air instruments, we are showing language."

Rothschild-Cross said multiple interpreters usually cover a concert, and at the June 20 gig, each covered four to six songs. While they try to prepare ahead of time, "sometimes they play a song and you just have to roll with it," she explained.

All the layers of music are what drives us to listen. You have to show all of them. And no, we are not playing air instruments, we are showing language.

Her passion for conveying the music was evident to the band's fans -- both those who can hear and those who are deaf. The video was filmed by Freddie Ibarra, a fan who could hear but was so amazed by Rothschild-Cross and the response from deaf fans nearby that he started recording. But the experience also gave Rothschild-Cross a new take on heavy metal.

"I don’t normally listen to that music. But after listening, I gained a whole new appreciation," she said.

Rothschild-Cross has always been passionate about communicating with her friends in the deaf community in Austin and eventually pursued sign language in college as well. She said she has been interpreting at concerts for about four years and hopes the video will also help challenge stereotypes about deaf people.

"I just want people to understand that they can think, they can have religion, they can do anything we can do. Except hear," she said.

By working with deaf music lovers, it’s a great opportunity to explore outside of your box and to push the boundaries on what music can do for us.

Timm agreed.

"Music is not limited to those who can hear. It is a universal art form that is accessible to humanity in so many ways," she said. "By working with deaf music lovers, it’s a great opportunity to explore outside of your box and to push the boundaries on what music can do for us. Trust me, the possibilities are endless once we move past the pink elephant in the room, aka our deaf ears. You’ll be amazed how much musicality we all have."

Gallego said that the response from deaf fans is what makes her job so special.

"My favorite experience is when deaf people have told me that this was their first time ever truly experiencing music and now have a better understanding of what each instrument sounds like," Gallego said. "When I see the deaf and hard of hearing patrons signing the instruments with me, it gives me chills every time."

ABC News' Caroline Hartshorn contributed to this report.

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