“Who’s Handicapped Now, Mother****ers!?” – Meet Shawn Vriezen, Deaf Metalhead

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Meet Shawn Vriezen, a lover of heavy metal with severe hearing loss. Shawn is a fixture in the Minneapolis metal scene, a dependable superfan with a beard almost as charming as his galactic bear hugs.

Cutie

What a looker.

 

Thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions, Shawn! Let me begin by saying you’re a handsome man with a handsomer smile, and it warms my heart every time I get to chat with you at a show.

Deafness is a spectrum, and if you’re comfortable discussing it, I’m curious where you personally fall within the extremes of having absolutely NO hearing to having typical hearing (well, as typical as any metalhead’s tinnitus-riddled hearing is).

My deafness is genetic. I am at least the third generation in my family to acquire the genetic trait. Although I was born Deaf most likely, I was originally thought to have normal hearing growing up since I spoke normally without an accent and seemed to pick up on anything like any normal child. Back then, screening for hearing among infants wasn’t required so my deafness went undetected until I was five years old and had my first hearing test conducted at the age of five.

Back then I had a mild to moderate hearing loss but my speech recognition was unusually high for someone with the hearing levels display on my audiogram so even my audiologist didn’t believe it was correct and referred me to a specialist who couldn’t prove otherwise. I was then sent back to class and given until the next year with in first grade before conducting another hearing test only to have the same result. By then they had figured it wasn’t something that was going to go away on its own and slapped on a pair of hearing aids and sent me back to class.

As I get older, my hearing naturally decreases and is currently considered to be at the level of “severe hearing loss”. A normal degree of hearing loss would be around the 0-25 decibel range whereas mine is around 80 decibels on my right ear and 90 decibels on my left. For perspective, a metal show typically is around the 115 dB range.

 

Shawn and Pooch

Shawn + pooch

 

How do you think you experience music differently than someone with typical hearing, either when recorded or at a live performance? At shows I usually see you with your head right next to the PA with no earplugs in, bathing in the vibrations in a way that I can’t without fear of hurting myself.

For the most part I’d like to think that I experience recorded music mostly the same as anyone else. The biggest difference is that it would have to be much louder for me to enjoy. I find loudness itself to be subjective. Its not uncommon for someone to tell me to turn something down because its too loud. But for me it would either usually be low. This is why its a nice gift for me when there are no roommates home, at least roommates with normal hearing, so I can crank it up without complaint. Otherwise headphones and an amplifier are how I enjoy most of my music.

Live shows as I mentioned earlier are right in my range. Registering in at 115 decibels and not having to worry about people to tell me to turn it down is something I can enjoy. Not just listening, but also the vibrations of loud music. I am also able to remove my hearing aids which allows me to enjoy music in its natural state. While everyone else at a show is putting earplugs in, I am removing my hearing aids. If I ever have a preference between listening to music with or without hearing aids, the optimal choice is going to be without hearing aids and music at those levels would have to be at an extremely loud volume. At the very least 90 decibels would be a normal range for me without hearing aids.

 

What draws you to metal in particular, among all types of music?

In the beginning it turned out to be a happy accident. I was nine years old and with a ten dollar bill in hand I pedaled my bike to the store looking to purchase an INXS album. When I got there I found out that I didn’t have enough money but didn’t want to walk out empty handed. I ended up coming home with a cassette tape of Kill ‘em All by Metallica. It was even more fortunate that it contained Metallica’s cover of King Diamond’s Am I Evil which had me hooked from the first time I listened.

There are many reasons why I indulge in metal. The genre stems from something that is so real, and instead of looking away, it unblinkingly stares into it. Metal at its best is a complex cacophony of organized chaos that immerses itself in the darkness that other genres fear to tread.

 

Shawn scary

Shawn is a man of many… interests.

 

Ahh, yes, you speak of The Void. We’re big fans around here. I often see you signing with your friends during shows, having full conversations with your hands amidst complete aural chaos, and I suddenly feel incredibly foolish for relying on my ears to communicate quickly with others. Where else do signing skills come in particularly handy?

I have to admit that I enjoy being able to speak freely during a show in such a way that I don’t interrupt what I’m listening to. If someone were to talk with me with their voice during a show I would be annoyed that they were trying to talk over the music. Using sign language to communicate allows me to take in everything at the same time; I am able to talk about the music or the band without taking away from the show.

A similar experience I had using sign would be when I took a scuba diving class with another Deaf friend of mine. Before we had even entered the water, the rest of class I can imagine probably viewed us as monkeys communicating with each other in mime along with our interpreters. Once we had gone underwater though, they were limited to a vocabulary of “up, down, buddy, okay” and a handful of other words. Meanwhile, my Deaf classmate and I were floating underwater, sometimes upside down and in opposite directions while having full conversations and at times laughing to ourselves while signing “Who’s handicapped now, motherfuckers!?”

Other than that, signing is great at distances, with loud background noise, concerts, clubs, through windows, underwater, and I’d like to think in that cold vacuum of space while free floating without a helmet and with only enough time to expel your last words, which would probably be a lot easier with sign language.

 

Yeah, sign language is definitely more practical than English for uttering final words in the frigid wastes of outer space. Our readers will probably be interested to know that you and I first met at a show headlined by ToH-approved power metal superstars Noble Beast. What are your favorite bands to see play?

I usually try and see Gojira whenever they are in town. Other than that nothing beats seeing local bands. There is a level of intimacy that is unparalleled that is difficult to replicate with big names. My favorites would have to be as mentioned, Noble Beast, Maeth, Lungs, False, In Defence and Invidiosus. The local shows bring in great touring bands like Rottenness and The Body that can’t be neglected either.

 

Deaf Metal

The “Deaf Metal” crew

 

Before meeting you and your crew of “Deaf metal” friends, it never occurred to me that a Deaf person might be an active fan of metal. Any other misconceptions about Deaf folks you’d care to dispel for us?

There are quite a few of them. Residual hearing or not, there are a substantial amount of Deaf people who enjoy music. More often than you would think, we will get asked whether we can read braille, which most of us cannot with the exception of the DeafBlind. While I could spend a lengthy amount of time going through each misconception (of which there are plenty) I will end it with the fact that not all of us Deaf males are hung like a walrus. Most of us, but not all of us.

 

Duly noted. Thanks for your time, friend. Any final words of wisdom? Or words of foolishness?

My mom, who is also Deaf, is quite sensitive to vibrations. Growing up I had this little boombox in my bedroom upstairs where I would listen to music. She would always come up and tell me to turn it down and I usually responded telling her that was just the bass and it wasn’t really that loud when in fact it was. My mom would always tell me to value the hearing I had by keeping any noise within “optimally normal” volumes. Instead of heeding her words, I listen to all the music I can at the loudest volumes possible. My philosophy is that if I’m going to lose what residual hearing I have anyways, I might as well enjoy it while I still have it. And regardless of whether or not I have any hearing left, I will still be going to shows and signing with my friends. When the ambient noise is as loud as it is, the inability to communicate aurally renders us all “deaf” anyhow. 


 

Thank you, Shawn. Stay metal; stay Void; stay Deaf. \m/

Shawn Painting

Painting by Michael Bellotti

 

In addition to being an avid metalhead and showgoer, Shawn is an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter and a professional cameraman. You can see his work on the upcoming season of documentary series Travel With Dawn at H3world.tv, an ASL news site.

  • Edward #RIPNEGROD

    Hessian this a fantastic interview and what an interesting idea. It’s also nice to see Lungs getting some press on Toilet Ov Void.

    • HessianHunter

      Lungs are my homies. Love those cats.
      http://lungsmetal.bandcamp.com/

      • Edward #RIPNEGROD

        The last time I looked online I didn’t even see that they had a Bandcamp! They should put more music on there, stat.

        • Sometimes I go to upvote you, but then I see Jake Gyllenhaal’s awful face and change my mind.

          • Edward #RIPNEGROD

            Oh, you just gave me a fantastic idea.

          • creepy face D:

          • Xan

            Jake Gyllenhaal’s face might be my least favorite sight on the planet. I’d rather scroll down the “offended” page on encylopedia dramatica in slow motion than look at it for an extended length of time.

          • Stockhausen

            Some of my middle school students have the worst faces in the world, and it takes all of my willpower not to punch them every day.

          • Death

            I know the feel, bro.

          • just mentally photoshop thomas giles’ face onto them

          • Stockhausen

            That would induce an entirely different, but still inappropriate, reaction from me.

          • Xan

            You should make them browse the offended page on encyclopedia dramatica. It’d get you fired, but you’d get to see all joy drain from the life forever.

          • Edward #RIPNEGROD

            BOOM

          • KJM

            Ooh, creepy Trve Detective face!

          • creepier because we all know now that Jake G. is behind that mask D:

  • Death

    He seems like a cool guy. I wonder if he likes Deafheaven (plz forgive me for this joke)

  • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

    Deaf metal.

    • Gvrp

      Deaf heaven.

      • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

        No.

        • KingPagliacciOvFlushMountain

          YES!!!

  • KJM

    Good read.

  • Xan

    Very interesting read. I’ve definitely accrued some hearing loss since I started listening to metal. Hearing is probably one of my favorite senses, next to seeing. I’d find it very difficult to stay positive if I lost it.

    • Edward #RIPNEGROD

      I actually went in for a hearing test a couple of months ago. I suspect “some hearing loss” is from my work environment, but also from a multitude of shows and blasting music in my earphones for a very long time. I’m taking better care of it now.

      • Xan

        I don’t go to very many shows simply due to the fact that I can’t stand being around people for very long so I don’t lose much from that. Most of it comes from my drives to and back from college. Roughly half an hour of loud music for five days a week. I don’t listen to music on headphones at a very loud volume except for Cattle Decapitation last night. I’m pretty sure I destroyed the speakers on my headphones with that.

        • Edward #RIPNEGROD

          If you can start to stand people, I would recommend earplugs for concerts. I just started, I use a cheap pair of dollar store earplugs but they help tremendously and the music still sounds good.

          • KJM

            Earplugs also help if you’re in a venue with shitty acoustics.

          • Tom Waits For Nordling Rites

            I jsed earpkugs for years but stopped because many of the “venues” I go to didn’t have that good acoustics so I decided juat to enjoy the loudness.

          • These are cheap and good and people need to wear them.
            http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/61f3LSBgJ9L._SY355_.jpg

          • Xan

            I do wear earplugs. Even with them, my ears still rung after the last Carcass show I was at. They’re fucking loud.

          • Edward #RIPNEGROD

            Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn. Carcass were on that gangster shit that night.

          • My best friend’s tried getting me to do that several times, and it just muffled the sound way too much. Band practice, though, you sure as hell need them!

      • My dad’s actually got tinnitus from his years in the Navy, when they’d give you about 30 seconds warning before the jets took off. Getting a sonic boom practically in your ear may sound metal as fuck, but I’d imagine it’d shave some years off your eardrums.

    • i’ve got a pair of Etymotic earplugs that do the job quite well, $14 on amazon

    • Vriezen

      For every bit of hearing you lose, you just accrue more Deaf Gain.

  • Respect, Shawn; you deserve a medal for being so honest in sharing with us your experience! Great interview, Pumpkin Boy!

  • Great read and interview.

  • Herr Schmitty

    Shawn is a bad motherfucker.

  • Tom Waits For Nordling Rites

    Great read, seemingly-nice fellow.

  • Cool Article.

  • Fucking awesome.

    • HessianHunter

      <3

  • King Shit of Fuck Mountain
  • Stockhausen

    I like this guy. I want to buy him a beer, then maybe a few more, then maybe stomp some posers with him, then maybe have him dare me to jump off a roof, then maybe do it, then break my leg, then go park in a handicap spot at Wal Mart, get some Gold Bond, maybe rub it on my leg, pour beer on it, drink beer, then maybe some shopping cart jousting with HessianHunter and Edward, then circle pit somewhere, maybe go to another show, have him grow me an extra beard, then end the night with him finding a band that Christian has never heard of.

    • Tom Waits For Nordling Rites

      I’m afraid you can’t have that. The infamous “C” knows them all.

      • Stockhausen

        I’m hoping some penguins from Antarctica get an ambient/noise track on Bandcamp around 10:30 that night, so we’ll have a chance to catch him on it before he find them.

        • Edward #RIPNEGROD

          He taught the penguins everything they know about ambient noise.

          • He personally supervised the evolution of the penguin.

          • Or imagine some metal playing back when Hannibal’s army of elephants came marching towards Rome.

        • KingPagliacciOvFlushMountain

          That’s Cthulhu country. He probably has a direct line to the Great Old One.

        • Lacertilian

          I heard the penguins joined a suicide cult after that Metallica gig down there.

      • Edward #RIPNEGROD

        Your use of the infamous “C” here >>>>>>>>>>>>

    • Fine. I didn’t want to be included anyways…

      • Stockhausen

        Masterlord is with us all the time, forever and always, refereeing shopping cart jousts and competing against the winner. Plus I’ll need someone to control the bleeding on my leg, so obviously you’ll be there.

        • Tyree

          The more blood the better.

    • Vriezen

      I’ll do up a contract complete with death waiver because nothing is worth doing if it doesn’t include a death waiver.

      • Stockhausen

        Yessssss. Uppin’ the game, as expected.

        • Vriezen

          I’m also upgrading beer to shots.

          • Stockhausen

            Done. I will most likely sneak a beer or four in anyway, just for good measure, and beer. By the way, are you guys anywhere near Bemidji? I was born there, although I don’t live anywhere near MN these days.

          • Vriezen

            I’m in Nordeast Minneapolis. I actually used to work at a camp in Lake George not far from Bemidji for years though. Love that area!

          • HessianHunter

            Nah, Bemidgi is over 200 miles north of the Twin Cities.

  • KingPagliacciOvFlushMountain

    I would imagine Gojira is probably an awesome band to experience if you are deaf. You can feel all the *stomp**stomp**stomp* without having to hear all the annoying pick scrapes.

  • NefariousDude

    Sign language is some straight up drow shit so that makes it metal as fuck.

  • Gvacamole Jim

    I’ve been diving, and it would have been awesome to be able to communicate with sign language. This was a really cool interview!

    • Vriezen

      It takes two. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to test it out while diving if I didn’t have another person to sign with.

      • Gvacamole Jim

        hahah yeah I guess that makes good sense.. things you don’t think of when you don’t know sign language.

        Once when I was diving I ran out of air and had to swap off regulators with my buddy – sign language between us would have come in handy then! The whole idea is just awesome.

  • CyberneticOrganism

    Dude, awesome subject for an article. Is Shawn among the commenters?

  • Akercocke ov Steele

    Nothing like a good example of otherworldly broness to start out the day.

  • Max

    A very interesting perspective from this guy.

    I’ve always taken good care of my hearing – I wear plugs to shows, rehearsals, and in whatever noisy job I’ve ever worked. I even used to wear them while driving with the window down at one point. But it’s nice to know that if I ever did lose my hearing, I’d still apparently get some enjoyment from music, based on what he tells us.

    And how fuckin’ convenient would it be if we did all learn sign language? I hate trying to talk to people verbally at shows.

    • Vriezen

      Probably why I prefer to bring signers to metal shows. They wouldn’t dare try to talk over the music. At least not without giving me a valid excuse to punch them in the throat. Talking is for in between bands.

  • Sounds like a kickass guy, and definitely an interesting and different take on metal. I’d love to recommend my favorite movie ‘Black’ (the Indian film) to him, which deals both with deafness and blindness. Alot of it’s in sign language (which oddly enough doesn’t get translated, at least in the English subtitled version) as well. Amazing movie!

  • Gr8 guy <3