A Stutter Slowed Fluencee Down, But Never Stopped Him

Jason Heffler, aka Fluencee, on how his speech impediment made him the producer and DJ he is today.

You’re standing in front of a cavernous auditorium filled with 300 bustling college students. You take a huge breath, not to prepare to make your presentation, but to relax your vocal cords as much as possible because you know your stutter gets worse when you’re nervous. You open your mouth to speak, and immediately stammer on the “j” in the opening sentence, “Hello everyone, I’m Jason Heffler.” Your heart sinks into your stomach as you hear giggles in the distance. Five minutes later, you’re gasping for air after bombing the presentation, drenched in sweat because you stuttered your way through an incoherent speech among laughter and bewilderment.

Growing up with a stutter, incidents like this were common in my life. It’s something that seems harmless to other people, but it’s a really vicious thing to have. Being unable to physically speak like everyone else is a truly brutal plight; imagine opening your mouth to talk, but the words being blocked by an imaginary dam, forcing their way through until you’re out of breath from trying to utter them. I had a very difficult time doing normal things like reading aloud in class, talking on the phone, and especially making friends, and I got bullied ruthlessly. My stutter alienated me at a time when I had an innate need to feel included.

What people can’t seem to understand, though, is that I was born this way. When I speak, I do not need to take a deep breath. I do not need to “slow down.” And I certainly do not need to swallow my thoughts because I’m afraid to fail at translating them into words. I’m just wired differently. For some reason, I experience abnormally high activity in my speech production muscles whenever I try to speak, like my vocal cords, jaw, and even my tongue. There is nothing wrong with me; for so long, I was just physically unable to tell people that. I was never really able to find an outlet for me to prove myself as more than just some bumbling, anxious, stuttering bundle of nerves. I tried playing sports, writing, art, lots of different things, because I wanted people to see me as something else other than a guy with a speech impediment. It took me a while to realize I can do that by letting music speak for me.

After that ill-fated college presentation, I was really down on myself. The heartless laughter I heard during those five minutes echoed in my head like a pebble flung through a dark cave. I came home dejected, doubting myself on every level. At that time, I had just started producing music and I was horrible. A career in music was an afterthought, and I was ready to quit on the spot. Luckily I was dating a girl at the time named Emily, who told me she didn’t date quitters and that she’d dump me. That was probably not the smartest thing to say to someone on the verge of being unhinged, but looking back on it, I respect her for it and I wish I thanked her. Maybe I’ll tell her when she gets home… we just celebrated our 7-year anniversary. I was really into her so I decided to stick with the music, and the rest is history. 

It wasn’t all bad, by the way. I was lucky enough to be raised in a great home, with amazing parents and an unwavering support system. My twin sister Tori would verbally pounce on anyone who made a snide comment, and in a couple instances, my big brother Josh beat the crap out of kids who bullied me. I also now have a very close-knit group of friends in L.A. who support me unconditionally, who I’m extremely grateful for. I’m on a constant mission to impress the ones closest to me, so all the love from my friends and family actually makes me a better music producer. 

My stutter, though, has made me the music producer and DJ I am today. I even sang live on stage recently, which is an idea I would’ve scoffed at five years ago when I was diffidently stuttering through a job interview, knowing I wouldn’t get it because the employer thought I was a poor communicator. When I make my music, I inject it with the passion and furor of years and years of rejection and dismissal. It has empowered me to become more confident and self-assured than I have ever been, enabling me to shed a layer of skin I never wanted. But rest assured: that skin was thick, and I couldn’t be more proud of it.

With his unique electronic twist on pop music, Los Angeles-based DJ and producer Fluencee has burst onto the contemporary crossover scene with a groundbreaking sound and a story to tell. After being bullied throughout his childhood due to a lifelong stutter, Fluencee finally chose to own it by speaking fluently through his music. You can stream his music here.