Shortly after being part of the Can-Do-Musos panel at Winter NAMM 2016 (the worlds largest music industry trade show), Wes “Rockwell” Anderson interviewed Brandon Mendenhall and his band The Mendenhall Project before their gig at the Mission Tobacco Lounge in Downtown, Riverside, CA.
Rockwell: There’s something about you guys that makes you stand out from other bands. I want to talk about NAMM 2016, and you guys being part of the Can-Do-Musos panel. Why were you a part of that?
Brandon: At NAMM 2016 we were a part of the Can-Do-Musos panel for empowerment for disabled musicians, and we were joined by Australian drummer Andrew Hewitt, Rusty Bryce, Dean Zimmer, etc.
Nate: It was our first time ever being on the panel, and it was really cool meeting all these other disabled musicians and seeing what they do and their background.
Brandon: A cool story about what happened at the panel… we’ve been filming a documentary film about my life for the past two and a half years, called “Mind Over Matter”, and the inspiration behind that film came from Dean Zimmer’ s video called “Drummer Wanted”. It was a short film about Dean’s affliction and everything that he goes through just to be able to get up on stage and perform and be a real gigging drummer. That kind of inspired me to make a movie about my life. We were on the panel, in the process of it, and I realized I was sitting right next to the guy that inspired us to do a film about my life. It was a really cool full circle moment. And then Dean played something on the drum kit, and he just took over. If anybody says these guys aren’t capable of playing, they don’t have eyes and they don’t have ears.
Rockwell: Can you tell people what you’re overcoming?
Brandon: I was born with Cerebral Palsy, and what that is, is a neuromuscular disorder. In my case it affects my left side prominently, so my left side is weaker than my right side. Obviously affects my speech, it affects the way I walk, and most of my motor function on my left side. It left my left hand almost completely paralyzed. Everybody in my life growing up said to me that playing an instrument would be an impossibility. I’m the type of guy that doesn’t like to take no for an answer from anybody. So I said, “To hell with that.” I followed my dream and my passion, and once I got going and got playing an instrument, I wanted to be in a band; I wanted to be a Rock Star. I wanted to use that power to help other people, and that is what The Mendenhall Experiment became. It is my literal experiment to see if a kid with Cerebral Palsy can write songs, start a band, and then elevate that band to a national level of success. And I think over the past two and a half years we’ve proven that pretty well.
Rockwell: What kind of struggles do you have (Nate)?
Nate: I was born with hearing disabilities. I hear 12% in one ear, and 8% in the other, unassisted. My parents didn’t find out about it until I was about three years old, so for three years they just thought I was strange and weird. By then it was too late for me. They called me stoneface and stuff like that, you know.
I play the bass… Hearing the way I do, I hear low tones especially well compared to all the other tones. I started playing guitar when I was twelve, and I could never do it right because I could never hear what I was playing. So when I turned 21 my dad got me a bass, and the second I started playing it, it was destiny. That was in 2001. I’ve been playing off and on with different bands until this band.
Rockwell: Mario tell us about singing with these guys.
Mario: There’s a lot of energy. They’re very alive up there.
Mike: To add to that, I think the energy really comes from Mario, and then we just give it back. Being a leader, the way he is, I think that’s where most of the energy comes from.
Brandon: I’ve always referred to Mario as the band amplifier. He intensifies and amplifies everything on stage. If we’re going 75%, he pushes it to 150% every night, and that’s what I love about playing with him. I say it every time, my favorite singer is the one in my band.
Bruce: I think we would just be standing there playing our instruments and Mario would be doing his thing, and people would still love it.
Rockwell: You guys have a show to play, so all we’ll wrap this up shortly, but first, tell us where people can find you on social media.
Mike: Instagram is @TMXOfficial as well as Twitter …
Bruce: We’re on Youtube as @TMXvevo.
Mike: And then Facebook is just Facebook.com/TheMendenhallExperiment, and then also you can find all over those links on our website, at www.themendenhallexperiment.com. Rockwell: Are you guys linked to Can-Do-Musos at all? Do they have you on their site?
Brandon: Yes, there’s a Mendenhall Experiment page on Can-Do-Musos as well. We’re soon to have a page on MonsterEnergy.com.
Rockwell: Tell us about that real quick.
Brandon: I started this band eight years ago, and because we’re a band based on raising disability awareness, I didn’t want to go the route of supporting an alcohol company. So I went after energy drink companies. It’s more towards our demographic. Eight years ago I started chasing Monster. It took eight years to not only find this golden line-up, but to find a contract with Monster, but now we have a full ride with Monster Energy. We couldn’t be more happy about it.
Mario: If I could add on to that, I feel so blessed with these guys. It’s all about keeping that energy, doing something with your life that you can only do because you’re an individual. You have to find something that’s you, even if that’s flipping off of roofs. Whatever it is that makes you feel alive. I feel blessed to be born into this place with these people, so the least you could do is find something to feel happy about.
Update: Since this interview, a couple line-up changes have occured as Mike & Bruce are no longer with the band, but the band is still active. Also, Brandon’s documentary “Mind Over Matter” – check it out at https://www.mindovermatterfilm.com/ – was released in 2019 and has won several documentary film awards.