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The Experiment is over. This Rocker has passed every test thrown his way.
""I want to be known as the guy who plays kick ass rock music, who happens to have a bit of CP. I want to help give hope and strength to others who live with disabilities; telling them not to ever give up, to always push toward their dreams, no matter how far away or insurmountable they seem, or how difficult the journey may be to get there."
At Tru Rock, we receive countless emails every day from bands, individual artists, publicists, labels, management, you name it. Most of the emails go to Jason Yarrow, our staff member. When I received the press release from Selena Fragassi, the Publicist for The Mendenhall Experiment and for Brandon Mendenhall, and the new video of their song, "Prosthetic," I stopped what I was working on and really listened. Watching the video, there was something a bit familiar about Brandon I picked up on almost immediately, something most people wouldn't recognize. He has Cerebral Palsy. I hadn't yet read the press release which accompanied the video; about Brandon and his journey toward rock stardom while also dealing with Cerebral Palsy (CP).
In my prior life before beginning Tru Rock Revival Magazine, I was a physical therapist for over 20 years. My first 5 years I specialized in Sports Medicine and Orthopedics. After my father was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease I went into Neurological Physical Therapy and worked with people living with Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's, Lou Gehrig's Disease, Myasthenia Gravis, and Cerebral Palsy. For nearly 10 years, my rehabilitation company had the opportunity to work with United Cerebral Palsy of Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties in South Florida. I was privileged to personally work with many of the group home residents as their physical therapist and friend. Those were some of the most rewarding times in my professional career.
Now, as I watched the video of The Mendenhall Experiment, I found myself sitting back and doing a physical therapy assessment of Brandon. From his posture and playing style, I knew almost immediately what I was seeing, and I also knew what I was seeing was magical. I thought to myself, "This guy has CP and, he's incredible." I read the band's Bio and immediately sent an email to Selena, asking to please schedule an interview with Brandon, telling her a bit about my former life as a physical therapist.
By Kreig Marks, September 10, 2020
TRR: Hi Brandon out in LA. How's it going out there? I know there are a lot of fires right now. I imagine it's pretty smokey outside. Are you going outside a lot or staying inside to avoid all of that?
BM: I live SE of LA in Riverside County so the sky is covered with ash. You can definitely smell the smoke but it's not as bad near me as it is in other areas. You still don't want to be outside too often.
TRR: It's great to get in touch with you. Your publicist, Selena reached out to me to see if I'd be interested in speaking with you.
BM: Yes, she did. And, she told me that you had a medical background, and had a lot of experience working with people with disabilities.
TRR: That is correct. My background for many years was in physical therapy. I actually started out many years ago as an orthopedic physical therapist, and my father was diagnosed with Parkinson's a few years into my practice. Then, I found myself becoming more interested in Neuro-Physical Therapy; becoming a specialist in Parkinson's, Multiple Sclerosis and Cerebral Palsy. When Selena sent over the link to your new video, I heard that kick ass guitar intro and that got my attention right away. Then, I'm sitting there listening and watching, and I notice you and your posture, and your playing style. I'm thinking to myself, "What's going on here?" So, I stopped the video, moved it back a bit and looked at it again and watched you closely. Then I thought, "This guy is pretty damn good on guitar but I think he has CP." I watched the whole video and then read over your Bio and there it was. Let me tell you, you are pretty freakin' amazing.
BM: (laughing) That's incredible. Was it that obvious that I have CP? (laughing)
TRR: If you know what you're looking at. To someone without that knowledge, no, not really.
BM: Well Kreig, you discovered my secret. LOL.
TRR: Yep, you're secret is out for everyone to see!
BM: Damn. I was hoping no one would notice. LOL
TRR: I think you're gonna be ok. While were on this topic, let me share a quick story with you. When I was practicing physical therapy for many years, I was lucky to work closely with the United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) in most of South Florida for over 10 years. Even though it was my company that provided all the PT, OT and Speech therapy to UCP and I had over 100 therapists on staff, I was the one who worked with most of the patients or residents, personally. Man, I loved every minute of it. Even when they would abuse the hell out of me with practical jokes.
BM: LOL Yep, I can see that happening. Most of us with CP have a great sense of humor. You know, we have to. I guess it was or is a coping mechanism to help get through those difficult times. They were pretty abusive, huh? LOL. I can only imagine.
TRR: Oh man, they could be brutal. I was their pin cushion, but was great! The funniest story I remember is going by one of the big group homes one night around 8pm. I walk in and it's dark and very quiet, which was strange. Usually, there's a lot of noise, conversation and commotion going on. So, I walk down one of the hallways looking for a staff member and she's asleep on a couch. I then walked down another hallway and hear some laughing from one of the rooms. I open the door and there's about 15 of the residents in there all watching porn!
BM: No way! Seriously? LOL
TRR: Yep! And, not good porn. This is old-school 1970's porn with the guy with that big porn-stache and bell bottoms. It was actually on VHS!
BM: Man, that's hysterical. What did they do when they saw you?
TRR: They laughed and pleaded with me not to tell the staff. I told them not to worry. It was embarrassing enough that they were watching porn but even more-so that it was real shitty porn!
BM: LOL. That's hysterical.
TRR; But, those 10 years working with them were probably the most memorable and best years in my physical therapy career. I know a lot about Cerebral Palsy and what you’ve had to overcome to get to where you are.
BM: When Selena (my publicist) told me about your background, I was excited to speak with you because I've never had that opportunity to speak to someone in an interview who knows about CP. This is great. You obviously know quite a bit about it.
TRR: Yeah, I do. Even though I haven't worked with any of them in several years, it's something you never forget, the clinical aspect.
BM: That's great. I'm so glad you really understand the physiology behind CP. This is so cool.
TRR: It was an important and meaningful period in my life. I'm definitely going to share this interview with them. You'll really inspire them.
BM: That would be very cool.
TRR: Back to you. After watching the video of you and the band, I glanced over an interview you did 3 years ago and saw this quote from you….“The Mendenhall Experiment is my literal experiment to see if I, ‘the kid with cerebral palsy’ from small-town Illinois could move to Los Angeles, survive, write a batch of songs, form a band, and then elevate that band to a national level of success in today’s musical world.” How do you feel about that now, 3 years later?
BM: You know, it still rings true to me today. I actually recited that quote in a recent interview. It's kind of my go-to explanation of what my band is and what it means to me. And, through my band now and through my music, it's enabled me to create a disability movement per se.
TRR: How long have you been living in LA now?
BM: I moved here in 2004, so, I've actually been living in LA now for 16 years. I always wanted to live here and I came out here to visit a friend a little over 16 years ago and once I was here, that was it. I knew this was where I wanted to be and where I was meant to be. I had my family ship my things to me here, got a job at Target, and here we are today.
TRR: You were born with Cerebral Palsy. How was it as a kid? Did you feel “cheated” or ever have those “Why the hell did this happen to me” moments? Or, were you one of those kids who said, “F CP. I’ve got it but I’m not gonna let it get me!”
BM: Honest to God truthful answer, it was a bit of both. There were many times when I'd be like, "Why am I like this, why did God make me like this, why am I not like all the other kids, why did this happen, why do so many kids pick on me?" Kids were rough with me. I just couldn't wrap my brain around it. I'd think to myself, "If I could live with my disability, why couldn't the other kids, why did they have to put me through so much hell?"
TRR: Kids can be brutal.
BM: Absolutely. But, then I'd think to myself, "I'm going to fight through this and win and not let my disability define who I am as a person." And, that's what I did. And, even from a young age I felt that way. I fought through it every day and had a dream, and I wasn't going to stop until the dream became my reality, which was to play guitar in a band.
TRR: How encouraging were your parents?
BM: Well, I was raised by my maternal grandparents. They were trying to navigate through how to raise a kid with a disability. My grandfather was old-school and at one point actually forbid me from playing any instruments at all, of any kind.
TRR: Why was that?
BM: The doctors I was seeing told him that it would be impossible for me to play a guitar. At the time, I really couldn't even move my left hand. They felt it would be impossible for me. So, that's where my grandfather was coming from.
TRR: How old are you now?
BM: I'm now 37.
TRR: Unfortunately, that was the mentality 30 or so years ago. It's definitely changed a lot since then. It seems more doctors are further along in believing in alternative medical treatments, so someone with CP wanting to play the guitar, it now makes total sense, because it's only going to help with dexterity and coordination. Now, the doctors want you to get up and move and to do everything you can.
BM: That's right. And, I chose to force myself to make my body move. Fortunately, I didn't have CP as severe as many others.
TRR: May I ask why you were raised by your grandparents and not your parents?
BM: You know, I've never been asked that before.
TRR: If it's something you're not comfortable talking about, I understand and we can move along.
BM: No, that's fine. I'd like to talk about it. My mother was a very unstable diabetic and is very frail. She was only 18 when I was born. It was the early 80's and the medications were not as good as they are now. She had a severe diabetic episode and was unresponsive, and my grandparents found me unattended and decided to formally adopt me and raise me.
TRR: That's very commendable. Is your mom still around?
BM: Yeah. She's around, doing well and we're very close. The whole thing turned out to be very positive.
TRR: I'm glad to hear it worked out that way. So you've got 2 sets of parents.
BM: Exactly. A lot of love and support.
TRR: As far as playing the guitar, initially, what was your biggest challenge when learning to play? I know your CP affects your left side more than your right, which is your pick hand. So, what was the most challenging for you when you first started to play the guitar?
BM: Most definitely holding the guitar and moving my left hand on the fretboard. That was a big challenge and is probably still my biggest challenge today, although I'm much more relaxed and obviously have improved a lot with it over the years.
TRR: Your playing style I see in several of your videos. You do a lot of bar chords, which to me, makes sense. Standard or drop tunings?
BM: Definitely drop tunings, C and D. Then, I can do half step bar chord intervals. Once I learned that as a musician, it really opened the flood gates for me and allowed me to become a better musician and songwriter.
TRR: When you first decided to move to LA from Illinois, how did your grandparents react, and your mom as well? Were they nervous when you told them that’s what you wanted to do and you laid out your plans and did it?
BM: I was a day past 21. I went out here for 2 weeks to visit a friend I went to college with and I've been out here ever since. I guess they were a bit concerned but, knowing I had a good friend here who would be around, it was less concerning for them. I got a job at Target in West Hollywood and 16 years later, here you go.
TRR: Have your grandparents and mother come out often to visit you?
BM: Unfortunately, my grandfather never made it out here. He passed away in 2006. My grandmother has been out here a few times and really enjoys visiting. She's been to a few of my shows and we make sure she has ear plugs in. She always says, "Why do you have to play so loud?!" And I joke around and say, "What?" LOL
TRR: (laughing) Loud or not, she's been out there and supports you. She sounds like an incredible woman.
BM: She is. I love her so much. Without her, I would never be where I am today.
TRR: Going back a bit again, you’ve also had quite a few surgeries on your left foot. I looked at a photo of your x-ray you had posted online. Reconstructive or tendon release, or both?
BM: Man, this is crazy! (laughing) It was actually a little bit of both. It's great being able to talk about this with someone who has that medical background you have. You understand it all better than the average person. This is cool! Yes. Tendon transfer and hamstring release surgeries. And, reconstructive surgery on the ball of my foot and the big toe. It liked to lean over on the toe next to it, and all my weight would be on that area and man, it was painful.
TRR: In my experience, I know that there’s not a perfect solution there, with the surgeries, but how’s it been with you?
BM: It's been good. But, it took several to get to this point now. I would have one surgery and then the pain or problem would move to another area. Then, more surgery. But, it's good now. The biggest issue was that it took several years for the bones to calcify and really heal enough so that several of the screws and plates could be removed from my foot.
TRR: How long did it take for the full calcification?
BM: LOL. 5 long years! But, the doctors are no longer talking about amputation and a lot of the hardware has been removed from the foot now. So now, my pain level is down and functioning a lot better, mobility-wise.
TRR: I'm sure you had a lot of discomfort, and probably a lot of pain with weight bearing over the years since the surgeries.
BM: That's for sure. But, once the bones actually calcified and the hardware was removed, it felt like a whole new foot and all that pain really disappeared for the most part. Before that, just putting weight on the foot, it was like walking on broken glass.
TRR: How are you generally, day to day? I know how unpredictable CP can be. It can really have it’s own personality. It’s kinda like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.
BM: That's the perfect way to describe it. Again, it's very cool being able to talk to someone who really understands all of this. You wake up in the morning and mentally, you feel fine, but there are those days when your mind says, "Let's get up and start the day" and your body says, "Hold on now, we've got other plans!" It can be very taxing on the body. But yes, you're absolutely right. Every person who has CP, their level of disability is different from everyone elses. I'm fortunate, very fortunate, that mine was not too severe. So many people with CP are wheelchair bound. I can't begin to imagine how difficult that would be for them. I feel for them.
TRR: It's not easy, I do, too. First time you played together with your band, describe that experience.
BM: Well, I've only really had one band. The Mendenhall Experiment has kind of been my mainstay but I've had several different lineups over the years. Anyone with a vision can relate to what I'm saying. I remember hitting the stage for the first time and thinking, "How's this going to go, am I going to succeed or fall flat on my face, literally and figuratively?" LOL. Overall, it went well. It was a success and 2 weeks later we did our second show and here we are 16 years later.
TRR: You write all your own songs?
BM: Yes. I take a lot of pride in that, me and the band. We pride ourselves on writing our own material.
TRR: What's the first song you wrote?
BM: "Breaking Out." We released that one in 2011 and I think we're going to re-record it.
TRR: Maybe a Polka version?
BM: (laughing) Yes! Polka Metal. You know, there's a big audience right now for Polka music.
TRR: I'm sure it's making a lot of people very happy.
BM: LOL. Yeah, right?! LOL
TRR: In your new song, "Prosthetic," and in the video for it, Munky from KORN is in there, playing lead guitar. How did you and Munky meet?
BM: We originally met cause I was a big fan. I'd go to shows and stalk the band. I was a kid and would make these big signs and hold them in the audience. But, here's the good story and I'll try to keep it short. I had always been a huge fan of KORN as a kid. When I got older, I ended up getting a tattoo of KORN across my upper back, across my shoulder blades. In the middle is the KORN logo and on the left shoulder is Head and Munky is on the right. It looks like a big graffiti wall on my back. One night they were pulling up to a venue and they saw me walking without a shirt on, and saw the tattoo, and sent one of their guys out to find me, and they dragged me backstage and the rest is history.
TRR: Did you go all fan-girl on them?
BM: LOL. Yes, how did you know? Because the way the whole thing went down, it was like a kid meeting a superhero. They pulled me backstage and I was tongue tied. It was actually very embarrassing. I remember a friend giving me a hard time asking why I'd get such a tattoo on my back. I told him that this tattoo would let me meet the band one day. And, it did! It's like mind over matter. You think about something or want something bad enough, it'll happen. And, it did!
TRR: You're very prophetic.
BM: If you're really into thinking about the universe, you can make some crazy shit happen and I used to think about that a lot, meeting them from the tattoo. LOL. The law of attraction and energy in the universe, I've seen it work in my life so many times and so profoundly that it's for me, undeniable.
TRR: That's so cool. I really like how you are so positive.
BM: I really am. You have to have positive thoughts to create those positive outcomes.
TRR: Good advice. Your song, "Prosthetic." Seriously heavy on the guitars. Love it! You’re in the studio recording the song. Do you ever stop and look around the studio and think to yourself, “Holy Fuck! Look at this!" Years ago, you're walking down the street, shirt off, KORN tattoo there for everyone to see and who sees it, the guys from KORN. And, they drag you backstage to hang out. So, do you ever look across the room now, years later, one of your rock idols, Munky, is playing in your band on your song, on your record, and you think to yourself, "This is nuts!"
BM: Oh man, all the time. It's very surreal sometimes. How can it not be? There's actually a time in the movie about my life, "Mind Over Matter" during a clip where I'm talking to Munky about the first time we met, the chance encounter, and that was my moment when I get to apologize to him about my initial reaction when we first met. How I was so nervous and going all fan-girl on him. So now, I can't be that fan-girl guy, even though I still see him and think sometimes, "Wow," because you can't be like that if you want the other musicians to respect you. But definitely, there were moments in the studio during the recording when I stepped back, and the other guys too, and you think, "Man, this is crazy, Munky is playing lead guitar on my album on a song I wrote." What's also pretty cool is that the guitar he's playing on the record and in the studio is a guitar I gave him as a gift. He brought it back into the studio and played it on a song we wrote together.
TRR: That is one of the coolest stories I've heard.
BM: Yes, it's pretty awesome.
TRR: Now, you're going to have a lot of people going fan-girl on you.
BM: Lol. That hasn't happened yet. But, the people I've met who tell me that I'm an inspiration to them, that's very special to me. It's mind blowing to think that I've done that because as I kid, I told myself, if I could do that for even one person one day, to inspire even one person to follow their dream, whether it be music or something else, then I feel I've done something worthwhile and fulfilled part of a life duty. To sit and think about it now, it's just mind blowing and I sit back and it really humbles me because I'm so fortunate to be where I am now and doing what I'm doing.
TRR: You've obviously worked very hard to get to where you are. It's a real uphill battle for anyone with a dream to get to be on stage performing, because it's so few that are fortunate to achieve that. And, for someone like you, who had to battle CP along the way, who had to work so much harder, that has to make you feel even better about how far you've come. That's really amazing and so inspiring.
BM: When you grow up, you aspire to become something, to do something you love, to do something worthwhile. I went through about 10 of those. I wanted to be a firefighter, then a pro NHL player, to do professional Karate. And, it was always like, "You can't do this, you can't do that." Then, finally, I got to Music and I took a stand and it really resonated with me. I decided that's what I loved and what I wanted to do in life, and I went for it.
TRR: I'm glad you did. How proud are you of what you've done so far and how far you've come?
BM: Beyond proud. I'm very thankful every single day.
TRR: Your proudest moment in music?
BM: Oh man, I...I think it would have to be coming in contact with the multitude of people I've touched and inspired. For me, to have a conversation with Munky and to start my own band, from an initial idea and to watch it become a worldwide thing, affecting people across the world, it's so amazing to me. To have your dream and goal become a reality, it is so special to me and it really means something.
TRR: Craziest experience so far either in the studio or while performing.
BM: Performing live. I'd say the Aftershock 2016 performance. We played for about 10,000 people at 12:30 in the afternoon.
TRR: What was it like looking out on the crowd from the stage? Were you nervous, amped up?
BM: We were amped up, definitely. We wanted to do well, especially on that platform. It would either go very well or very badly. Ha. We had never played on a stage that big before so we really didn't know how it would sound, how we would sound, so we just went for it and did our thing. I remember looking over at the guys in the band with a huge smile and saying, "Is this real, is this really happening?" It was amazing. The bands on that bill, it was just stacked. There was KORN, Slayer, Tool, Disturbed. It was crazy. For us to kind of check off all those bands from our bucket list, it was just amazing in itself. It was a dream because as a kid, I grew up listening to most of them and now, here I am living my own dream and being on the same ticket with them.
TRR: Who else is on your bucket list that you'd like to perform with ?
BM: I'd like to perform with, um.... Wow, you really put me on the spot. Obviously number one on my list is KORN. But, I'd also like to go out there with Nonpoint, Sevendust, and kind of continue to build upon our catalogue. You gotta take it in stages, you know?
TRR: How have you and the band been handling the pandemic the past several months?
BM: You know, the quarantine for me and the band has actually been a huge blessing.
TRR: I'm glad to hear you say that.
BM: Number 1, for me, I'm still working. I work at Home Depot as my day job so I've been working through this whole thing and have been fortunate to have continued to bring home a paycheck. A lot of people have been less fortunate so I've been lucky in that aspect. As a band, we've had the opportunity to sit back and think about the business part of it. What we can do better to plan for the future to make this a money making business when we do go out on tour again. About 6 years ago, we got signed and it was like being shot out of a cannon and we did show after show after show and never had time to sit back and reflect so this whole quarantine thing has given us room to breathe.
TRR: My wife and I were talking about that too. In my previous marriage, I had a very big rehabilitation company and I'd get to my office early in the morning and then, I'd be in Jacksonville or Orlando or somewhere else and missed out on a lot of important times with my kids. I found myself getting into that trap again, working tons of hours and not spending enough time with my the family.
BM: Yep, you find yourself just putting your head down, focused only on what's in front of you and not what's around you, grinding away. I've been there too, too often. You work and work and work so hard and lose focus on life, the really important things in life like family and friends.
TRR: Right. Then, you turn around and think, wow, time has flown. This pandemic really has forced me to re-think how I run my business and made me take several steps back and relax. Maybe God threw this at us to make us all stop and think about what we're doing in life and to get back to appreciating things we've been neglecting.
BM: Exactly. I think we all need to do that every day; to stop, breathe and appreciate who we are, and who we love. To slow down even if it's for a few minutes.
TRR: I still find myself sitting in front of my computer too often but at least I can look across the screen and see my wife and kids. I'm not perfect by any means but I'm trying to stick to this new plan that's been thrown at us all.
BM: I feel exactly the same way. There's that blessing from all this craziness.
TRR: Alright, let's start to wrap this up. I've been saving this question. Ready?
BM: Ready. Let's hear it.
TRR: Do you want to be known as the guy with CP who plays Rock music or the guy who plays kick ass Rrock music, and, happens to have CP?
BM: Definitely the latter. "I want to be known as the guy who plays kick ass Rock music, who happens to have a bit of CP. I want to help give hope and strength to others who live with disabilities, to be a vehicle for advocacy for others who have disabilities, and telling those people to never give up, to always push toward your dreams, no matter how far away or insurmountable they seem, or how difficult the journey may be to get there." With the band, a lot of people read some stories and think, "Oh, that's cute, he has a disability and his hero has been helping him out." They don't realize that we're a real functioning, kick ass Rock band with a really good purpose until they hear us. You don't listen to our music and think, "Oh, that music sounds disabled!" LOL
TRR: (laughing) What? Ha!
BM: Seriously. What does disabled music even sound like? LOL
TRR: Let me tell you something. When Selena sent over your mp3's for me to hear, from the first few chords of "Prosthetic," I thought it was kick ass!
BM: We're always going to make kick ass rock music that kicks you in the throat. Some of them might be simple songs, but I've always liked simple songs. Look at the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, all simple songs.
TRR: Look at the Ramones.
BM: Exactly! 3 chords and a bunch of attitude. And, it worked. It still works. We're living proof. That to me is Rock n' Roll and what we're going to stay true to.
TRR: Anyone you’d like to give a shout out to?
BM: Just all of our fans. Thank you all for sticking by us, and we have a lot of new music coming your way in 2021.
TRR: Brandon, you're awesome. You really inspire me, not just from what you've overcome, but for being real and true to yourself and who you are.
BM: Thank you, Kreig. I really appreciate that.
TRR: This has been very cool speaking with you. I'm glad we could do this.
BM: Me too. Let's keep in contact.
TRR: Stay safe, stay out of the smoke outside. We'll be in touch soon.
BM: Oh, definitely. Thank you so much and you take care of yourself and your family.
For further information about Brandon Mendenhall and The Mendenhall Experiment, visit
https://www.themendenhallexperiment.com/ or follow on Facebook
Selena Fragassi - FRPR