Southern California rockers, The Mendenhall Experiment are not only great musicians, but are living proof that disabilities need not keep you from your dreams. The band’s rhythm guitarist Brandon has lived with Cerebral Palsy since childhood but now has beat the odds and is always ready to rock! By the Barricade caught up with the band before their set at the House of Blues Anaheim for the Vans Warped Tour Battle of the Bands on June 17 to hear their story and learn more about this inspirational five piece band.
Brandon Mendenhall – Rhythm Guitar
Bruce Lira – Drums
Michael Lira- Lead Guitar
Nate Stockton – Bass
Mario Valadez – Lead Vocals
By the Barricade: The Mendenhall Experiment is truly inspirational and I’ve read a bit about Brandon’s challenges in becoming a musician with cerebral palsy. How did you guys get together as a group to become a band?
Brandon: I had a whole different group of band members before I got together with these cats. It was a local Riverside band called Clearview. They are really good and were with me for about 6 months and then there demo got radio airplay on X103.9 so they chose to go back and pursue Clearview as a unit. Along the way I was introduced to Mike who was my long time guitar tech and we went to Aftershock. It was when we were doing the Aftershock Festival in Sacramento that I realized Mike had the same views, passion, and drive to not only do this band but to do this band in the manner that I have always perceived it to be done. That is as a vehicle to raise disability awareness for everyone. My whole thing is that I want to change people’s initial reaction to and opinions of people with disabilities so when they first see them they don’t go, “Oh, man I feel sorry for that person or they can’t do this or they can’t do that.” I want the initial reaction to be “Hey these people are people too and they can be very creative, you just have to give them a chance.” So when everything fell away with the other guys, Mike was the first guy that I called to see if would be interested in being lead guitar player.
Mike: I asked Brandon if he needed a drummer and told him that I have a 15 year old brother. He wasn’t too sure, but then I showed [Brandon] a video of him covering a Slipknot song on YouTube and Brandon’s reaction was, “Alright, he’s in!”
Brandon: Nate played the last show with the old lineup with me as a stand in bass player at the Whiskey opening for Smile Empty Soul on Friday the 13th of December, 2013. It was two hours before our show and the bass player called me and said he couldn’t get out of work and I can’t make the show. Nate was already coming and bringing some of my gear …
Nate: And had The Mendenhall Experiment shirt on already, which I immediately took off the minute he called. (Laughs)
Brandon: I called and asked [Nate]to bring his bass and equipment because I don’t have a bass player. I told him the story and he said “Yeah.” I had been grooming him for about two weeks with a few of the songs because I hand picked him to come in and be the new bass player so he kind of knew the material but not really the whole set. He came, did the show and it was amazing and he earned his spot.
Nate: The rest of the band questioned whether or not I was sure I could do it, but I said, “Yeah, of course I can do it.” I mean it’s the Whiskey. How am I not going to do it?
Mario: What a great way to initiate yourself into it.
Nate: I am kind of the opposite of Brandon. I’m hearing impaired, I wear hearing aids, but no one knows.
Mario: He’s also blind (laughing)
Nate: I play my ass off and then I get off the stage and people are trying to talk to me, but I still have my hearing aids out, and then that’s when I tell them that I am hearing impaired.
Mike: We still needed a vocalist and had tried out two different vocalists but it just wasn’t hitting the spot. In the meantime while I was a guitar tech for Brandon on the way back from Aftershock, the singer, drummer and I got in a pretty bad car accident. I had to go to a chiropractor and at one of those sessions I met Mario and we spoke a little bit but after that we really didn’t keep in touch. Then I was asking another guy I heard singing Karaoke to come try out. We waited two weeks and he called and said he was more interested in blues but gave me Mario’s contact. I hit him up and I didn’t really connect that we had already met. He had long hair when I first met him, now he had a different look and I didn’t recognize him. He happened to live down the street so we met up, he had an amazing voice. [Mario] learned one of the songs and the first time we got together it was just my brother Bruce, Mario and I. We recorded a quick rehearsal and then I told Brandon we found our guy. He saw the video and screamed and jumped like a little kid.
Nate: We all kind of did.
Brandon: And then we went to the studio and I heard the playback of him recording on two of our songs and I was tuning up with Bruce behind the kit and I heard him say, “He’s our man. We got our guy.” I can honestly say that my favorite singer is in my band.
Mario: Thank you man!
Mike: That is pretty much how we met and we have been a happy family since.
Brandon: We have a very chill vibe. We don’t bicker. We don’t have any drama.
Mario: We all care about each other and we are here to support each other.
Brandon: Most importantly, every member of our band is down for our cause. We are driving the message of disability awareness out to the masses. I couldn’t be happier. Having such a great group of guys on stage with me every night, I’m having the best time of my life.
By the Barricade: The Mendenhall Experiment has a great message that you are presenting. Do you have a dream of reaching any particular audience?
Mario: The idea is don’t let anybody tell you what you can and can’t do. Don’t doubt yourself. If you want something and really believe you can attain it, don’t let anybody bring you down. Get with the right group of people and don’t let anyone tell you what to do. Do what you have to do to be happy. That is fairly universal for everyone.
Brandon: I personally want to reach kids that have disabilities that are going through a lot of the struggles that we had when we were growing up. My hope is that they hold on to our music and our message and see our band and say, “Look, these guys are doing it. We can do it too.”
Mario: We want everybody to just come out to a show and see what can be done and just have a great time.
By the Barricade: That inspiration comes across even before meeting you guys. What is the writing process for The Mendenhall Experiment?
Mario: The way we have done it lately is they come up with the instrumentals first.
Mike: Brandon and I start working on riffs. Then we record them and we send them to our good friend Dave Delacruz. He molds them. He’s even sat in on sessions with us and molds our stuff together. Then we give it to Mario to write lyrics.
Brandon: But the music is basically rooted and structured around my specific set of parameters or abilities because of Cerebral Palsy and the set limitations I have in my left hand. A lot of the times what will happen is we will come up with the rhythm guitar structure and drum structures then Mike will come in with some lead guitar stuff and add to what was already in place. Nate comes in with the bass then Mario comes in last with the beauty and the melodies.
Mike: As we are writing the guitar parts, Bruce, the drummer is listening and adds his input on how he wants the rhythm.
Mario: Then he can dance with it on the drums and it ends up becoming one sound. The guitarist is following the bass, the bass is following the kick and stuff like that.
Mike: Because of Brandon’s disability we do cater to him to make sure he’s going to be able to knock it out but still be able to write a cool song.
Mario: I just want to go on about that a bit. It’s the most important part. It is definitely his disability but the fact of the matter is that the music does not suffer.
Brandon: We play in drop tuning so I can do the chords easier, but when you listen to the music as a whole, unless you know us or we told you how the writing process goes, the average listener could not tell the difference.
Mario: The fact of the matter is that some of my favorite guitar solos are here. We have Mike Lira on lead guitar and Bruce Lira on drums and add in Nate putting on an incredible visual performance with his bass skills. He’s the man… all the girls love him. (all – laugh). They are very gifted musicians. We aren’t using this as a gimmick, we are here to do what the music is for.
Mike: The music speaks for itself.
Brandon: Before I started playing guitar, my entire left hand was paralyzed. I had no individual mobility whatsoever and after years of playing guitar, I have almost full range. I still struggle with doing traditional chords so that is why we down tune. I found a way to adapt around it, write music, and play in a band. A lot of inspiration for me came from Keith Richards. He would down tune his guitars to an open G or open C so when he was playing with The (Rolling) Stones and he was all messed up, he could still play. When I was learning how to play and I read that story I applied it to my own band. One of my all-time heroes, Steve Vai said one of the greatest things in an interview one time. He said focus on what you’re good at and forget about what you are not. Forget about the negativity and focus on what you can do.
By the Barricade: The Mendenhall Experiment has opened for some national acts. Is there a band that would be your dream band to tour with?
Mike: Of course the guys from Korn. (All: Korn!) They are great guys.
Brandon: Our good friends in Korn and I would say The Deftones, and Crosses.
Nate: I would love to play with Tool one day. I would love to play with Alice in Chains one day.
Mike: Foo Fighters, and Metallica.
Brandon: The Rolling Stones
Mike: Honestly, we just show up and always think it’s just another show. Let’s give them what we’ve got and let the performance and the music speak for itself.
Nate: We try our hardest to make every performance better than the last.
Brandon: We do that and we’ve proven that it doesn’t matter if it’s a local dive bar, a big festival like Aftershock, or the House of Blues. The performance is the same energy level and the same drive from the five of us no matter what stage we are on.
By the Barricade: What would performing at the Vans Warped Tour mean to you?
Mario: I grew up on Warped Tour compilations. A lot of my influences have played that tour for many years. I would love to play with a lot of those bands like Pennywise, Bad Religion.
Brandon: I would be really excited to play with For Today at this year’s Warped Tour.
By the Barricade: Is there anything else you would like to say to the readers of By the Barricade?
Mario: We hope they get our message and come to one of our upcoming shows.
Mike: I hope that by reading this your readers’ get a good understanding of the band and hopefully will check us out. That would be a true accomplishment for us. Live your life in a positive light.
Brandon: You can achieve anything you put your mind to. You just have to apply yourself and put in the hard work. Formulate a plan, make the skeleton and take the steps and then all the doors in life will open for you. It’s all about hard work and positivity.
Mike: Success isn’t measured by nickels and dimes and dollar signs. It’s measured by what you’ve done and the goals you have accomplished. Do what you love because you love it, not because there are dollar signs at the end.
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