The rock band The Mendenhall Experiment began in 2008, with guitarist Brandon Mendenhall. From its inception until 2014, there was a revolving door of members with Mendenhall as the binding thread. From 2014 onward, the band has not changed, as Mendenhall describes the current formation as the “golden line-up.” Mendenhall is on guitar, Nate Stockton is the bassist, the drummer is Bruce Lira, his brother Mike is the lead guitarist, and lead singer Mario Valadez is the frontman.
Why should you be interested in a band you may or may not have heard of and who may or may not play your style of music? Because Brandon Mendenhall has Cerebral Palsy and was told he could never play an instrument of any kind. Mind Over Matter, the latest release of Sumerian Films, is his story.
The documentary by Sébastien Paquet starts with Mendenhall’s early life. Born in 1983 to a barely 18-year-old mom, Brandon was raised by his grandparents while his mom was still in school. It was his grandparents who noticed that he was slow to hit milestones that other children his age were doing so handily. They took him to a doctor, and he was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy (abbreviated as CP).
“…Brandon Mendenhall has Cerebral Palsy and was told he could never play an instrument of any kind.”
CP stems from damage to, or abnormal development of, the brain and manifests itself as permanent movement disorders for which there is no cure. In Mendenhall’s case, the disease affects the left side of his face, causing a speech impediment, his left hand restricting finger movements, and his left foot, creating an uneven gait that early on turned inward (described as “pigeon-toed”). Shortly after the diagnosis Mendenhall’s grandpa took the boy’s beloved plastic guitar and cut off all the strings. Devastating to the young boy, though, upon reflection, he realizes that his grandpa was only trying to stave off heartbreak from unfulfilled dreams.
In high school, bands such as Korn were making it big, and the high-energy music mixed with the strong, occasionally angry vocals struck a chord with Mendenhall. Throughout his school career, the boy was constantly bullied and picked on due to his CP and being able to unwind by listening to music proved cathartic. He started going to Korn shows in neighboring states and eventually got a very impressive tattoo of the band on his back. His dedication did not go unnoticed by the members of the group, and they started talking to the teenager after shows.
One day with some friends, he found himself in a recording booth and was in awe. Knowing he couldn’t play, Mendenhall decided that producing is how he’d make his mark in the musical world. To that end, he went to Full Sail University in Florida. Mendenhall applied himself like never before and graduated with ease. Sadly, since he was unable to drive, his internship after school did not go very far.
This only reinforces Mendenhall’s resolve to start a band. He moves out to California and starts writing songs and learning more about the guitar. In 2008, he formed the band, and they started playing small time shows. Six years later, he and his bandmates signed a record contract with Universal Music Group. Mendenhall’s dreams have come true.
“…friends talk about their shared love of music and how it transformed Brandon into a more confident person.”
Paquet interviews members of some of Mendenhall’s favorite bands, including Korn’s Jonathan Davis, Munky, and Head. They discuss their interactions with Mendenhall and how glad they are about how far he has come. Childhood friends talk about their shared love of music and how it transformed Brandon into a more confident person. Of course, Mendenhall is front and center and proves a very articulate, sweet-natured man.
Mind Over Matter does an excellent job of integrating the interviews with photos and video of Mendenhall’s early life, as well as the footage of gigs with The Mendenhall Experiment. The energy throughout is high, which keeps the viewer engaged, but it is Mendenhall’s tremendous optimism that truly shines. Yes, there are moments when he expresses self-doubts, but more often than not, he doubles on trying to overcome his CP and prove he can do anything.
With his band, he reaches out to the disabled communities to help bring a positive change in how society perceives such people. He is leading by example and is indeed a very engaged and generous human. The filmmakers do a great job of exemplifying that.
Mind Over Matter is a compelling story, told with style, about an underdog who truly deserves the best. Even if The Mendenhall Experiment’s music is not for you, the movie about its founder’s life is an uplifting watch that will pull at your heartstrings.
Mind Over Matter (2019) Directed by Sébastien Paquet. Starring Brandon Mendenhall, Jonathan Davis, James ‘Munky’ Shaffer, Brian ‘Head’ Welch, Brenda Mendenhall White, Joanne Mendenhall, Dr. Brendan Riley, Dr. Ron Cohen, Lindsey Scheppler, Jason Howard.
9 out of 10 Guitar Riffs