Hidden in a pool of six other demos, Brandon Mendenhall found the perfect song to co-write with James ‘Munky’ Shaffer, who his band, The Mendenhall Experiment had been working with. The song was a nod to the late Jeff Hanneman of Slayer and was the singular demo that got everyone moving in the studio.
“Prosthetic” is straight from their 2017 self-titled EP and the latest single to be promoted with an accompanying video, that features footage pulled from the roll of their 2019 documentary, Mind Over Matter that delves into the band and Mendenhall’s personal experiences and struggles as a musician with cerebral palsy.
‘”Prosthetic’ was definitely written as a collaborative effort,” Mendenhall told American Songwriter. “When going into the studio (with Munky) I had brought in a collection of 5-6 demos that I had been working on with guitars and scratch drums-type stuff. Munky and I sat and listened through the tracks, and when we came to the ‘Prosthetic’ demo, everybody’s heads in the studio started bobbing…and Munky said, ‘This is the one, we should develop and jam on this one.’”
Mendenhall has struggled with his disability all of his life, which primarily affects his left hand, and when he set his sights on becoming a guitar player, his obstacles only grew in force. But that didn’t stop him, he just pushed on.
“Learning how to play guitar and pushing myself through the physical barriers of a once-paralyzed left hand to be able to play the instrument was my biggest limitation,” he explained. “I also learned how to utilize drop tunings and barre chords to work around the remaining mobility issues in my (left) hand.”
Hashing out the details, bridge and chorus with Munky, producer Chris Collier, who also played drums on that track, guitarist Mike Lira and vocalist Mario Valdez, the song became the powerhouse it is today, full of bottom-heavy riffs and biting vocal textures. The lyrics were written by Mendenhall and Valdez, who after a conversation, decided on the lyrical content of anti-discrimination, guided by Mendenhall’s perspective.
“Mario has this uncanny ability to interpret my pain and personal struggles and put them into lyrics without much guidance,” Mendenhall said. “Writing with honesty is key when writing something you want to resonate with others, so getting personal is more of a comfortable approach for us.”
A somewhat less comfortable experience reared its head, if only briefly, when Mendenhall began wrestling with his nerves, the day they went into the studio with Munky, who is well-known for his time as Korn’s guitarist and is a kind of ‘hero’ to Mendenhall.
“I was nervous for days leading up to this session because I knew it was a sink or swim scenario. No one wants to strike out in front of their hero,” Mendenhall admitted.
Mendenhall showed up early to the session to rehearse and started warming-up. And he became so enthralled in playing that he didn’t even notice Munky sitting right behind him.
“I was jamming to the songs in the control room and he just casually came in and sat behind me at the console and when I finally turned around it was like, ‘Oh Hey! What’s up?!’ That set the tone for the entire day and everything flowed organically,” Mendenhall said. “Munky really brought the song to life with his signature style, really making it sound ‘huge’ as only he can. He also brought back some older signature Korn tones in the bridge section where he does a rare guitar solo.”
The footage in the music video was taken from that same session with Munky, that shows all of the guys doing what they do best, in a perfectly fluid jam scenario, laced with scenes from Mind Over Matter, that offer some additional insight into Mendenhall’s life.
“We wanted to make the viewer feel the energy of that day in the studio,” Mendenhall said. “We also wanted the video to take the viewer on my journey, which the song embodies.”
“It is important to me that I share my journey with others and to be an advocate for inclusion, he added. “I feel that if my story can inspire anyone to follow their dreams, despite their challenges, or educate anyone to be more inclusive to those with disabilities, then maybe that small ripple will become a larger wave of positive change and forward progress in this crazy world.”
Check out the video for “Prosthetic” here on American Songwriter, and don’t skip over watching Mind Over Matter, which is available for free on Amazon Prime Video via Sumerian Films. And be on the watch for some new music from The Mendenhall Experiment next year, as a new Universal/Lucent signee.