Since there’s a huge area of Venn space that incorporates both metalheads and horror hounds, we recently reported on the inspirational documentary Mind Over Matter. It tells the story of KORN fan Brandon Mendenhall who self-rehabilitated parts of his body (paralyzed by cerebral palsy) in order to form his own hard rock outfit: The Mendenhall Experiment.
It’s more than just a compelling and engrossing film for anyone following their dreams (no matter the odds); it serves as a sort of guide book for those with rock and roll aspirations in the 21st Century. Along his journey, Mendenhall got to meet and work with many of his idols, including guitarist Munky (born James Shaffer) from KORN, who he felt a special bond with (more on that later).
What’s so awesome about Mind Over Matter is that it tells the story of Mendenhall’s life up until now, but it also sets the stage for his next chapter. He needs complicated surgery on his foot to prevent the need for amputation, but with The Mendenhall Experiment taking off and hitting stages across the country, the band’s founder isn’t willing to derail his potential juggernaut. It’s sort of like a “borrowed time” situation that adds urgency to the film while serving as a reminder to never put off until tomorrow what must be accomplished today.
Dread Central was lucky enough to sit down with Munky from KORN, who appears prominently in Mind Over Matter. He inspired Mendenhall who learned the ax man had once suffered a near-debilitating hand injury in his youth, and used music (specifically, learning how to play guitar) as a method of rehabilitation.
“Losing the end of my left index finger [in a motorcycle accident] actually launched my career,” the simian-monikered hard rocker explains. “When I went to the doctor, he asked if I had ever wanted to play a musical instrument. I said, ‘How about the guitar?’ and he said, ‘That’s perfect because it will rehab your finger’. So, my dad bought me a guitar and the rest is history.”
Today, the two musicians are close friends and Munky is elated at Mendenhall’s well-earned recognition. Check out the rest of our exclusive interview below where we discuss The Mendenhall Experiment, KORN’s upcoming album, and the connection between dark, heavy music and horror. You can learn more about Mind Over Matter (now streaming on multiple VOD platforms) by following the link below.
Brandon was born with cerebral palsy, a neurological condition that affects movement, coordination and balance. More than one doctor told him he would never play an instrument, but Brandon had other plans. The film documents Brandon’s unbelievable journey to rehabilitate his then-paralyzed left hand in order to play guitar, while also overcoming bullies and stereotypes. Along the way he found friendship and mentors with members of the Grammy-award winning band KORN.
Dread Central: How does it feel to know that your band, and you specifically, had such an inspiring and emotional impact on one of your fans [Brandon Mendenhall] that it literally set a course for his entire life and living out what he had been told were impossible dreams?
Munky: When KORN first started out, we had our own passionate desire to change music and forge our own path when it came to creating and being original. It’s really just hitting us now, that we’ve inspired people in these incredible ways. We’re so grateful that the music became more than just songs. It became something that resonated with so many people, a way to ease their day-to-day suffering and pain by giving them hope for a moment. I didn’t expect that out of a music career, and that’s only been uncovered for me in recent years. It fulfills us as people, forming these bonds and connecting with people in ways we never imagined. That’s a level of success you can’t buy; it’s priceless
DC: KORN just celebrated their 25th Anniversary. How does it feel knowing that you’ve been a nu-metal pioneer for a quarter century now? How does it feel to look back at this amazing ride you’ve been on?
M: It hurts. I’m in pain; I’ve got heavy metal neck! But seriously, out of a billion bands, only one gets the chance to live their dream to this extent. [Co-guitarist] Brian [“Head” Welch] has been back for six or seven years, and it feels like everyone has a renewed sense of creativity and passion. We’re starting to see the generation gap between our fans start to merge. We have original fans who are bringing their kids to our shows. It’s beyond anything we’ve ever dreamed. A wild roller coaster, man!
DC: In addition to being an incredibly inspirational film, Mind Over Matter is kind of like: “How to Make it in Rock and Roll 101”. What would you say are the biggest obstacles for today’s up-and-coming bands?
M: Yeah, Brandon kind of lays it out like a checklist [in Mind Over Matter]. When you move to a city with a huge music scene, you have thousands of bands all competing for the same resources: Professional recording studios, promotion, marketing… You do all of this to try and break a band and your chances are still very slim. When he breaks that down in the film, it’s kind of a shocking revelation.
DC: It really is.
M: Then, on top of all that, you still have to have that drive and passion to succeed no matter what, because it’s your destiny.
DC: You have to do it for the love first and foremost.
M: Yeah, you have to. And everything else follows.
DC: New KORN Album in 2019: Yes of no?
M: New KORN album in 2019… It’s definitely coming.
DC: Nice! Can you tell me anything else or are you keeping those cards close to your chest?
M: I can’t say too much… but we put a whole year into this record. That’s something we hadn’t done since Untouchables in 2002. So, we really sat with these songs, lived with them, had time to reflect on them, and then went back and worked on them some more. We didn’t rush it through just to put something out in order to get back on tour. I know a lot of bands do that; we’ve done it in the past too—I’m guilty. But this time we
DC: Most KORN fans know that vocalist Jonathan Davis has had a really tough year, losing his wife in 2018, and we genuinely worry about him. Can you tell us how he’s holding up?
M: I can tell you that he’s doing great. He’s a real champion of courage and someone to be looked up to on so many levels: Being a father and having so many things thrown at him, and him handling it like a man. Holding his chin up and knowing that everything is going to be okay when everything looks so dark. Given the circumstances that he’s been dealt, he’s been such a courageous role model.
DC: That’s fantastic and really touching. Be sure to wish him the best from all of us here at Dread Central when you get a chance. Now to switch gears a bit: Since Dread Central is all about horror, I’ve got to ask: Do you like the horror movie?
M: I loved horror movies when I was younger, but now I’m old and frail. I’m not strong enough now to block the demons and they get into my dreams [joking].
DC: What were your favorites growing up?
M: The classics like, Friday the 13th—anything with Jason or Freddy. The first horror movie I saw growing up that had a really profound affect, and definitely has something to do with why I write dark music, isn’t necessarily a horror film but at the end gets really scary: It was Apocalypse Now. My dad took me to see that movie when I was six-years-old and my mom freaked out on him when we got home. I remember she really yelled at him and let him have it. Then I saw The Exorcist around the same time, and the first Omen movie.
Listen, this is a scary detail: That Damien kid, he was born on June 6th and my birthday is on June 6th. I was, like, ‘Whoa!’ My dad was like, ‘You’re a devil baby!’ and then I’d stare at him and try and freak him out. I really thought I had special powers when I was around 7, 8-years-old.
DC: So, I guess it’s not a leap to say KORN owes some of its sound and style to horror movies.
M: For sure! There are real misconceptions about scary movies. For people who love them, they’re such an outlet for creating an alternate world where anything can happen. We can express those scary, fearful moments so we don’t have to experience them in real life. We can exercise those demons in a playful way that’s artistic. I don’t think people really understand that, and it’s the same for metal music when it comes to people on the outside looking in. ‘They’re Satanists, they’re fucking crazy. They must worship the devil’ and that sort of thing. I want to break those stereotypes.
DC: You definitely hit on the fact that there’s a huge crossover between horror fans and metal fans. It’s a family spirt; it’s an outcast spirit. Despite the way we look on the outside, we’re (for the most part) good people on the inside.
M: Exactly. And when something crazy actually does happen, it’s usually some guy-next-door type who kills his whole family even though he seemed so nice, not a horror fan or a metal fan. The outcast kid on his skateboard who you’re afraid of, he’s going to be okay, because he’s self-sufficient. Those kids usually turn out pretty good.
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