When most people think of California they don’t think of the Inland Empire. It’s not necessarily a hub for music or anything special. However, artists such as John Bender and his band Mellow Lando are looking to change that. Mellow Lando is looking to speak directly into the millennial soul by discussing topics that the youth can relate too. We’re not talking pill-popping but mixing financial obligations with the need to party. Real World Issues. A few months ago I had the opportunity to interview John Bender in between shows and his busy schedule. Honestly, it was one of my favorite interviews to date.
Ashley: So let’s dive in, why don’t you tell people who don’t know you or your group a little about yourself?
John Bender: My name is John Bender! (Just like the robot). I am the lead vocalist, songwriter, and keyboardist for Mellow Lando, a funk-rock and hip-hop band I started at Cal Poly Pomona with my friends Martin Gachiri (Guitar), Nicolas Montell (Bass) and Jon Sims (Drums). We play songs for the Millennial experience, such as being broke but still finding the time to party!
Ashley: I definitely dig your guys sound. It reminds me a lot of Asher Roth but I’m pretty sure I’ve said that before. What would you say have been your guys biggest musical influences?
John Bender: As a lyricist, I was definitely influenced by 90’s and 2000’s era hip-hop, that was the first music I fell in love with in middle school. I was the poser white kid wearing puffy jackets and Shaqs, listening to G-unit and Eminem. Hearing Nas’ Illmatic in High school made me really take rapping seriously. As a producer I’d have to say Kanye West is my biggest influence, I love hearing extravagant, epic albums with skits and loads of guests, and beats with wide variety of sounds and textures.
Aside from Hip-hop i’ve always loved classic rock bands of 60s-70s, especially Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. The kinds of bands where each member was a master of their instrument and could bust out crazy solos! I was looking for players like that when I recruited the other members of Mellow Lando, I write the basic song but they come up with their own parts.
What happened to Asher Roth though? If he stays off the radar i’m going to be forced to take his spot back
Ashley: I love that concept for making music. It definitely sounds like you guys are one unit but it’s also great that you play to each other’s strengths by letting everyone come up with their own parts.
Asher Roth came out with a mixtape a couple years ago I think but I’m pretty sure his place in music is available now for the taking.
John Bender: That’s why I chose to make it a band and not a solo project! I love collaboration and I figure if someone has skills in something i’m not so good at then I shouldn’t try to dictate to them too much.
As an emcee it’s a lot of fun to play with a band, there’s a lot more interplay and response than just rapping to a beat. You can freestyle and they can freestyle with you!
Ashley: I haven’t had a chance to see you guys perform but it definitely sounds like an experience. Do you guys freestyle at performances?
John Bender: That is something new we’ve been trying out! Usually we cypher and jam like that during practice, that’s how we like to come up with new songs
Ashley: So someone starts playing the drums for example and you guys kinda go from there?
John Bender: We alternate who starts it off! Someone will start playing and we’ll listen and try to come up with parts that fit, listen for whoever comes up with the coolest idea. Sometimes it doesn’t really come together and we try again, but sometimes we really get in synch and it’s almost like magic. A good jam session is almost like sex as far as being connected deeply to other humans. Very different actions, but similar feeling if it’s good!
That’s why I encourage everyone to participate in music, even if you’re just banging a pan or using a shaker or something. Rapping is musical! I hate when people act like it isn’t. there’s just as much potential and depth to it as there is to playing an instrument
Ashley: I imagine that’s how a lot of the songs on Bottomless Refills was made or did you guys take a different approach?
John Bender: Bottomless Refills was actually a very studio based project. I had a lot of those songs in my “vault” and I felt like I needed to fully realize them and then do more writing. I started off just asking anyone I knew who was good to play parts on the songs, through that I found the guys who became permanent members. Our next record will be much more of a collaboration. We did jam when coming up with parts, I would play a demo instrumental and they would jam along, interpret it their way until we came up with something we liked
Ashley: Can you tell me a bit about the next record?
John Bender: It will be very 90’s influenced. I feel like our generation is very stressed and anxious about the future, we’re all broke, in dept, struggling with the things we weren’t taught in school (taxes, buying a home, etc). Deep down we all wish we were back to being kids with not a care in the galaxy. I’ve been listening to a lot of 90’s artists and video game soundtracks. Music that emulates the past but lyrics that speak to today. We’re currently writing songs. I plan to have it out by next summer
Ashley: That’s dope it honestly sounds like a great concept for an album. With all the stresses going on today it’s important to make music that your audience can relate to and you can put your soul into.
We touched a bit earlier on who your biggest influences were, do you have anyone you’d love to collab with?
John Bender: Music is how the human race copes with our feelings! I take that role very seriously, my job as a musician is to speak to society’s problems and be there for people when they’re down
My dream is to get Anthony Keidis (from Red Hot Chili Peppers) to do a guest rap or spoken word intro on one of my songs! No one has collabed with him yet.
Ashley: That would be super dope!!! He would definitely fit your sound!
John Bender: It’ll be like George Clinton on Wesley’s Theory by Kendrick Lamar!
All the famous 70’s-80’s artists are dying off, 90’s stars will be the new OGs by the time I make it.
We’re on the old side of being young! Still young though. Millennials are on a longer schedule of reaching the “adulthood” milestones. Our parents were more stable by now, we’re still figuring things out. Its because we all have massive dept though!
Ashley: I agree and that’s where your music comes into play! You’re acting as the voice for Millenials, making our voices heard.
John Bender: I can only sing about what I know! hahaha
Ashley: True true haha I don’t want to take up too much of your time so I’ll ask you a couple more questions where do you think your group is headed in regards to your impact on music?
John Bender: I mentioned 90’s a lot but i truly think that will be the next big wave in music, we’ve been coming out of 80’s throwbacks, 90s is next! I feel like we’d be in a perfect position to be a part of that when it happens. I don’t plan on following trends too closely though. Like right now Psychedelic surf-rock is a big thing for bands, and trap is biggest in rap, but we don’t really do those styles. So hopefully we can catch the next wave!
I feel like as long as i keep writing songs that mean something to people i can’t help but have an impact. I want to make music that really sticks with people. be someone’s favorite song. Not follow what’s popular. If you can do that, you’ll last forever!
Ashley: This was so much fun thanks for giving me the time to interview!
John Bender: Thank YOU for taking the time to interview me! hahaha. Making me feel like a celebrity. You got the number if you need someone to rock a house party for you!
Ashley: You ARE a celebrity never think otherwise. I’ll make sure to hit you up!
You can check out Mellow Lando’s last album below.