Face-to-face interviews, as opposed to phone and email exchanges, allow you to look an artist in the eye when he or she tells you about their music—why they play, what inspires them. You can pair their sincerity with their songs, which usually enriches the listening experience. So it's a bit of a drag when CJ Drisdom—the mover and shaker behind Salt Lake City cover/party band Changing Lanes Experience—asks if we can do the interview over WhatsApp because, "I'm in Brazil right now."
Hold on a minute. Cover band? Sincerity? Their music? Brazil? Yes, CLE is a cover band. Yes, they play parties and weddings. But while they don't necessarily play original music, they make the music they play their own. Not by putting a unique spin on the songs, but by inhabiting them, feeling them, channelling the spirit of the original artists' versions—and infusing them with their own sincere desire to do the songs justice and leave an audience fulfilled.
That sounds like something a cover band would say. And that sounds like the canned stereotyping generally directed at them by critics as well as musicians struggling to get their original material heard. A cover artist would counter that they've chosen to make money instead of playing to empty rooms for free beer, literal-and-metaphorical peanuts and integrity. That sounds like something a cover band would say—a righteous justification for selling out. But is that what they're doing?
"I'm pretty money-driven," Drisdom says without a hint of apology in his voice—or in his eyes, which convey no less emotion over a spotty SLC-to-Rio de Janeiro video connection. He tells how he moved here from Compton with his family, got a job and tried to get original projects off the ground. While he got a good response from anyone who heard his gospel music, it wasn't paying the bills. In fact, it turned out to be an impediment. "I worked about 14 jobs in Salt Lake City," he says, "and I got fired from all of them, pretty much."
At his last job at Albertson's warehouse, Drisdom's boss told him he'd seen him on the news playing bass with David Halliday in The Number Ones. "He said, 'I think that you should be doing music full-time,'" Drisdom recalls. Sensing something was off, Drisdom asked if he'd done anything wrong. His boss said no, that he was "giving [me] that opportunity" to play music for a living. Drisdom appealed, saying he needed the job to support his wife and four children, but was sent away with his final check for $141.69. "I went home and told my wife that I'm never gonna ask for another job again, unless it's music. And that was about four or five years ago."
Changing Lanes plays everything from AC/DC and Beyoncé to Rihanna and Eric Church, as well as shows devoted entirely to Motown. They're popular, averaging 100-180 shows a year around the country, and they've backed Alex Boyé on America's Got Talent. Drisdom's reason for being in Brazil is to perform five shows—during Carnival—with Emily Ray. But there's more to Changing Lanes, which Drisdom prefers to call "an artist cover band."
The band's profits go toward nurturing original projects by its members, who pledge to work with CLE for a certain period of time. It's been successful, with the likes of American Idol finalist James Dawson VIII, Mimi Knowles and Joshy Soul passing through the band's ranks. It sounds like a great deal—but even so, sometimes it's a tough sell. Some prospective members tell Drisdom they're artists; they don't like to "do the cover thing." He understands, of course, but boils it down for them. "I like to tell people, 'I don't really enjoy bein' broke.'"
Ultimately, Changing Lanes is more than a cover band with a mission—it's fulfilling in other ways. "We are a family, too," Drisdom says. "We get together, we go to movies. It's really cool ... Changing Lanes changes lives."