Changing Lanes Gets Wacky at Joe Pop’s

By SANDRA WEYANT | Jul 19, 2017
Photo by: Chris Seiz

Every band needs its own way to stand out from the rest. For Changing Lanes, along with its extensive range of songs in every genre, it’s the bright orange inflatable arm man, the band’s designated mascot named Wacky. Lead singer and guitarist Patrick Crowley says the “number one hype man” is part of every show and will soon have his own Instagram account. “When we post ads, we always say ‘Come get wacky with Wacky’ or ‘Get Wacky with us,” Crowley said. “He takes some abuse, but people really love him.”

This proved to be true when Changing Lanes performed at Joe Pop’s Shore Bar on Friday night. Guests of all ages enjoyed interacting and playing with Wacky, and band members even welcomed some people onto the stage to sing and play the tambourine during a few songs. The dynamic lineup includes front-man and founder Patrick Crowley, lead guitarist and vocalist Matt Balkovic, bassist and vocalist Ben Cotta, drummer Cameron Lockwood and keyboardist and vocalist Christopher Trischitta, who was not present at Friday’s event.

Crowley, Balkovic and Cotta all attended Wall High School and knew one another, but they graduated in different classes. After high school, Crowley went on to study music at Rutgers University, and unfortunately had all of his recording equipment stolen. When the insurance company covered the costs, Crowley bought new gear and decided to form the band in 2014. Balkovic remembers “being charged $5 by this guy (Crowley) to get into parties at Rutgers,” but all of those small fees paid off to secure a spot in the band.

Balkovic recalls going head-to-head with Cotta, who was part of an original band called Lemon Juice, at Battle of the Bands in Belmar and Asbury Park back in the day. Cotta’s exposure to Battle of the Bands served as a musical awakening, one that prompted him to pursue music professionally. “Wall High School had so many talented bands and musicians, and I wanted to keep playing, so that’s all I did for months,” Cotta said. “Noodling in your house, you don’t get that experience of a real tight band. When I went to Battle of the Bands and saw a really tight band, I was like ‘I want that.’”

Even though the guys were familiar with one another, the band’s official formation traces back to one important day at Guitar Center. “When I got the job there (Guitar Center), I networked like crazy,” Crowley said. “It was a goal of mine to meet more musicians and people who were interested in the same stuff. Matt came into the store looking for a job and brought one single business card with him for the manager. He and I met and I was trying to sell him something, and I started talking about the band and how I was looking for another guitarist. After all was said and done, he ended up giving me his one business card instead of the manager.”

Even though Crowley considers singing and playing the guitar to be his passions, he always had a business-oriented state of mind. “I knew exactly what I wanted to do,” he said.

At the time, Balkovic had been in an original band for several years and was looking for something new and exciting. “I went into Guitar Center looking for a job, and I came out with a job, and it was Changing Lanes,” he said. “I joined in November 2014, so basically since the beginning of the band. We picked up Ben one year later. Every time we pick up a new member for a ‘permanent’ spot, it’s like reaching another plateau with someone who brings something else to the table. Pat has an amazing voice and a business-oriented mindset. He picked me up. I have a really good ear and I’m good with choreographing music and stuff like that. Ben comes along and he is a guitar technician and owns a shop called Jersey Shore Guitar and Amp Repair in Toms River, and he runs the lights, he plays lefty bass. We all joined, and here we are in summer 2017, doing better than we ever thought we would, playing in big rooms.”

The band is currently going through a transition period, as it just recently lost its full-time drummer, Mike Crooker. “He was killer. He was from another band called Hold On Tight, and we got him because that band sort of dissolved and we picked him up on a whim. He had been drumming with us for the last year or so,” Crowley said. Changing Lanes has since acquired Lockwood to replace Crooker, but everything is “still a work in progress.”

Crowley expressed that it is difficult to find really committed musicians who are in it for the long haul, especially with a band that gigs as often as Changing Lanes. “We’re having our growing pains in the public right now, but we’re still young,” Cotta added.

As with most music groups, there is a special meaning behind the band’s name. During each show, the band likes to “literally change lanes” and keep the audience surprised and engaged.

“We want to be able to throw out country and have all the country fans have their moment to enjoy that, and then we’ll change lanes and play some hip-hop, rock, pop or funk. Not only do we change lanes in terms of genre, but we also change lanes instrumentally,” Balkovic said.

Changing Lanes occasionally performs as a trio, which is more of a “classic tiki vibe,” a slight variation from its typical sound. For the most part, the band plays to fit the mood of each individual room or setting. For club atmospheres, listeners can expect to hear today’s popular hits, but band members love receiving song requests.

Recently, Changing Lanes has been more diligent with creating set lists and perfecting the “science of song selection.” “The more we do it, the more we find what works together. There is a flow to it, for sure. It’s hills and valleys,” Cotta said.

In addition to rehearsing and performing, goal setting is extremely important to the band. At the rehearsal room, each member writes his goals on a big white board and crosses it off once it has been accomplished. Sometimes goals are smaller and “sillier,” but progress is progress and it always “feels good to get it done,” Crowley said.

“If you have goals, you’re chopping away at an overall product, and that’s what we do all the time, and it keeps polishing itself,” he said. “The best advice I can give to anyone doing this is to treat it like a business if you are serious about it.”

But being a professional musician can be stressful. “When you get knocked down royally, take it as a learning lesson. We’ve got thrown in pretty hard a few times, but we learned from it. Things go wrong from time to time, but it’s important to just get through it,” Cotta said.

Changing Lanes credits its success to Sean Patrick from 107 Productions and older music veterans, such as Henry, the lead vocalist and bassist of cover band The Event Horizon, who have given the band advice throughout the years. “Everyone is a big family. We all realize we’re doing the same thing. It’s not really a competition. We all want to be better than one another, but it’s in subtlety. If anyone needs anything, we’re always willing to lend a helping hand,” Cotta said.

The band’s ultimate goal is to be booked for corporate events and weddings and eventually work on some original music together, but for the foreseeable future, it is focusing on the remainder of summer shows.

“We’re doing really well,” Crowley said. “We don’t give ourselves enough credit, but I think that is one of the best parts about us. We never are satisfied with where we are at, but that is what will push us to the next level. We always feel like things aren’t happening, but they are and they will.”

“One lane at a time,” Balkovic added.

Changing Lanes is scheduled to perform at The Marlin on Long Beach Island on Aug. 5. To see the full summer event schedule, visit changinglaneslive.com.

 

Set List Snippet:

“Semi-Charmed Life,” Third Eye Blind

“Two Princes,” Spin Doctors

“This Love,” Maroon 5

“Santeria,” Sublime

“Addicted,” Simple Plan

“House Party,” Sam Hunt

“Country Girl,” Luke Bryan

“Are You Gonna Be My Girl,” Jet

“Dammit,” Blink 182

“Jessie’s Girl,” Rick Springfield

“It’s Tricky,” Run-DMC

 

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