The release of Crown Lands’ self-titled debut album—produced by six-time Grammy winner Dave Cobb (Lady Gaga, Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile, Rival Sons) — marks the arrival of a major new force in rock and roll. Raised in Southwestern Ontario, Comeau (guitar, bass and keys) and Cody Bowles (vocals and drums) are bringing together a range of influences and, drawing on their own intense personal chemistry, creating something unique and fresh.
“We’re really inspired by the town we came from,” says Bowles. “Oshawa has this really specific kind of sound. People would describe it as ‘blackgrass’ — like a dark bluegrass. But we were always massive prog fans, so we wanted to blend the two of those things together.”
The two musicians met six years ago, when Comeau came home for Christmas from Los Angles, where he had been playing in a reggae band. Bonding over their shared obsession with Rush, they became “instant best friends” and started jamming together in a local barn, switching up instruments, but never straying from a two-piece set-up.
“We got ambitious really fast,” says Comeau. “We started booking shows—we called them ‘401 Runs’ because we’d drive a few hours on the highway east or west. When I bought a mini-van, we had room for more members or more gear and we had to make a choice. I like vintage amps, big amps, and vintage synthesisers, so we took all the seats out and filled it to the roof, and we would actually sleep on top of our gear.”
In 2016, Crown Lands released their first EP, Mantra, and accelerated their relentless touring schedule, which has seen them open for such major acts as Jack White, Coheed and Cambria, Primus, and Rival Sons.
Their second EP included ‘Mountain’, a significant song for the duo not just musically, but ideologically as well. “It’s about the horrors of Canada’s colonisation,” says Bowles, whose own heritage is half Mi’kmaw, an indigenous tribe from Nova Scotia. “The mountain that the song refers to is a metaphor—a physical manifestation of hope for my fellow Indigenous Canadians.”
The group’s name is also indicative of its identification with marginalised people and interest in the troublesome history of Canada; “Crown Land,” also known as royal domain, is a territorial area belonging to the monarch—or, as Bowles puts it, “Crown Land is stolen land and we are reclaiming it.”
Crown Lands’ musical ambition extends into their lyric writing and the weighty subjects they tackle in their songs. “People are going to listen to you, so you may as well say something that matters,” says Comeau. “I don’t play rock and roll to talk about rock and roll, I play to talk about things that matter to me. I don’t need any more ‘Hey Mamas’ in my life.”
They point to the song ‘End of the Road’ on the new record as emblematic of their intentions. “The song references the Highway of Tears,” says the guitarist, “an infamous highway in North British Columbia where a lot of Indigenous women go missing.” Cody elaborates: “There’s been no recourse and no follow-up. It’s systemic in Canada—there are so many roadblocks that prevent any progress from happening or any reconciliation moving forward, so we’re trying to raise awareness that this is happening in a country that claims to be very progressive and safe for threatened, vulnerable people.”
Working in Nashville with the legendary Cobb (who they met through Rival Sons) has helped the duo in both refining their writing and following their gut. “Dave pushed us to listen to ourselves and really trust our initial instinct with a song,” says Bowles. “The first couple of times we would play through a song, he’d be like ‘OK, we’re good’—if you beat it over the head too much, you lose the spirit and the feel is totally gone. So he allowed us to listen to ourselves and identify that spirit, and I think we’ll really take that with us moving forward.”
They both agree that ‘The Forest Song’ may be the track that best defines the band right now. “The sonic architecture of it feels so Crown Lands to me,” says Comeau. “We were writing in a cabin, and that song showed up on the last day out of nowhere. It’s very epic for its short run time, it’s got every musical element that excites us—pastoral 12-string guitar passages like Genesis but with a Zeppelin drumbeat. The lyrics paint a beautiful picture of an ancient woods, and hanging out in the woods is Cody’s whole vibe. So that song just feels like us.”
With plans for another record later in 2020, Crown Lands’ explosive live show continues to evolve and progress, propelled by added inspiration from the legends they’ve been touring with. “The level of showmanship that they display every night, what they do with their audience, we really want to try to have our music come across in that same way,” says Bowles.
“We struggled with the rigidity of our set for a long time, playing the same songs night after night,” adds Comeau. “We learned from Jack White and Primus how to be more fluid and change it up.”
Working as a duo —especially one that aspires to the scope of its psychedelic heroes—has the advantage of efficiency, but comes with obvious challenges both musically and personally. The members of Crown Lands maintain, though, that the intensity of their collaboration has only reinforced their creative relationship and their friendship.
“We have such great chemistry already, only strengthened by the ups and downs of being on the road,” says Comeau. “We have a really special bond—pretty much like brothers, but more. Cody is like my life partner, basically. I think that connection comes through in our performance. There’s something special about the two of us getting together and turning up to ten, the sound waves that hit people. I’m a fairly little dude, a soft-spoken guy, so when I plug in my gear, I want to become a wall of sound on my own to have Cody’s voice soar on top of.”
“When we’re listening back to our performances now,” he continues, “the sound I used to hear in my head is now coming out of the speakers. So we just have to keep pushing ourselves even further.”