“You can spend your entire life chasing hits, but then when you’re your truest self, people really come out to support you,” says Kevin Comeau of the powerhouse Canadian duo Crown Lands. “When you just let you be you and let your freak flag fly, all of a sudden you get the biggest fan response, the biggest press, people coming out of the woodwork saying ‘This is the kind of music I love!’“
In the spring, Crown Lands—Comeau (guitar, bass and keys) and Cody Bowles (vocals and drums)—broke through with two songs that returned them to their prog-rock roots and pointed the way to a limitless future. “Context: Fearless Pt. 1” and “Right Way Back” premiered with Rolling Stone with “Right Way Back” named “Rockest Record of the Week” on BBC1, while CBC Music wrote that “Crown Lands' epic, sci-fi-laced ‘Context: Fearless Pt. 1’ is a mic-dropping display of virtuosity.” Most recently, Crown Lands received their first Juno Awards nominations, for Rock Album of the Year and Breakthrough Group of the Year, taking home the award for Breakthrough Group. The band also signed a deal with Spinefarm Records, which will be working with Universal Music Canada to support their upcoming releases in the U.S. and U.K.
Now the group returns with two new songs, “White Buffalo” and “The Oracle,” which extend their musicality and their ambition even further. “White Buffalo,” produced by three-time Grammy winner David Bottrill (Tool, Mastodon, Peter Gabriel), is the third installment in a series of songs addressing indigenous rights, following “Mountain” and “End of the Road.”
“The white buffalo is a symbol of prosperity and strength in indigenous cultures,” says Bowles (whose own heritage is half Mi’kmaw, an Indigenous tribe from Nova Scotia), “so the song is about reclamation and overcoming oppression. We wanted to make something that was our projection of the future we hope will manifest.”
“When we took a step back,” adds Comeau, “we saw that ‘Mountain’ was about what happened, and ‘End of the Road’ talked about what is happening, so we wanted to write about what will happen.”
Meantime, over the course of a thirteen-minute, multi-part composition, “The Oracle” continues another story that Crown Lands is creating, revealing the origins of the Queen character featured in the “Context: Fearless Pt. 1” music video. “We wanted to take the listener somewhere and evoke a sense of adventure,” says Bowles. “’Context: Fearless Pt. 1’ was our first experience writing different parts and different movements, and this is a further exploration of that format.”
Comeau points with pride to his playing on the track, both on guitar (“I think I’m really coming into my own as an arranger on the guitar”) and on keyboards. “I’ve actually always thought of myself as more of a keyboard player and bass player,” he says, “so it’s nice to add those elements, those dynamics, into the song. ‘The Oracle’ has some of our heaviest moments and some of our most serene, and I’m really excited to see how we can push that even further.”
Raised in Southwestern Ontario, Comeau and Bowles met nine years ago, when Comeau came home for Christmas from Los Angeles, where he had been playing in a reggae band. Discovering a 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. The group’s name is indicative of its identification with marginalized 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.”
In 2016, Crown Lands released their first EP, Mantra, and began a relentless touring schedule, which has seen them open for such acts as Jack White, Coheed and Cambria, Primus, and Rival Sons. Their self-titled debut album, produced by Grammy-nominated Dave Cobb, was released in the summer of 2020, to widespread acclaim from the likes of Guitar World, Kerrang!, and American Songwriter; coverage from the BBC and the CBC; and placements in campaigns for Peloton, the Canadian Football League, and the incomparable Hockey Night in Canada franchise.
They followed the album with “Context: Fearless Pt. 1” and “Right Way Back,” which brought Crown Lands back to their prog-rock roots while connecting them to the band that’s their greatest inspiration in ways they never could have expected. They cut a demo of “Context,” a song they had been working on for years, with Terry Brown, Rush’s producer for ten years. When they decided to re-record the song, they travelled to Nashville to collaborate with Nick Raskulinecz, Rush’s producer in their later years.
But the day before the scheduled session, Rush’s legendary drummer Neil Peart died after a fight with brain cancer. Crown Lands assumed the trip was off, but Raskulinecz texted them with a message: “You guys need to carry the torch—you need to come down here.” In the studio, the producer brought out a drum kit that Peart had recorded on for Bowles to play, which he called “the most spiritual experience in my life.” Finally, to produce the vocals, the duo hooked up with David Bottrill—who remixed Vapor Trails, Rush’s 2002 comeback record. (“This one fucking song had the triad of Rush producers!,” says a disbelieving Comeau.)
“Right Way Back” is a tribute to Peart that came almost effortlessly, working out the chorus and writing the lyrics on the spot in Nashville. “It’s about the feeling of trying to carry on from where your heroes left off,” says Comeau.
Emboldened by the reception to these two songs, Crown Lands dug deeper into prog territory for the new material. “Something we took away from those sessions was how to make odd time signatures not sound odd, and appeal to the casual listener and the nerd at the same time,” says Bowles. “Bands like Genesis and even Led Zeppelin did that really well, so we’re taking from songs that we love and applying it to our own music.”
A month after the release of “White Buffalo” and “The Oracle,” Crown Lands will follow up with two more new songs—“Inner Light,” their first-ever instrumental track (“It’s definitely our most musically complex song, and it’s only three minutes long,” says Comeau) and “The Witching Hour (Electic Witch),” a re-interpretation of a song they recorded for their acoustic EP, Wayward Flyers Volume 1; on that one, Bowles notes, “Kevin has a gnarly guitar solo that will rip your face off.”
As they prepare for their return to live performance—their first show is scheduled for Toronto’s Axis Club on December 1—the members of Crown Lands are happy to focus on their writing and recording, and enjoy the freedom to release a few songs at a time. “It’s really flexible because it’s modular,” says Bowles, “and you can explore a lot of textures with the freedom to take risks. Only the strongest songs make it—there’s no room for filler.”
With each new release, Crown Lands continues to come more fully into its own. “I love that we get to be the band making technically proficient music that still has a strong sense of melody,” says Comeau. “We’re finally making the music that we want to hear.”