Photo supplied by the artist
By Keith Sharp
In being nominated for two 2021 Juno Awards as Breakthrough Artists Of The Year and Top Rock Album for their self-titled summer 2020 release (on Universal Music), Oshawa’s Crown Lands have been compared favourably with Rock legends Rush.
The only difference being is that while Rush was comprised of three musicians: bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and the late great percussionist Neil Peart. Crown Lands simulate that same trademark sonic power with just TWO musicians, drummer/vocalist Cody Bowles and Kevin Comeau who plays everything else! (guitar, bass, synthesizers).
Both Bowles and Comeau are on the phone, celebrating their recent award nominations and the release of two new singles; the futurist, Star Trek themed “Context: Fearless Pt1 and the duo’s tribute to the late Neil Peart with their “Right Way Back” composition.
“It really feels like we arrived this week, we were not expecting these nominations, we were just looking forward to releasing our two new songs when the announcement was made,” enthused Comeau. “The outpouring of support we have received has been wild, the best week of our career so far.”
Formed six years ago in Oshawa by Bowles, part Mi’kmaq heritage, who grew up on the Willowdale in Toronto and Comeau, of Jewish extraction, the pair bonded over their love of 80’s progressive rock bands like Rush, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Yes and Genesis and their joint fascination with sci-fi programs and comic books like Star Trek, Star Wars and Dune.
Yet as they set about replicating the sonic power of their idols, releasing two EP’s; the 2016 ‘Mantra’ and 2017 `Rise Over Run” the duo also set out a policy of penning meaningful lyrics about such subject matters as Indigenous issues and anti-Semitism. Even the band’s name Crown Lands communicates a desire to reclaim Canadian crown land that was stolen from First Nations people.
But why just two musicians? “When you are trying to emulate the world’s greatest power trio, we figured how do we go one better with one less player and become a rock duo!” informed Comeau. “And it’s all about the money. It’s something to think about, one less mouth to feed on the road.”
Bowles, who has joined the conversation and whose voice on the phone is nearly identical to Comeau’s (creating anguish for yours truly trying to decipher who is saying what!) notes that singing and playing drums is a tricky technique. “You’re twisting and turning your body all over the place,” they note. “And then I’m watching Kevin who is performing like a circus monkey, standing on one leg like a flamingo”
From the onset, Crown Lands began opening for bands that projected a similar synergy going out with the likes of Jack White, Coheed & Cumbria, Primus and Rival Sons and it was while they were playing with Rival Sons, they met up with Grammy-nominated producer Dave Cobb who had not only worked with Rival Sons but also the likes of Lady Gaga, Chris Stapleton and Europe.
Under Cobb’s direction, Comeau and Bowles travelled to Nashville to record their debut album of seven songs and they had just released their debut single “Spit Out” in January when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, halting all future touring and promotional plans.
What concerned Comeau was that that the pair felt their music would get old if they didn’t put it out so it was agreed to release their debut in early August. “We wanted to put it out because we were already on to the next thing, we put the brakes on for that album to come out.”
They had already released an EP `Wayward Flyers’ Vol 1 which featured a cover of Neil Young’s “Birds” composition and they were eager to release a very poignant track “End Of The Road”, the subject matter being the murder and disappearance of over 1,000 women (many Indigenous) along a 450-mile stretch of Yellowhead Highway No 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert in Northern British Columbia, a stretch aptly titled The Highway Of Tears.
“End Of The Road is an outcry for awareness and action surrounding the colonial horrors of the missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirits that still haunt Indigenous communities today,” reported Bowles in an interview with Classic Rock. “Violence against Indigenous people is something I have witnessed first hand throughout my life”
“It’s up to all of us to make this world a better place for future generations, and this song is a small message of hope adding to the rising wave of Indigenous resistance throughout this land.”
The video for End Of The Road was narrated by Canadian Inuk singer, Tanya Tagaq and choreographed by Teineisha Richards, a Mi’kmaq artist from Bear River First Nations Nova Scotia.
The reason why Crown Lands were so keen to get their debut album released was the pending launch of the highly futuristic seven-minute epic “Context:Fearless Pt:” and the tribute to Neil Peart titled “Right Way Back” which both reflected the band’s creative development.
Comeau notes that both he and Bowles had a shared love for sci-fi programs like Star Trek, Star Wars and Dune and they had been working on this particular theme for the past three years. The end result proved to be a special involvement with three former Rush producers on the one track. Veteran producer Terry Brown had been involved in the track’s initial recording and after the band had taken it on the road to refine the composition, Nick Raskulinecz (who had worked on Rush’s later albums) invited them down to Nashville to re-record the track and David Bottrill, who had remixed Rush’s 2002 `Vapor Trails album) worked on the final vocal mix.
The day before Crown Lands were due to drive down to Nashville for their session with Raskulinecz, Peart died of a brain tumour and the band naturally thought their session would be cancelled. But he sent them a text saying “You guys need to carry the torch – you need to come down here.”
Bowles enthused that the end result of these two songs “Are the best songs yet. They are opening the door for the future of this band. They propel us to a whole new era of music and hint at what’s to come.”