Six years ago, the still night air of rural Ontario was broken by the first rumbles of Canada’s best new band. Peer into the barn that served as Crown Lands’ first rehearsal space, and the revelation was that this thunderous groove was conjured by just two men, with Cody Bowles on skin-flaying drums and animal howls, while Kevin Comeau pinballed from feral slide guitar towig-out synth.
Now, at last, with their self-titled debut album, Crown Lands have delivered on that early promise. Fusing the bite of The White Stripes with the brains of Rush, exploring social issues such as the plight of Canada’s indigenous people, and dressing like shamanic moonchildren on a mescaline trip, they could be rock’n’roll’s next royalty.
Crown Lands are the bastard child of blues and prog.
While Bowles says the Led Zeppelin touchstone is “obvious” on the rattle-blues of Spit It Out, Comeau’s synth explorations salute transatlantic prog. “We love Yes, Genesis and Rush,” he says, “and want to embrace that seventies aesthetic of giant keyboard sounds and a grandiose drum setup.
We describe ourselves as ‘The White Stripes covering Rush’. That started as a joke, because the first day we jammed, we took the Rush song Tom Sawyer and literally said: ‘What would happen if The White Stripes played this?’” They throw in everything – the kitchen sink being not far behind.
While most blues-rock duos strip instrumentation to the bone, Crown Lands are no minimalists.
“This album has every vibe and no rules,” says Bowles.
Comeau agrees: “Our whole vibe is ‘more is more’. Despite this being a short record, we really got that epic, sprawling sound we’ve been chasing for a long time. I think the record feels like when you’re hiking in the woods, you hit an open pasture, look up and see birds flying overhead.”
They’re a well-oiled machine.
From Lead Foot’s breakneck push/pull to the pastoral folk of Sun Dance, Bowles and Comeau have chemistry in spades.
“When Kevin first picked up the guitar,” recalls the singer, “I was like: ‘Man, this guy’s amazing.’”
Comeau is equally effusive: “Right away it was like: ‘Have you heard this cat’s voice?’ We’re essentially a rhythm section that had to figure out how to play the lead. That’s what creates the heartbeat of this band.”
They don’t write rock’n’roll clichés.
Comeau says he doesn’t “need any more ‘hey mamas’ in my life”, while Bowles flags up Crown Lands’ socially charged lyrics.
“This album is about escapism,” the singer explains, “but we also talk about important things that are happening in Canada.”
None more important, his bandmate picks up, than End Of The Road’s examination of the notorious ‘highway of tears’ in British Columbia. “So many indigenous women have gone missing from Highway 16. We wanted to say something.”
They have fans in high places.
If you’ve arrived early on recent tours by Jack White or Rival Sons, you’ll have caught Crown Lands and know that they set a high bar as a support act.
“Jack White is one of the last true rock stars,” says Bowles.
Comeau picks up the tale: “He saw my double-neck guitar and he’s like: ‘Ah, shit, that’s sick.’ Everyone in his crew has to wear suits on tour, at all times. Fortunately, as the support band we didn’t have to. Our look is more about hair and velour!”
They’re the last gang in town.
More than just bandmates, Bowles and Comeau are platonic “life partners”, with all the alchemy and friction that goes with the turf.
“I’d take a bullet for Cody,” says the guitarist, “because it’d leave a really cool scar. We do butt heads, and Spit It Out talks about the breakdown of communication during our fights. But it’s always solved by saying: ‘I’m an asshole, you’re an asshole’, then we give each other a hug. There are ups and downs, but when the music’s flowing nothing else matters."
Crown Lands is available now via Universal Music Canada.