Weirdos unite! Musical influences that count prog rock stalwarts such as Rush, King Crimson, and early 1970s Genesis as touchstones; lyrics that find inspiration from Tolkien, Ginsberg, transpersonal psychology, and the absurdity of life in these uncertain times. Add in a name, Crown Lands, that sums up its raison dêtre—to represent empowerment for marginalized communities—and you get a hint of this genre-defying duo.
Featuring multi-instrumentalist Kevin Comeau and drummer/vocalist Cody Bowles, Crown Lands push musical boundaries and follow a path less taken. Since the release of their self-titled debut in August 2020, produced by Grammy-nominated Dave Cobb, the pair has had a meteoric rise that climaxed with winning the JUNO in 2021 for Breakthrough Group of the Year. The band also recently released a four-song EP (White Buffalo). Illustrating the uniqueness of these music makers, the EP includes the band’s first instrumental and also a 13-minute long opus, “The Oracle.” During the early days of the pandemic, the pair tried to write apart, but without being in the same room together, there was no spark. “It’s like a chemical reaction,” Comeau explains. “We have to be in the same place for the ideas to start flowing; it’s a blessing and a curse.”
NMC Amplify caught up with Crown Lands via Zoom recently to chat about the new music, a return to the road, and what’s next. The award-winning duo was “cautiously optimistic” about the road ahead—figuratively—and literally. Like most artists, they are anxiously awaiting a return to playing live in front of audiences. Thankfully, the band is slated to embark on its first headlining tour of clubs across Canada next month.
“We are going to change lives,” says Comeau, “even if it is just our own,” about the forthcoming tour. “For so long, we’ve been an opening act. We would get on the stage and rock as hard as we could for 30 minutes and that was it. Having a longer set gives us more time to create interesting soundscapes and push how hard two people can work themselves on stage and how much dynamic noise we can make.”
White Buffalo was recorded with Toronto producer David Bottrill (Tool, Rush, Peter Gabriel) and offers 27 minutes of joyful noise and unexpected twists and turns. The EP opens with the band’s first instrumental: “Inner Light,” which according to Comeau started when they were jamming on the title track. “The harmonic minor section of the intro to ‘Inner Light’ was going to be part of the bridge for ‘White Buffalo’ in one iteration,” he explains. “It’s funny, ideas that sound so different now usually came from the same jam session.”
The EP’s title track, “White Buffalo,” which was released this past summer is the third in a trilogy of songs, following “Mountain,” and the “End of the Road,” a track paying homage to murdered and missing Indigenous womxn, girls, and two-spirits. “White Buffalo” speaks to hope for a better future when it comes to the treatment of First Nations people. The white buffalo is a symbol of prosperity and strength in Indigenous cultures. “This song is about reclamation and overcoming oppression,” says Bowles, who identifies as a two-spirit Mi’kmaw. “We wanted to make something that was our projection of the future we hope will manifest.”
“The Oracle,” which clocks in at 13 minutes, is the highlight. Conceptually, Bowles says it relates to “Inner Light.” The outro of this epic song leads right into the intro for the instrumental similar to Nonagon Infinity by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. Even at that length, “The Oracle” does not feel too long. The song takes the listener on a sonic journey, starting slow, and building note by note, instrument by instrument to a blistering climax, followed by a denouement that leaves you wanting more. Bowles describes how an epic composition like this is born. “You just write riffs and amass parts as it comes together,” he explains. “That song is a fragmented piece of another song we had in another band ages ago that we had written together. We took a musical theme from that, built off of it, and it just snowballed … two years later it had become this monolith.”
What’s next for Crown Lands once they finish this cross-country tour? The duo has been writing a lot of new material and plans to hit the studio in early 2022 to record more music with Bottril. They also just completed a conceptual instrumental record called Jipijka’m, which means the great horned serpent in Mi’kmaq. On it, the pair furthers their exploration of new sounds, using some Indigenous flutes and some African percussion. “It’s definitely different from anything we’ve ever done,” says Bowles.
Whenever Crown Lands land next it’s sure to keep listeners guessing and stray from the mainstream. And, that’s a good thing. “In our chosen genre [rock music], we are already so far behind everyone else,” Comeau concludes. “TikTok blew up this year and if you are not on TikTok you don’t exist, but it’s really hard for us to get in touch with that world because we are not in that world. It’s like that Simpsons meme, ‘I used to be with it, but they changed what it was and now what I’m with isn’t it!’
“We could turn around and try to chase that [TikTok] but we are already so far behind, so instead of being behind everyone else we are going down our own unique path as a band,” he adds. “Rather than use TikTok to reach people, who probably don’t care about our music anyway, we can just go and make really cool music that touches us and that will eventually catch on and touch and connect with others, reaching the weirdos like us. We want to inspire people the way we were inspired. That is the path of least resistance. If you fight what comes out of you it is a bad time. We would rather just embrace it.”