As Crown Lands guitarist Kevin Comeau sees it, his band is perpetually stuck between a rock and a prog place. “There's always this push-pull between wanting to be a prog-rock band and then realizing that, when we pick up our instruments, the blues just comes out much easier,” he tells Apple Music. “So we're always bouncing between thinking and feeling.” Over the course of three EPs, the Oshawa, Ontario, power duo have shown they have the brains to match their brawn, drawing equally from Led Zeppelin’s earthquaking grooves and Rush’s lyrical intellect. But their love of cosmic, laser-show-worthy classic rock is tempered by their desire to address the realities of modern-day Canada. After all, Crown Lands’ very name is a political statement, referring to territories controlled by the Canadian government—or, put another away, seized from its Indigenous people. And though singer/drummer Cody Bowles possesses the sort of arena-ready, glass-shattering voice that makes Robert Plant sound like Barry White, the group’s psych-rock salvos are filtered through Bowles’ Mi'kmaq heritage and two-spirited identity.
Recorded in Nashville with Grammy-winning producer Dave Cobb, Crown Lands’ self-titled debut album abounds with the kind of atomic boogie that’s landed them tours with everyone from Jack White to Coheed and Cambria. But they deploy their righteous riffage as a Trojan horse to deliver their most topical songwriting to date—namely, “End of the Road,” a shimmering epic inspired by the Highway of Tears, the infamous freeway in British Columbia where numerous Indigenous women have gone missing or been murdered over the past half century. Yet for all their grandiose sonic and lyrical concepts, Crown Lands are a group that values simplicity—their album clocks in at a lean seven songs and 27 minutes. “Seven is a special number,” Bowles reasons. “All of our favorite records—like A Farewell to Kings and Moving Pictures—seem to have seven songs, so we decided to carry on that tradition.” Here, Bowles and Comeau take us on a track-by-track survey of Crown Lands.
Spit It Out Kevin Comeau: “This was the first song we wrote for the record, right after we came off the Jack White tour. We were pretty inspired by Jack and his swagger, and we wanted to honor that influence. Being a duo, everyone's gonna come up and say, 'You guys sound like The White Stripes!' So in a cheeky way, we decided to meet it head on and go all out, and do Jack proud. Cody and I are very polite Canadian people, and if we get into a fight, we never yell at each other—we just kind of, like, sulk. So this song was kind of like our own call to arms to just get out of our own bullshit and be like, 'Okay, if something's bugging us, let's talk about it.'” Cody Bowles: “It's about the breakdown in communication in any sort of relationship dynamic.”
River CB: “We're talking about escapism with this track—escaping current situations and hoping for better days ahead.” KC: “It's goddess imagery mixed in with nature and whatnot—that's kind of like our happy place. We always retreat to the woods, as it were. The song started out totally different, and Dave Cobb really rearranged that song and made it way better. I love the mellotron and the guitar tones we ended up getting. It's a way cleaner, more sparkly kind of tone than I would have gone for, and that was eye-opening for sure.”
Leadfoot CB: “We were going for a T. Rex kinda thing here.” KC: “We were on tour three or four years ago, and I got a speeding ticket. I pride myself on being a very responsible driver, and I felt so bummed about it. So the song kind of started as a cautionary tale, but then we were like, 'Nah, that's not rock ’n’ roll enough.' And then I don't know what happened—now it's like this kind of interstellar love song. Is it a love song about aliens? I don't know anymore.”
Howlin’ Back CB: “Ever since we started playing music, we've been ripping the blues, and we always find ourselves going back to it every time we jam. It's this undercurrent in our subconscious, and it's just coming out all the time. We both grew up listening to a lot of blues. And we were really inspired by our music scene in Oshawa, because they have this really dark, creepy kind of blues here—they call it ‘blackgrass.’ We were also pulling from that energy of when you're around a campfire and someone's telling you a scary story and you don't know if there's something watching you. You're kind of freaked out, you're wondering what it is, and your imagination's going wild.” KC: “There's some occult stuff happening in the song; we hint at werewolves. It makes me think of the moors in An American Werewolf in London.”
End of the Road CB: “The music actually came first, when we were making 'Spit It Out'—it came out of that song, actually. At the time, we were listening to [Canadaland's] Thunder Bay podcast about how it's the most dangerous place in Canada to live as an Indigenous person, and then we were reading a bunch of things about the Highway of Tears in B.C. and we were like, ‘Okay, this is what this song is about,’ and it just kind of came to be. It was a cool serendipitous moment.” KC: “It's a call to action—it's saying, ‘Here's this thing—it's a real thing, guys, and we want [those missing women] back.’ If you're gonna play music, talk about something that matters and stand up for people—that's what it's all about. It's your duty as an artist to reflect the world around you and make people see what's going on. We started the band saying that—I mean, we call ourselves Crown Lands. So it just made so much sense that when we started reading about the Highway of Tears last year, we were like, ‘Yes, we have to talk about this 100 percent.’”
Forest Song KC: “We wrote this song in our friend's cottage, and at that point, we looked out the window and there was a deer out there and it was magical. We thought, ‘What would be the most stereotypically Crown Lands lyric to write?’ And the words just came out in a couple hours. It's another great example of how Dave came in and was really, really clever with rearranging and re-harmonizing the song, and brought in some really cool tricks—like, we vari-speeded the drums down to give them that Bonham-type sound.”
Sun Dance CB: “We wanted to have an acoustic song on the record, and when we were jamming it, this one just kind of came out of nowhere. It talks about vulnerability, and love, and all that good stuff that, you know, we don't really talk about in our songs. We had a cheese moment.” KC: “But there's a little hint of apocalyptic imagery in this song too, and that's what makes me come back to it and really enjoy it: It's kind of like a ballad, but there's also this weird darkness that's hovering under it. I never want to have a song on a Crown Lands record that's just a love song. I think that would be a disservice to music.”