Music duo Crown Lands bends time, space and gender

Anthemic prog rockers unite Indigenous resilience with snarling guitars and lots of hair

“It’s the classic story,” says Kevin Comeau of the band Crown Lands. “Most musicians and artists are usually the weird kids that don’t necessarily fit in. I was a big overachiever and worked really hard in school, but it wasn’t like I was interested in anything other than music.” As the only Jewish student at his Oshawa high school, Comeau found refuge in rock and roll and a kindred spirit in Cody Bowles, a Two-Spirit Mi’kmaw from the neighbouring community of Bowmanville.

“I was the only kid in my school who listened to the kind of music that I did,” Bowles says, listing off a series of  prog-rockers: Yes, King Crimson, Genesis and especially hometown heroes, Rush, whom both musicians idolize. “I grew up with a lot of racism, and it was a hard time,” Bowles adds. “We were like misfit kids,  and it was kind of fated for us to find each other.” 

The pair met in university in 2015: Comeau studied classical music at Western University, while Bowles studied psychology and music at York University. The duo’s origin story reads like a real-life retelling of “Subdivisions,” the 1982 Rush song about alienated suburban teenagers. Comeau echoes that song’s lyric about learning to “conform or be cast out.” 

“We learned not to bring it up with certain people,” he says, referring to the intolerance the duo endured. “We knew if you meet someone and you hear them say a couple of weird things, you say ‘Great’ and just walk away.” 

“Being a band called ‘Crown Lands,’ we have to talk about what’s actually going on and the fact that Crown land is stolen land.”

I spoke with Comeau and Bowles via Zoom from their homes in Toronto, just after they finished recording Crown Lands’ new live album, Odyssey Vol. 1, and just before the band headed out on an eastern Canadian tour (they’re in Toronto on Dec. 1, Ottawa on Dec. 3 and finish up in Montreal on Dec. 4). 

Growing up, Comeau and Bowles were careful to mask their identities despite being able to blend in. But now, the two friends are using their musical platform to stand up, stand out, and shine a light on the plight of Indigenous people.

“Being a band called ‘Crown Lands,’ we have to talk about what’s actually going on and the fact that Crown land is stolen land,” says Comeau. “We have to talk about colonization, the ramifications that are still being felt every single day, and the fact that it’s not ancient history.” 

“It’s ongoing and something we wanted to bring attention to, being in Canada and being a Canadian band,” Bowles adds.


The duo didn’t start with a provocative name. “We were brainstorming all these terrible band name ideas,” Bowles says. “The Kevin and Cody Cool Guy Fun Time Hour,” Comeau jokes. When a friend suggested Crown Lands, the pair took a deep dive into Canada’s colonial past and present before deciding to take a stand. 

However, Bowles was initially uncomfortable with the idea of writing about issues that hit so close to home; they needed some convincing. Comeau recognized that taking on Indigenous themes struck at the core of his bandmate’s identity and didn’t press. But the pair had some frank discussions, and Bowles came around: “Given our platform and being able to talk about things, I felt a sense of honouring my path as a creative musician,” they say.

The pair have written  a trilogy of songs, “Mountain,” “End of the Road” and “White Buffalo,” that focus on the past, present and future of Indigenous people in Canada. Spanning four years, two EPs and a full-length album, the songs also track the band’s evolution from a punk-blues outfit reminiscent of The White Stripes to prog rockers who can compete with the likes of Primus, Tool and spiritual forebears Rush. 

Set against the backdrop of Comeau’s snarling slide guitar, “Mountain” recounts the arrival of European colonizers and the beginning of Indigenous resistance. “End of the Road” has Bowles singing about the plight of murdered and missing Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people in a voice that recalls Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant (another major influence) and chords that echo Canadian new wave sensation Platinum Blonde. With its anthemic chorus, “White Buffalo,” the title track of the band’s most recent EP, uses the image of the creature as a call to reclaim ceded land, stand against the darkness and build a bright future: “Like a White Buffalo / Standing strong in the fading light / From deep in the shadows / Our spirits rise.”

The stark simplicity of these uplifting lyrics, combined with Bowles’ propulsive drumming and Comeau’s echo-soaked guitar solo—a tribute to Rush’s Alex Lifeson—showcase the band’s songwriting and performance skills. “White Buffalo” is a stadium-ready pop-prog gem that blends irresistible hooks, a powerful message and complex rhythmic and musical changes in a sub-four-minute song. 

“When we played a song like ‘Mountainabout the horrors of colonization, Cody did a quick spoken word about missing and murdered Indigenous women, children and Two-Spirit people. Back in the days we were on tour, Indigenous women came up to us at the merch table and said, ‘Thank you for representing us,’” Comeau says.

“That’s really fucking special, and that was when we realized we were absolutely doing the right thing.” 

Taking a stand on Indigenous issues was a major step for the band in forging its unique identity. But expanding Crown Lands’ musical horizons was another way forward for Bowles and Comeau, one that meant embracing their prog-rock ambitions.  

“Kevin and I always loved prog,” says Bowles. “When we got together, we decided against going right there because it was so easy to do. But it was for a pragmatic reason, too. We thought that it would be better off to start with something easier to digest, easier to chew on.”

“It’s easier to write three-minute songs,” agrees Comeau, but the band had a change of heart.

“After our first record,” continues Bowles. “I was feeling more pulled to something more progressive, and we both felt that collectively. We were, like, fuck it! We’re just going to do this. We’re going to come together and really lean into what we were feeling this whole time.”

Embracing their roots and following in their heroes’ footsteps brought Comeau and Bowles into the orbit of three veteran producers who had worked with Rush. 

The duo recorded a demo of “Context: Fearless Pt. 1” in Toronto with Terry Brown, who helmed the first 10 Rush albums. In January 2020, they were headed to Nashville to cut a new version with producer Nick Raskulinecz, who had worked on the last two Rush albums, when they heard that Rush drummer Neil Peart had died. 

Devastated, Comeau and Bowles pondered cancelling the session, but the veteran producer urged them to carry the torch. When they started recording, he surprised them with Peart’s drum kit from Rush’s 2007-2008 Snakes & Arrows tour. It marked the beginning of a new chapter of Crown Lands’ existence and a return to their musical roots. 

“We went down there, and it was kind of like a rebirth of who we are musically. It was a high watermark for turning a new page and playing Neil’s kit was transcendent,” Bowles recalls. 

“It was like a return home because this was the music that Cody and I bonded over, and we were finally making music that sounded like the music we worshipped,” Comeau says. “With the people who actually made it,” interrupts Bowles. “It was absolutely surreal.”

The band also penned “Right Way Back,” a lyrical tribute to Peart, during their time in Tennessee.

But the duo couldn’t return to Nashville to complete the recording session due to the pandemic, leading Crown Lands to work with a third Rush collaborator, David Bottrill, who had remixed Rush’s 17th album, Vapour Trails. Bottrill recorded the vocals for Bowles on the April 2021 single “Context: Fearless Pt. 1” and produced the band’s September EP, White Buffalo, which includes “The Oracle,” a 13-minute sequel of sorts to that earlier track. 

Crown Lands’ new live album, Odyssey Vo1. 1, was recorded at History, a new concert venue in Toronto’s East End, but without an audience. The show was captured on video, streamed on the Louder Sound network of websites (Prog, Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, and One Louder), and is currently available on the band’s YouTube page. The album itself will be released on Dec. 2 digitally and as a deluxe vinyl package. 

Inspired by the soundstage live performances of classic rock bands of the 1970s, Odyssey Vol. 1 captures the raw power of the Crown Lands concert experience. On stage, Comeau and Bowles reproduce their studio compositions without the benefit of sequencers and backing tracks. One can only marvel at two musicians producing so much sound.

In concert, the bearded Comeau stalks the stage, switching between acoustic and electric guitars, slinging a Rickenbacker double neck bass/guitar combo, kicking at Moog Taurus synthesizer pedals and even playing keys. The angelic Bowles seamlessly blends multi-octave vocals with frenetic polyrhythmic drumming and percussion, and has recently added traditional flutes and mandolin to their musical repertoire. Together, the pair is visually and aurally mesmerizing.

“Gender is ancient and fluid and unrestricted.”

Despite Comeau’s claims that they are rougher around the edges than their prog-rock progenitors, Crown Lands’ musicianship puts them on similar footing with their heroes. “We grew up loving prog bands from right before music videos blew up on MTV,” Comeau says . “You can find all these great live performances of bands on soundstages. Instead of miming to music, they were going in to play what they’d just finished in the studio. And a great example of that is the “Villa Strangiato” official music video [by Rush]. But it’s not the studio track. It’s one of my favourite live versions of the song. We kind of wanted to capture a bit of that as well. And obviously, you know, you can tell if a band is any good by going to watch their live stuff.”

As performers and individuals, Comeau and Bowles effortlessly blur the gender binary. Comeau, who describes both of them as feminine, bristles at traditional notions of masculinity. “There’s this weird expectation to play up to the rules that you were born into, and I think it’s kind of strange.” Adopting a cartoonish Tarzan voice, he adds: “You don’t have to subscribe to the societal notion, ‘Me man. Me must carry girl.’” 

The head of a white buffalo appears in the sky above a ship at sea.
Crown Lands’ “White Buffalo” EP.

“There’s no rulebook,” Bowles concludes. “It’s funny that people buy into it like it’s the law. But it’s fairly new in the timescale of the Americas that this rigid dichotomy between male and female has been in force.

“Gender is ancient and fluid and unrestricted,” Bowles says “It’s only these things that we put upon ourselves and these limitations that we force upon ourselves that really confine our spirit. The more we let go and detach from this thought of what should be and the perception you were born like this, therefore you must be like this… if we can detach ourselves from thoughts like that, I feel like the world will be better, and people’s mental health will be way better than it is currently.

“Everyone’s different in different ways, and there’s different modalities of being. I feel like there’s a real shift in young people’s awareness of this. I feel like in the future, it’s going to be brighter, more colourful, and people are going to be more themselves than ever.”

Christos Tsirbas

Christos Tsirbas lives in Toronto and writes about movies, music, comics books and technology. His writing has appeared in The Hollywood Reporter, Xtra, Instinct, fab, CBR, CBC Radio and the Lambda Award-nominated anthology Charmed Lives: Gay Spirit. He is a two-time finalist in the National Film Board of Canada’s Tremplin competition for emerging francophone filmmakers, a grand-prize winner at the Toronto Urban Film Fest and a photographer whose work has been featured in the Contact Photography Festival, Canadian Cinematographer and Playback.

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Music, Culture, Feature, Indigenous

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