Last year’s self-titled debut album from the hirsute young Canadian rock duo Crown Lands is an accomplished, chops-heavy take on blues-rock, produced by roots mastermind Dave Cobb, which won them critical praise and two Juno nominations. But the multi-tasking duo — Kevin Comeau plays guitar, bass, and keyboards, while Cody Bowles plays drums and sings — is already working on a radical shift of direction. “While we always had our roots in blues and stuff, before Crown Lands, we were really into prog,” says Bowles (who uses they/them pronouns). “When we started Crown Lands, we were so sure that we were going to do more blues-leaning, straight-ahead, digestible commercial songs. And then, over time, that prog nerdiness just leaks out and we couldn’t help it.”
More specifically, Crown Lands’ two new songs, which Rolling Stone is debuting here, pay tribute to the band both members always worshipped above all others: Rush. Comeau’s fandom is so intense that he tattooed the Starman from the 2112 album art on a delicate part of his body. “When Cody and I met in 2015, my buddy was auditioning for a band that Cody was playing drums in,” says Comeau. “And my buddy’s like, ‘Yeah, I hear this guy’s a huge Rush fan.’ And I’m like, ‘No one’s a bigger Rush fan. I literally have the Starman tattooed on my butt.’ And so the very second I met Cody, I was like, ‘I hear you’re a big Rush fan.’ And I pulled down my pants, and I mooned them. That just made a good first impression and we became, like, best friends ever since then. And we’ve been obsessed with all things prog.”
One of the two new songs, the multi-part, three-years-in-the-making suite “Context: Fearless Pt. 1,” may well be one of the most overt Rush tributes ever attempted, with a direct musical nod to “Red Barchetta” and modal riffing straight out of the Alex Lifeson handbook. To fully capture the vibe, Crown Lands sought out some special help, recording an early demo of the song with Terry Brown, who produced all of Rush’s early classics, from Fly by Night to Signals. “They are well-educated on Rush,” says Brown. “And there is definitely a likeness in some ways, but in more ways, they’re nothing like Rush. The register that Cody likes to sing in is very reminiscent of Geddy [Lee] in his younger days. And certainly, some of the guitar riffs and the bass playing from Kevin, who also loves the old synths. But when you put them all together, it adds up to Crown Lands, and I think, something unique and special.”
From there, they pursued another Rush connection, booking time to record with Nick Raskulinecz, who produced Rush’s final two studio albums, and has also worked the Foo Fighters, among others. As it happened, they met up with Raskulinecz in January of last year, driving through a snowstorm to Nashville, just after the world learned of the death of Rush drummer Neil Peart. “When they showed up, I was pretty wrecked about that,” says Raskulinecz. “We tipped our hats to Neil, we listened to some Rush, had some shots of whiskey in Neil’s honor, and we moved forward and recorded.”
Bowles played parts of a drum kit that Peart had given to Raskulinecz, which duplicated the one Peart played on 2007’s Snakes and Arrows album. The producer was already a fan of Crown Lands. “A lot of people are influenced by Rush but don’t sound like Rush,” he says. “These two just kind of sound like that.” The band also recorded another new song with Raskulinecz, “Right Way Back,” that pays lyrical tribute to Peart.
Crown Lands, meanwhile, are convinced they’ve found their new sound. “I think these two songs are like a glimpse into the future of what Crown Lands is going to be,” says Comeau. “It’s nice that we don’t have to fight it anymore. And we’re really trying to experiment with our arranging techniques and push the limits of what we can do with two people.”