If you dig Rush, you may have heard of a duo from Canada that virtually channels the iconic trio. Known as Crown Lands, singer/drummer Cody Bowles and guitarist/bassist Kevin Comeau use time-honored progressive-/hard-rock building blocks to construct their latest album, Fearless, harkening to the FM sounds of the ’70s.
We asked Comeau to explain how Crown Lands weaves its potent sonic magic with just two guys.
Fearless sounds like a long-lost Rush masterpiece.
Cody and I wrote the narrative story over music we were writing at the time. I had just purchased an Oberheim OB-6 and a lot of the music for “Starlifter” was written the first couple days after we got it. The 11/8 groove section “Interfacing the Machine” and “Overture” came from experimenting with the onboard sequencer. We wrote the song in a two-week period at Chalet Studio; in fact, we’ve written almost everything there.
How did you construct the 18-minute “Starlifter: Fearless Pt. II”? It’s an impressive opus.
Thanks, we are quite proud of it! The demo was about 21 minutes long. Our producer, David Bottrill, analyzed the harmonic movement, time signatures, and elements of the story, trimming everything that was irrelevant. We wanted to create something like “Close to the Edge,” but arranged for two musicians. I also love Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” production and the layered textures of Queen II. We wanted to make our own kind of space-prog.
You were a teenaged punk rocker who stumbled upon Rush.
Bass is my first instrument. I remember hearing “Holiday” by Green Day on the radio; Mike Dirnt’s tone made me want to play bass. As I kept learning, I got into Primus and Les Claypool’s Fearless Frog Brigade, as well as Mike Rutherford of Genesis and Chris Squire of Yes. Then I learned Les’ favorite bass player was Geddy Lee.
What happened next?
It so happens that my parents’ least-favorite band was Rush. It felt forbidden and exciting! So, I downloaded a few Rush albums onto my iPod and the first one I played was A Farewell to Kings. The bass was unlike anything I’d heard before; Geddy’s tone is so punchy and the 5/4 breakdown in the bridge of “A Farewell to Kings” is pretty iconic to me.
What goes into nailing those timeless Lee and Lifeson tones?
Geddy and Alex made magic, and at the heart of it, tone is all in the fingers. Lifeson’s secret is a Roland JC-120 or a similar Roland chorus, especially on Moving Pictures. I love the high-end presence we got on my guitars thanks to Hiwatt heads and the midrange grunt of the Marshall Club & Country amps. Hiwatts sound clean, but in an angry way. There’s nothing else in the world that really sounds like that.
What other gear did you track with?
We got creative with the guitar signal chain. I double-tracked rhythm parts with two SGs – one with T-Top humbuckers and one with P-90s. The pickups on my ’69 SG Standard are so lively that I’ve used it on every album since 2016.
I used a Boss CE-1 chorus pedal into Hiwatt DR103 and DR504 heads, a Marshall plexi, and Leslie 145 cabinet, all simultaneously. I also triple-tracked the “Overture” section with a Rickenbacker 12-string, and used an Danelectro electric sitar on another. We put a lot of time into creating a huge 3-D tone with one guitar. I love the subtle movement that parallel modulation can do for a guitar.
For double-necks, you have a Rickenbacker 6/12, but play a different one in the “Fearless” video.
The new one is much lighter. It was built by luthier Brock Stoyko and we designed the doubleneck from the ground up. It weighs 11.5 pounds, while my Rick weighs 15 pounds – a significant difference when you have to play half an hour with it strapped around your neck. The new body is heavily contoured, like a Strat, so it’s very comfortable, and the necks are arranged at an angle, making it the most-ergonomic double-neck I’ve ever played.
You once jammed “Stairway to Heaven” onstage with Alex Lifeson. How did that come about?
We played together at a charity show a couple years back – a Christmas concert at Massey Hall, in Toronto. We played Zeppelin’s “Battle of Evermore” going into “Stairway.” Alex even lent me his ES-1275 for it! I played the 12-string parts and he ripped the solo. It was a magical moment. Alex is truly my hero and has influenced my playing more than anyone, and he’s the nicest guy! I’ve also been lucky to work with Skully Mcintosh, Geddy’s guitar tech. As I’ve learned, Rush surrounded themselves with great people – that’s something we’re trying to emulate in Crown Lands.
This article originally appeared in VG’s June 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.