Crown Lands Continue Their Tolkien-Like Saga on ‘Fearless’

Initially inspired to tell the story of the effects colonization had on the indigenous people of Canada, Crown Lands has continued its saga of songs on the new album Fearless. For the Canadian prog rockers, made up of vocalist and drummer Cody Bowles, who is half Mi’kmaq (one of the largest Native American groups in Canada), and guitarist, bassist, and keyboardist Kevin Comeau, Fearless is part of their greater narrative and follows the duo’s bluesier self-titled 2020 debut and 2021 live album Odyssey Vol. 1, and several EPSs in between.

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Fearless gets underway with an 18-minute space opera, “Starlifter: Fearless Pt. II,” which takes place following “The Oracle,” off the band’s 2021 EP White Buffalo. Setting the scene between good versus evil, Fearless continues through its concerted storyline, from the rushing “Right Way Back,” and a nearly eight-minute mid-way point “Context: Fearless Pt. I,” through a melodious closing trifecta on instrumental “Penny,” “Lady of the Lake” and heroic “Citadel.”

Produced by David Bottrill (Rush, Peter Gabriel, Muse), Fearless carries on with Bowles and Comeau’s proclivity for telling bigger stories through a sci-fi lens of Tolkien narratives, including the creeds of Tibetan Buddhist meditation master Chögyam Trungpa and philosophies of Carl Jung. A musical mythopoeia of songs, Fearless is steeped in sitars, synth, and flute, animated by the duo’s wonderment of bands like Rush, Pink Floyd and Yes.

Comeau recently spoke to American Songwriter and shared a deeper look behind some of the stories behind the songs of Fearless. 

American Songwriter: Fearless is set around a specific concept, so let’s start at the beginning with the opening “Starlifter: Fearless Pt. II.” What were some of the overriding themes, or storyline, that began unraveling as you and Cody started working through this track?

Kevin Comeau: It basically takes place 300 years after the events of “The Oracle,” where the character [Fearless] goes on this grand journey seeking this sort of chalice of immortality to achieve enlightenment and ends up in a ship that capsizes in the ocean, and they sink to the bottom. We left it open-ended where they basically become cryogenically frozen beneath the waves, and then 100 years later they awaken to their planet now terraformed. It’s now like a large desert, and everyone that he knows and loves is long gone, so he sees the reality of his planet. The solar system has also been colonized by this evil syndicate, who has harnessed the power of star lifting to take the energy of the sun and harness it in the name of greed and profit.

In hypothetical astrophysics, star lifting is a process by which an advanced civilization could remove a substantial portion of the stars matter, which can then be repurposed, which optimizes stars energy output. We just figured if any kind of civilization had the actual power to harness, to extract energy from a star, it would probably be used for evil, because it’s typically what we’ve seen in our time. And what would would happen if there’s someone there who’s going to rise up against that? So it’s just a classic story, and it’s very much born from [George] Lucas and [J.R.R.] Tolkien. It’s the story of good and evil and right and wrong.

AS: You’ve had some pretty lengthy songs in the past. “Starlifter: Fearless Pt. II is your longest at more than 18 minutes. How long did it take to piece it together?

KC: We had just released a White Buffalo and we were feeling really creative. Our team was like, “Great, you guys should go in and record some more singles,” and our reaction to that was to write “Starlifter.” So we had written this space opera, which is not exactly what they wanted, but I’m glad that our team is so understanding. I think the quality rang through and you can hear the earnestness and the honesty of that music. It’s truly what excites us and inspires us about music. We’re pulling from some of our favorite bands in that piece of music, like Rush and Queen, Yes and Pink Floyd, and just trying to create something that tells that larger-than-life sort of story. 

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“Starlifter” was recorded in between touring in 2022 with Greta Van Fleet and in the U.K. for the first time, Crown Lands also performed at a Formal One Grand Prix in Bahrain, where the band met Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason. It was a moment Comeau says was “life affirming.” Unfortunately, when the band’s equipment got held up in Turkey, they ended up recording most of “Starlifter” using borrowed equipment.
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“I think that’s what makes that song so special, is that we weren’t able to use a lot of the gear that we were comfortable on. And we had to push [ourselves] a little bit, but still sound like us.”

AS: How did David Bottrill help you flesh out the songs on Fearless?

KC: The theme of “The Shadow” pulls a lot from that Jungian psychology of embracing the inner darkness to get through to the other side, where a lot of time like we have to sit with the discomfort rather than ignore it in order to actually heal. So it’s kind of meta, where that was very much the reality that we had when we were writing and recording that song.

For “Dreamer Of The Dawn,” we had this 11/8 (time signature) keyboard solo in the middle of the song, and I think the chorus was in 7/8, originally, and Dave’s like “What are you guys trying to do? You don’t need that. You can cut it and just embrace more simple harmony.” The chorus to “Dreamer of the Dawn” is very simple, and we were so fast to eschew that. Dave [said], “You can’t reinvent the wheel every single time. You need to embrace songwriting cliches and conventions.” And because of that, the song is so much stronger for it.

We were still able to really push ourselves as arrangers, and Dave said, “You can choose your moments to go into the prog sphere. Everything doesn’t have to be ‘Starlifter.'” A lot of what we do as songwriters and arrangers now is informed by Dave’s advice.

AS: It’s interesting that “Lady At the Lake” and “Reflections” were older tracks that almost didn’t make the cut. How did they finally weave into Fearless?

KC: It’s so funny, because now “Lady of the Lake” is the big focus track on the record. Those were these orphan songs that weren’t on any album, so we decided to remix them to put them on this record, just because they fit thematically and texturally. It broke our hearts because those songs felt really special to us and knowing that they would be forgotten. … We really felt if someone was in a record store, and they could only buy one Crown Lands record, we wanted to make sure those songs are gonna be on that album.

AS: Midway through Fearless is the epic “Context: Fearless Pt. 1,” along with its cinematic video. How does it all tie into the greater storyline of Fearless?

KC: It’s this amazing Lord of the Rings meets Star Wars cinematic universe we developed. We really wanted to revisit that world, and the Queen character in that music video shows up in a prequel of “The Oracle.” She’s the main character in the storyline of that song on White Buffalo.

“Starlifter: Fearless Pt. II” takes place after “The Oracle.” We’ve been interweaving the sort of like this mythology throughout our discography, and we’ve always wanted to tell this overarching story, because we’re so influenced by guys like Tolkien and bands like Coheed and Cambria who have like this long-running storyline, and obviously bands like Rush where they would have storylines take place over the course of multiple records.

AS: How has songwriting shifted between you and Cody since your debut (Crown Lands, 2020)?

KC: It’s a lot easier, and in some ways it’s a lot harder. How do you keep it fresh after writing three albums and being a band for eight years? I still feel like our best work is ahead of us. I definitely feel like we’re finally hitting our stride, and I think we found the niche in our audience. On our self-titled record, I feel like we were still very much compromising a bit of our vision in order to make music that would have door-opening potential for and more intention.

AS: Have you already continued working through the next storyline of songs?

KC: Honestly, we have to figure out when “Fearless Pt. III” comes out. What happens when our character reaches the other side of that black hole? We don’t really know. We’re not there yet. We’re still in the middle of trying to brainstorm and write music for the new record, but a lot of riffs are starting to come through, and it’s exciting. You know, you can’t really rest on your laurels for too long.

Fearless Track List:
1. “Starlifter: Fearless Pt. II”
2. “Dreamer Of The Dawn”
3. “The Shadow”
4. “Right Way Back”
5. “Context: Fearless Pt. I”
6. “Reflections”
7. “Penny”
8. “Lady Of The Lake”
9. “Citadel”

Photos by Andy Ford / Courtesy of Freeman Promotions

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