FOR THE RECORD: Crown Lands’ Cody Bowles On Finding Empowerment In Their Indigenous Heritage

Embracing their Two-Spirit identity, the drummer reflects on tapping into their true voice and the rhythm of inspiration.  

FOR THE RECORD is an ongoing artist essay series where we invite some of our favourite artists to explore themes on their albums to provide a deeper level of insight into their work. Cody Bowles is the drummer for the two-piece blues rock band Crown Lands. Their most recent single, “End Of The Road,” featuring Tanya Tagaq is about the Highway of Tears, a highway in British Columbia where more than 40 Indigenous women have gone missing and are presumed murdered. Crown Lands are using their voice to bring attention to these and other important issues in our society. 

My musical journey started in a little slice of Northern Toronto called Willowdale. It was there that I started playing drums at the age of one. My father, who has been a drummer his whole life, played an important role in sowing the seeds of my interest in this artistic medium. He saw that from a very young age, I had a penchant for creating rhythms on household pots, pans, and just about any surface I could get my hands on. In the home, we didn’t have a lot of money, and times were often tough, but somehow they managed to get me a little toy drum kit. Little did I know, this would become the catalyst for the spark that would become my musical journey. 

Fast forward a few years, and my father would spend countless hours in the basement of our rented home playing the drums at crushing decibels. He didn’t just play around on them, he would play “2112” by Rush in its entirety—to a tee. I would sit there in awe of his skill. He was renowned for his drumming in the poor Toronto neighbourhood he grew up in.

Shortly after that, my father broke his back, completely and irrevocably altering his ability to play the way he used to. I took it upon myself to stick to the practice for the sheer love of it. He has always been my biggest drumming influence, with Neil Peart [of Rush] coming in at a close second.

It wouldn’t be until the summer of 2015—a year before the formation of Crown Lands—that I would start singing. It was something that came out of nowhere, and I am still learning so much about the nuances of the voice.

Mi’kmaw, my Indigenous heritage, also shaped my musical pursuits and artistic expression. I was proud growing up half Mi’kmaw and would be excited to tell people at school, but it quickly turned into teasing, bullying, and racial gaslighting about what happened to my people in America’s past. I was often teased for my long hair that would be in a ponytail or braids as a child. Unfortunately, this was a daily occurrence and affected me negatively for many years. I was even teased by some teachers, and so, I would prefer staying at home playing my drums.

On the weekends, we would go to our cottage near Alderville First Nation. That is where I spent a lot of time as a kid. We were (and currently are) friends with a family and elder from that reserve. From them, I learned invaluable lessons on what it meant to be Indigenous.

Just last year, I connected deeply with an understanding that I am Two-Spirit. Never feeling like I fit into the Western dysphoric dichotomy of gender, I never felt empowered or supported to explore that part of myself until recently. It was a deeply liberating and beautiful epiphany, to which I’m still uncovering more each day.

I am proud of my cultural roots and hold them close to my heart. These aspects of my upbringing, identity, and culture have become a parallel with the creation of the band. So, it goes without saying that Kevin (Comeau) and I want to discuss important issues that matter to us and express it through our music. It is, in a way, honouring where I came from and where I’m going.

Crown Lands are releasing their self-titled debut album out August 13. 

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