With Sparkling Lyrics and Four-Part Harmony, Gone West Are Poised To Breakthrough

Before becoming Gone West, members Colbie Caillat, Jason Reeves, Nelly Joy and Justin Kawika Young had to define their own voices before finding a collective one as the new four-part harmony country group.

For years leading up to the band’s formation, the artists’ paths were intertwined. Caillat, the Grammy winning acoustic pop singer known for hits like “Bubbly” and “Lucky,” teamed up with Reeves to write her breakthrough debut album, Coco. Two years later, she would meet her future fiancé Young – whose 20-year career as a singer-songwriter has earned him four Hawaiian Music Awards – when he toured as a member of her band on the Coco World Tour. Meanwhile, Joy was making a name for herself in Nashville as one half of former country duo the JaneDear Girls, scoring a Top 20 hit with “Wildflower” in 2010. She and Reeves connected during a writing session in Nashville and the two married in 2012.

Over the years, Caillat was dipping her toes in the waters of country music, collaborating with the likes of Taylor Swift, Brad Paisley and Trace Adkins before she and Young officially made the move to Music City in 2016. But when the foursome toured together on her 2016 The Malibu Sessions Acoustic Tour, they felt the spark for the band come alive. “All of our songs are acoustic-driven,” Caillat tells Sounds Like Nashville. “We have always incorporated and loved for all of our individual music the organic instruments.”

“Organic” is a key word when it comes to describing the group’s sound and the way their ideas and songwriting manifests, their sparkling four-part harmonies and gentle songwriting ranging from the somber debut single “What Could’ve Been” to the glittering “Confetti” bringing purity to country music. “The thing I love about Nashville songwriting is the colors and the pictures and the stories and the real sentiments that are in the songs,” Joy explains.”Someone once told me that in country music, when you’re trying to write a song, don’t say it, see it.”  

It’s this valuable piece of advice the group carries
into their work, particularly on their namesake song, “Gone West.” A uniquely
collaborative experience, each member of the band separately wrote a verse for
their significant other, inspired by the place they were raised in. The lyrics touch on the sunny skies of
Caillat’s native Malibu, Calif., tie in Young’s roots with a reference to Hawaiian
cowboys known as paniolos, along with chasing the light to Amarillo in Joy’s
home state of Texas while she sings of the field of dreams, rows of corn and
glowing skies in her husband’s native Iowa.

“We always feel like when we come up with the end result, it’s really special because we did get five people to agree and love something so much,” Caillat describes of the delicate balancing act that comes with writing with multiple people.”I think songwriting is being vulnerable in general,” adds Reeves. “I think the whole point of it is to open up and say things that are uncomfortable to say and I think that’s why people like hearing it because they’re not maybe brave enough in the moment to say it themselves.”

One of the most vulnerable writing experiences the
group has shared is reflected in “This Time.” While the melody features a
shimmering acoustic guitar and refreshing lyrics that encourage the idea of cherishing
the now, the song’s origin grew out of tragedy. Gone West wrote “This Time”
with one of Nashville’s top songwriters, Tom Douglas, one day after the tragic
mass shooting at Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas in 2017 and coincided
with the day Tom Petty passed away. All four of them had tickets to see Petty
when he made a tour stop at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville in April 2017 prior
to his passing, but they ended up missing the show, thinking they would have
another chance to see him perform. “That was one of the really powerful things that sparked the
song,” Reeves says of the track whose lyrics directly address this with “It’s a heartbreaker I never saw Tom Petty /
No, I won’t back down and make that same mistake.” “It’s really just about appreciating the moment and not passing
things up.”

“I think with any tragedy or people’s passing, the one thing that you can do is maybe live better and help it inform the way that you live. That is really a tribute that you can give to the people who aren’t here anymore,” Young reflects. “We really wanted to take that lesson and apply to our life and celebrate the present moment rather than focusing on the doom that might happen; how can we be more present when we’re here and how can we take the things that other people have been through and inform our lives in a way that can help.”

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Fans
will feel the heartfelt nature of their music in the group’s upcoming debut
album. Describing it as a blend of “different flavors,” Joy hints at some
special surprises along with a reggae-infused song featuring trap drums and
bass. “Hopefully they feel like they’re going to go on a journey,”
she anticipates of fans’ reactions.

As
they begin to carve out their own niche in the wildly popular genre, Gone West
hopes the identity they create is one that honors and advances the aspects of
country music they revere. “We’ve been such fans of the harmonies and the
storytelling in the songwriting. If we could in some small way carry that torch
for country music, even for a moment,” Young observes, “I think that would be
something we’d all be honored to have the opportunity to do.”

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