We talk with singer-songwriters Colbie Caillat, Justin Young, Jason Reeves, and Nelly Joy about their country supergroup, Gone West.
Together as the new country supergroup Gone West, Colbie Caillat, Justin Young, Jason Reeves, and Nelly Joy capture the musical ambience of the West with honest songwriting and stunning harmonies.
Recently, we talked with the artists about making music together and their new Gone West debut EP, Tides.
Cowboys & Indians: Congrats on Gone West’s music hitting country radio. What has the response been like so far?
Colbie Caillat: The response has been really, really great. We have our fans from all of our solo careers and now we’re gaining new fans as a country band and with our music that’s been out. Our first single just went out to country radio a month ago, so it’s all still brand-new, but fans are coming to our shows. We’ve done our own headlining shows and it’s just been a really fun process.
Nelly Joy: I think my favorite part in regards to the fans and the response has just been seeing what each song means to individual people. Even if we write a song with a particular meaning in mind, the songs go out to the world and fans and they take on their own life and their own meaning. I know from reading messages on social media that songs like “This Time” or “What Could’ve Been” have helped people get through hard times or breakups and stuff like that. That’s really exciting for us because that’s why we’re doing it — to try and help people.
C&I: How did you guys come up with the name Gone West?
Caillat: My sister had said something that we should have the word West in our name. ... Basically, we realized that since we all live in Nashville and we’re all from west of Tennessee, when we’re always leaving, going back home to visit friends and family, and so we always end up saying that we’ve gone West. We just felt like it was a really fitting name for us for our lives and our travels and it was one that we had written down on a list of 50 names. None of us were solid on any of them and then when “Gone West” came about, we were all instantly super-stoked on it. That’s rare when you can get four people to be, “Oh, yeah. That’s it.” So we loved it and we’re still very happy with it.
C&I: You all have been friends for years and have worked with each other in different combinations. What made you get together now and start creating music as a group?
Jason Reeves: Actually, Colbie and I have been making music together for 14 years or so. Then we met Justin really quickly after that, like a year into us knowing each other. And then Nelly came into the picture about 10 years ago. So we’ve been working together in different combinations and in different ways for all of that time. The only thing that’s different is that we decided to call it a band and officially make a record together as a band. So that is new and it’s really fun. Just using the uniqueness of each of us and combining our strengths and weaknesses into a jambalaya of sorts has been really enjoyable. That’s my opinion.
Justin Young: Like a stew.
C&I: What was it like to merge so many different musical styles and backgrounds? Was it hard to come up with a balance and get all of your unique aspects into one sound?
Young: It’s like any good soup. We all do have different musical backgrounds and influences and I think the music that we’ve made has been different. But we’ve all had some underlying themes that are the same or similar in the organic, acoustic-driven music, storytelling, real songs. I think, in the best way, this band is a combination of finding a common ground between all of us and then using our differences to complement each other. It creates something that, I think, is familiar and not too far of a departure from our old stuff, but also feels fresh and new and is different than we would’ve made [otherwise]. Without these four people being in the band, the songs would be different.
C&I: Tell me about the production process for your debut EP, Tides. Any stories to share about recording music together?
Caillat: We started writing for this band two years ago and we just played it by ear. [We’d write] a song and if we loved it, we’d keep going. We loved the first song and we kept going from there. Really, for the EP … and for our first single, we as Gone West have either produced or co-produced the majority or half of the record. We’ve been lucky to work with incredible producers and writers in Nashville, like Liz and Tom Douglas and Jamie Kenney. Usually when we write a song, it just depends if we’re working with a writer-producer that day, or if it’s just us at our studio. But we’ll write a song and then we’ll record most of it that night. And then we’ll spend sometimes months adding production to a specific song and making tweaks to it. It really was the writing process. Every song is different.
One of us will come in with an idea or we’ll come in and someone will come up with the idea right there in the moment. Or with our single, “What Could’ve Been,” our producer, Jamie, who we wrote it with, we came in that day and he had this idea started. We all instantly loved it and could relate to the meaning behind the song. So it’s really just been a process the past two years, from the start of writing the song, to being able to … next week when we get back home from this tour, we’re going to finish the record, tying it in a little bow.
C&I: What inspired the songs?
Joy: Well, each song was inspired by different things. Our theme song, “Gone West” — I call it our theme song — but we put “audiobiography” as Jason calls it. That song was sung first by Justin singing over a voice memo of this melody and verse idea he had, and the chorus was kind of started on the “gone West” part. At first, I was like, “Wow, we’re going to have a song called ‘Gone West’ and we’re Gone West. That’s kind of weird.” Then, when I really zoomed out from it and understood what it was that [he] had started, it was like each verse is a love letter to our significant other, and we wrote them separately by ourselves. So Justin wrote his verse about going to California and finding Colbie and bringing the best that he could find from Cali back to Tennessee. And then each person wrote a verse for their significant other, basically. The chorus we wrote together and the bridge we wrote together. So that was a really special song because it was inspired by our lifestyles and true life.
“Confetti” — I think that title actually came from Colbie’s sister or something that she said. But then Justin took it and spun it and came up with that cool twist on that hook. I love it because having a celebratory breakup song — I mean, we need more of those; there’s enough heartbreak in the world. “This Time” was us showing up to Tom Douglas’ house. That was our first time to write with him and we were pretty heavy of heart that day, just because that was the week that the Vegas shooting had happened and also Tom Petty passed away. So we were talking with Tom about how short life is and how we can’t take it for granted, and that spiraled into us writing one of my favorite songs. Lyrically, it’s just so beautiful. Tom is such a poet and it’s been an honor to get to work with him.
Yeah, so I guess that’s pretty much it. They all come from different places. “Home Is Where the Heartbreak Is” stems from a title, just a simple title that Liz Rose had, and then when she said that title, I was like I can’t believe that hasn’t been a hit already and thank you for letting us write this with you — you could have written it with anyone. We had a couple of friends, one in particular, that was going through a hard time in a marriage and so we really, really tapped into that one, inspired by that situation our friend was going through.
C&I: You guys have such great harmonies and chemistry together. Beyond showcasing that musical connection, what else was important to depict in your music together?
Reeves: Wow. What else is important to us to depict in our music? I think we do love writing. Every song we write, we want it to be real to us in some way, whether it’s through our personal experiences either in the past or in the moment, and if it’s not that, then it’s our friends and family — something that they’re going through. Because we really feel that if you can connect immediately to the emotion, then it will make the song more real and more powerful. I think honesty and truth are really important to us. Also, just behind everything I hope there’s the vibe of love because we are two couples making music and we are all friends and pretty much family at this point. I hope that you can feel that when you hear our music. … I want there to be warmth and love in our music and you guys can add to that.
Caillat: Yeah, I mean, you had said a lot of it, but I think that our main goal with this is to have the songwriting be meaningful stories of our lives or friends around us. And then, the harmony-driven, steel guitar, acoustic, organic instruments. Music that people would either listen to when they’re needing to get through something in their life or when they’re having a good day and want some accompaniment with that feeling that they’re enjoying. The good and the bad — we’re here for you.
C&I: Is there a particular song that has really resonated with fans?
Caillat: I think for all of us, we’ve seen people relate to our song “This Time” the most because it’s a reminder that we all truly need every day of enjoying the moments that you have and the people that you’re with that you love because you don’t know if you’re going to get another opportunity in life. Sometimes we can all take things for granted every day. A lot of times, it’s something unfortunate that happens that reminds us that our time in our life and relationships are very precious. That song has related to people that either have lost someone or that it was a really important reminder for them.
Joy: One of my most favorite fan reactions that’s happened since we started was the first time we played “What Could’ve Been,” in New York, which is our single. We literally had written the song, recorded it, and not really rehearsed it until a couple of days before that show, so it was really scary for us to get up on stage and sing something that was brand-new. … We got done playing the song and people just kept clapping and kept yelling and kept cheering. I was like, Whoa, this is crazy. Maybe we have something special here. We kept playing the single out — and it wasn’t the single at the time by the way, and that’s why it ended up becoming the single — because the fans and radio program directors and people that were hearing it felt something special when we sang it. So it’s pretty cool.
C&I: Do you — collectively or individually — have a song that you’re most proud of?
Caillat: For me, I think it’s “Gone West” because it’s such a fun song to perform for all of us. I love that we all sing a verse. We had to be listeners, too, in the song. And then I think just the fact that we’re all writing a verse about our love.
Young: I think we all love a song that’s not out that’s going to be on the album called “Slow Down.” That was the second song we wrote with Jamie Kenney. … Part of it is I’m proud of us for sticking with it. It was excruciating and he said we have a high tolerance for pain because we’re willing to just kind of grind it out. He is, too, so we tried writing the song four or five different ways. … We all love it so much and it also has that throwback, easy-listening, rolling-down-the-highway appeal. So I’m proud of us for having stuck through that session and come up with something that we love so much.
C&I: What can we expect from the upcoming album?
Joy: What I’m excited about for the album is it’s going to take you on a journey, so it really is a full piece of art. I love how Justin said it’s not like we just chose individual songs and slapped them together. We’re thoughtfully putting together these songs so that you can go on a journey with us. And it’s going to take you through the highs and lows of life and love — that’s why we named it Tides.
Caillat: You know we all sing lead on different songs, so it gives the record a lot of dynamic and there’s even some different — not fully different — genre; we have a song that leans a little reggae, so I think there’s a lot of dynamic to it that we’re excited for our fans to hear the rest of it that we’ve had in our back pocket for so long.
Gone West’s Favorite Nashville Hot Spots
The Barista Parlor — “Really, really good breakfast burritos and they make good coffee, so that’s a winning combo.”
Burger Up and Bartaco — “Those are places that have long lines because they’re very popular and very good.”
Herban Market — “A great local organic produce and delicious food of all sorts.”
Never Never — “A great bar without any pretentiousness. Anyone is welcome to enjoy.”