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Interview: Gone West talk debut album Canyons, their formation and how they’re coping with lockdown

The band open up about their music, their harmonies and much more.

Gone West
Credit: Triple Tigers

Formed in 2018, Gone West comprises of Colbie Caillat, Justin Kawika Young and married couple Nelly Joy and Jason Reeves.

Signed to Triple Tigers, the quartet released their debut EP Tides in 2019 and they’ll be releasing their debut album Canyons on 12th June 2020. Their new single Slow Down, the follow-up to What Could’ve Been is gaining traction and the future is looking bright for the incredibly talented band.

I caught up with them recently to find out more about Canyons, talk about their formation, and to discuss how they’re coping in lockdown…

Let’s go right back to the start. How did Gone West come to be?

Colbie: Well, it’s pretty cool because it really is something that just naturally progressed over time. We’ve all been friends for almost 15 years now. Jason and I, we wrote my first album Coco together, and just continued writing together over the years. Right after we met, we both met Justin in LA and we were fans of his Hawaiian music. When I went on tour in 2007, I asked Justin to join my band. We got to tour the world together for a few years. Nelly and Jason met in 2009 in Nashville in a writing session. They were friends for a few years and now they’ve been married for eight years now. Justin and I moved here to Nashville three years ago because of Jason and Nellie and we wanted to try somewhere new. Within this 15-year period, we’ve all been friends hanging out, working together, touring together in different formations. Two and a half years ago, we thought it’d be fun, since we’re all friends and loved making music together, that we’d start a band so we did!

Having that history together between the four of you, does that make it easier to make music together or does it actually bring some challenges with it?

Jason: I think it makes it easier. Once you’ve established this relationship of creating music together over that many years, it’s comfortable and it’s familiar. When you start making music with new people, even if it works out well, it takes time for you to become comfortable enough with those people to be vulnerable, and to share how you’re really feeling. I think since we all know each other really well, we didn’t have to meet each other and learn each other. It just made the whole thing at least easier than it would have been if we were strangers.

Gone West

Credit: Triple Tigers

Listening to the tracks you’ve put out so far, there’s a definite Fleetwood Mac/Laurel Canyon vibe in the mix. How have you worked on your harmonies to craft such a distinctive sound?

Nelly: Oh, that’s a great question. I am usually the high harmony because I’m the highest soprano in the band so that’s the easiest part. When a chorus hits I’m usually the highest note you’re going to hear (laughs). The rest of it, we figure out who’s singing what depending on the song and so far each song has been a different journey for that. For example, What Could’ve Been, at first when we wrote it we thought this was just gonna be a female lead all the way through. As started experimenting with it, we tried Justin singing the chorus and making it a duet and having it be a conversation between a couple that is going through heartbreak together. I actually think that makes the song far more interesting and that was one of the first times we had tried, singing with harmonies with Justin doing lead. I think all of our voices blend so well, in so many different ways, it’s strange. A lot of times Colbie is singing lead, and then I’m the high harmony and Justin and Jason figure out where they’re going to sit. It’s really neat that each song is different and different people sing lead on different moments of the album, yet it still had this cohesive blend and sound because it’s the four of us singing together as one voice.

The new single is Slow Down. Tell me a little bit about this track and why you picked it as a single…

Justin: This was another song that we wrote with Jamie Kenny, who we wrote What Could’ve Been with. What Could’ve Been just kind of came out in a few hours and it just flowed. We booked another session with Jamie and writing Slow Down took a while, ironically, or appropriately. It was a very slow writing session (laughs). We started a bunch of other ideas, nothing seemed to stick and we were about four hours in and probably close to calling it a day. Somehow we landed on this idea of it being a love song to whoever or whatever it is in your life that makes you want to slow down and appreciate things, and not rush through and have the opportunity to take it all in. We all love, like you said, the Laurel Canyon and Fleetwood Mac sound, and we wanted to have a song that we could see people putting on, driving down the coast and listening to, and making them appreciate life a little bit. It’s one of all of our favourites on the record so it seemed like a no brainer to be the next song we put out.

Your debut album Canyons is coming out in June. We’ve heard several tracks from it so far but what can we expect from the rest of it? Is there a theme that binds the whole album together?

Colbie: The theme of the album is actually heartbreak. We had a lot of friends over the past few years, either going through breakups or divorce. We had some hardships with some friends that we had and so we wrote about it. The whole album is about the ups and downs that we all go through in life and in love and relationships. Sonically, we wanted it to basically cover all of our musical bases. We have a reggae country song on there. We have a song that ends album called Tides that Justin is singing Hawaiian in. It’s a very acoustic album and all the songs have harmonies. What I love about it, and what we all love about it so much, is that we’re all singing lead on different songs. It gives the album a lot of different dynamics for the listener. I always say this, but I love it when we get to perform live because it’s like I get to watch a concert too because I get to hear these three beautiful voices singing as well. There’s just a lot of lot of different dynamics to it.

Jason: In addition to what (Colbie) said, there are a lot of different vibes from song-to-song, emotionally and sonically. I’m really excited about that. I don’t think we made a monotone record. Hopefully, it’s interesting and exciting to hear it because of the way that each song has its own sound while they all are tied together.

Gone West

Credit: Triple Tigers

You mentioned about playing live and obviously that’s not possible right now. When the world gets back to normal, can we expect to see you here in the UK?

Jason: For sure!

Nelly: Let’s see if we get invited (laughs).

I’m inviting you, right now…

Justin: well there you go…

Nelly: We’d love to!

Before we all went into lockdown earlier this year, you were touring with George Strait. What was that experience like?

Nelly: Well George Strait is like the King of Country music so it was definitely a huge surprise to all of us when we got that opportunity, just because we know how new we are. We felt really grateful and excited to get to open for him, especially in an arena in Vegas, which is wild. It was two nights in a row which is amazing. We got to settle in after the first night and felt a little bit more at home come night two. It was just really surreal getting to watch someone at that level play for two hours and he has just hit song after song after hit song, and it’s because he’s chosen great music to put out there into the world. Amarillo By Morning is my personal theme song because I’m from Amarillo, so I especially was freaking out when I got to hear that one live.

This lockdown must be quite frustrating for you all as creative people. How are you coping?

Justin: Some of us are introverts quite a bit so being at home is not too bad (laughs). Also nowadays with technology, a lot of us do a lot of our work from home. We both have home studios and we recorded most of the record at home. We’re all continuing to record stuff and write stuff so I think that’s one of the blessings of technology, that we’re all able to keep in touch and also able to be creative musically from quarantine (laughs).

Gone West’s new single Slow Down is out now and their debut album Canyons is released on 12th June 2020 through Triple Tigers. Watch the lyric video for Slow Down below:


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