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GONE WEST: WE FELT LIKE WE WERE BLESSED INTO COUNTRY MUSIC
7/3/19

By Holly Gleason

Before Gone West had any notion of scoring a record deal, they got invited to play the Grand Ole Opry. A YouTube clip of a song the friends had written on their iPhones for fun had caught someone’s eye—and they figured, “Why not?”

“I remember thinking, ‘Don’t mess this up,’ because it was a live radio show,” remembers multiple Grammy winner Colbie Caillat on one of country music’s true rites of passage. What started out of friendship—and the need to do an acoustic tour behind her Malibu Sessions—took the breezy group to the mother church of country music.

“There’s something about that stage,” says multi-instrumentalist Justin Kawika Young, himself a four-time Hawaiian Music Awards winner. “It sounds amazing, and you can feel the history, almost a vibration to it. You never know how those things will go, but when we walked off that stage, everything was different. We felt like we were blessed into country music.”

It didn’t hurt that two-time Country Music Association Song of the Year writer Liz Rose and Rita Wilson were in the wings cheering them on, or that Country Music Hall of Famer Ronnie Milsap, listening in Roy Acuff’s dressing room, proclaimed, “Now, that’s smooth.”

Suddenly the playing-for-fun, writing-for-each-other collective that also included frequent Caillat co-writer and Latin Grammy nominee Jason Reeves and his wife, Academy of Country Music nominee Nelly Joy, had a momentum they’d never intended. But along with the buzz came a new approach to being artists.

“We realized how much fun touring could be when you have your best friends and significant other—and dogs—on the road and onstage with you,” says Caillat. They doubled down. Signature song “Gone West” was a perfect introduction to the far-flung quartet, who brought sweeping harmonies, a country backbeat and pop effervescence to their own Laurel Canyon-meets-Lone Star beer-joint aesthetic.

“We all come from different places, so we all relate to country music differently,” Joy explains.

Reeves picks up, “We weren’t trying to be country, we were working in the spirit of what country is, what it represents.”

Whether it’s the celebratory breakup tune “Confetti,” which reminds us to live in the moment; the sweeping, Byrds-y “Gone West,” which passes through every place the quartet hails from; or the longing, grown-up, Tammy Wynette-evoking truth of “Home Is Where the Heartache Is,” Gone West has crafted a hybrid that sparkles and pulls listeners in.

And then there’s “This Time,” with its payoff, “Yesterday is Superman’s kryptonite.” Written with Songwriters Hall of Famer Tom Douglas, “This Time” catalogs the things in life that matter, including the Tom Petty concert they missed thinking they could always see him the next time. It was a watershed writing appointment for the friends.

“The idea he’d write with us before we had anything going on,” Reeves says, “was amazing.”

“He really validated us as a band,” Caillat agrees. “He gave us this pep talk, telling us that we need to follow through on this band, with what we were doing. As a legendary songwriter and incredible human being, it really hit all of us.”

Young adds, “We were all out on tour, writing and playing together, because that’s what we do. It was organic and fun, and we didn’t really think about it. Then suddenly, Tom Douglas says that—”

“—and we walked out thinking about this very differently,” Joy concludes. “It was right after Route 91 and the Vegas shootings; Tom Petty had died—and we had tickets but didn’t go. It all came together in the song, but I think in our hearts, we suddenly knew this is what we were meant to do.”

Intimate and moody, yet bright, “What Could’ve Been” is a lush blended cocktail of desire, regret, curiosity and revelation. Bringing a Pacific Ocean vibe to Country radio, Gone West have created the perfect balance between grown-up emotion, learning from mistakes and an impassioned sense of discovery.

“With the four of us in a room, there are so many viewpoints,” Joy says. “We’ve either gone through it or watched friends do all these things. Sooner or later, everyone’s been somewhere along the way, and that’s what we want these songs to be.”