Exclusive: Gone West discusses debut album “Canyons” + dynamic of transitioning from successful solo artists to bandmates

“We’re doing this because we love it and it means a lot when people acknowledge, that encourages us to continue.”

Gone West

Gone West entered the music scene in 2019 as a seasoned group of artists whose music captured the ears of thousands at the outset. Comprised of successful soloists the likes of Colbie Caillat, a two time Grammy winning and multi-platinum recording artist. Her long time collaborator and friend Jason Reeves, also a multi-platinum and Grammy award winning songwriter, as well as Hawaiian recording artist and band member for Caillat, Justin Kawika Young and Nelly Joy, former member of The JaneDear Girls and Academy of Country Music and CMT award nominee.

Their solo artistry brought each together in love, Colbie with Justin and Nelly with Jason. In time the relationships and musical ability birthed Gone West. “We were all blown away by the reception of our music,” the band told us when we sat down with them last week. “Our first single, ‘What Could’ve Been‘ was the most added by any new artist on country radio in 2019. That was another amazing thing that we’re incredibly grateful for.”

Just a few days ago the band released their debut album Canyons. They shared with The Feature Story about their transition as solo artists to a band, the whirlwind year they’ve had and how they are learning to adapt in this ever changing culture during the pandemic. “We hope our new album helps people feel better in this strange time. And we hope there are more ways to engage with everyone as time goes on.”

The Feature Story: Let’s start with the story of Gone West. You all started as solo artists, then couples, plus Colbie and Jason as long time co-writers/collaborators. How/when was the band conceived?

Gone West: Our story goes back 14 years. Jason and I met in 2005 and we wrote my first album Coco together. We’ve continued writing together all these years. We both met Justin in 2006 and were fans of his Hawaiian music. I asked Justin to join my band in 2007, we got to tour the world together all these years. Nelly and Jason met in 2009 in a writing session in Nashville while she was in her country band The JaneDear Girls. They were friends for a couple years and then fell in love and have been married for eight years now. We started Gone West almost 3 years ago. I always wanted to be in a band, it sounded more fun to me than being a solo artist, so trying it out with my friends sounded like a good idea!

TFS: Tell me more about your first year (+/-) as a band and the success you were met with almost immediately. Were you hoping for it to take off like that, or were you just focused on writing music together and seeing where it took you?

GW: We were all blown away by the reception of our music. We didn’t even have any recordings out when the Grand Ole Opry asked us to play there for our first show as Gone West. All we had released into the world was a live video of us playing our song “This Time” on a porch in Malibu, but they saw it and invited us to perform, which was overwhelming and an honor. From there our first single “What Could’ve Been” was the most added by any new artist on country radio in 2019. That was another amazing thing that we’re incredibly grateful for. Everyone we’ve played for and met on this journey to our album being released has been wonderful to us and we really appreciate that. We’re doing this because we love it and it means a lot when people acknowledge that, it encourages us to continue. 

TFS: You’ve all had success as solo artists, was it an adjustment to adapt to the band dynamic?

GW: We love to come together to push the boundaries creatively, putting together collaborative ideas and experiences is so rewarding. Sometimes some of the coolest pieces of art come from unlikely combinations

TFS: What were/are some of the struggles of going from a solo artist to a band?

GW: There’s a lot of compromise and learning from each other while being in a band. Like any partnership, not all parties are going to always agree on the same thing, so it’s been important for us as a band to incorporate all of our individual ideas and styles together so it truly feels like Gone West. 

TFS: Likewise, what are some of the rewards?

GW: It’s definitely not always easy to get four people to agree on everything. Creatively the differences can be useful in bringing out the best in each of us and it can help to make the music unique. We all have different musical tastes and influences we bring to the table. But like any relationship, it takes communication and compromise sometimes.

TFS: Let’s talk about ‘Canyons’ and how you wrote and finished it on the road.

GW: We were only about half way done with the album when we started a radio tour for our single, which was a wild adventure spanning most of last year. We were constantly flying in and out of town and having a day or two to rest and work on the music before we had to leave again. It was really tiring and distracting honestly, but it also presented a new challenge to us as artists. Since we recorded a lot of the record at our home studios we could just wake up and start laying things down in our sweatpants with our dogs hanging out. It was really cozy and fun and the small windows of creativity definitely inspired some of the production and the songwriting for the last few tracks. 

TFS: Was it difficult to complete an album in those circumstances, or as a band, was it easier to work as a team?

GW: Like the last answers says, flying in and out of Nashville so frequently definitely made it harder to focus and it stretched the writing and recording process out drastically. In the past we’ve made the album and then started radio and promo tour, but this situation was unique. The dynamic in the studio was really fun and collaborative and we were forced to take advantage or our down time when we had it. 

TFS: As a band there are two real components that drive music, the creative force of writing and producing music and then there is the energy from touring and performing it. With the COVID-19 pandemic and shut downs cancelling all performances indefinitely, how do you adapt as a newer band not being able to get out and perform in front of people?

GW: This virus has changed the whole world in so many ways. We’re all still learning how and where to go from here and it’s heartbreaking to us not to be able to perform live for our fans. We all love performing and it’s so fun on stage together, plus the energy from the crowd is so inspiring and amazing. We’ve been doing a lot of livestreams and live acoustic videos since March and we’ve all had to quickly learn and adapt to this new way of interacting with people. In some ways it’s amazing that we can play our songs for people from our houses, but in other ways we really miss the road and the real life connection that concerts provide. 

TFS: From your perspective, how has the music industry adapted to this challenge?

GW: This happened so quickly and unexpectedly that we’re all still trying to adapt and figure out new ways to connect with the listeners. Live shows are such a huge part of the music business, and there’s really no replacement for that yet. The good news is, because music is streamed so commonly now, releasing an album or a song isn’t really different. When people are stuck in their houses or having to socially distance, music is a really helpful thing. We hope our new album helps people feel better in this strange time. And we hope there are more ways to engage with everyone as time goes on. 

TFS: Any plans for virtual release events and concerts for the new album?

GW: We are doing some live streaming to celebrate the release of Canyons, as well as playing on live TV from our houses. We also just filmed an acoustic performance of some of the new songs from the album on an amazing lookout in the hills of Tennessee. Since virtual is the only option at this point, we’ll be finding creative ways to interact with everyone until we’re able to play shows again!

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