On the surface, the members of Gone West might seem like an unlikely lineup. The four bandmates come four different corners of the musical map: Colbie Caillat rose to fame as a folk-pop singer-songwriter who won her first fans on social media, Nelly Joy came of age in Nashville as a member of country duo the JaneDear Girls, Jason Reeves honed his musical chops as a songwriter in LA and Justin Young has several albums under his belt as a recording artist in his native Hawaii.
Still, the four artists have more in common than meets the eye — and not just because they’re a band composed of two couples (Joy and Reeves are married, while Caillat and Young are engaged.) The first time they sang together, during a tour in support of Caillat’s 2016 album The Malibu Sessions, the band tells Country Now that the collaboration immediately made sense.
“It felt magical, and honestly, like we’d been singing together for years,” the group explains. “Each voice is so uniquely different when it’s by itself that you wouldn’t necessarily expect them to blend. But it’s quite the opposite. There’s times when we are singing that it blends to the point of sounding like one.”
The immediate vocal chemistry made it easy for Gone West to start working together without initially thinking too much about their different musical backgrounds. “All we knew is that we loved making music together, and there is power in numbers,” they explain. “Since the inception of our band, it has been a wonderful journey to embrace each other’s ‘unique talents’ and combine them together to form an amazing team. It’s been really cool to see how we all have different strengths and weaknesses allowing us to help each other as we progress.”
At least in a geographical sense, Joy is the closest of the four bandmates to home in the country genre. “I am so grateful for my first country career in the JaneDear Girls. I learned so many wonderful things from being in a band with [duo member] Susie [Brown],” she notes. “Most importantly, she taught me how to be a better stage performer. And challenged me to rock out onstage!”
During their early-2010s heyday, the JaneDear Girls netted ACM Awards nominations and Top 20 airplay — but one of the best part of returning to country music, Joy adds, has been getting back in touch with some familiar faces. “It’s been so fun to reconnect with my old fans and relationships that were cultivated on country radio tour,” she says.
While the band benefits from Joy’s ease in the genre, Gone West is equally informed by Justin Young’s perspective on country music as a Hawaiian artist. In fact, Young says that the two styles of music have quite a bit in common.
“[There are] many similarities between the two. Humble music from people telling stories about life, and often inspired by the natural beauty of the places around them,” he relates, pointing out: “They’re both driven by acoustic instruments, and the steel guitar actually came from Hawaii to country music.”
Beyond the diverse stories that led each bandmate to Gone West, the group says their music benefits simply from having more ears to please before it ever sees the light of day. “We love to challenge each other to make sure each song is as great as it can be. That’s a lot of people to please, which leads to a high bar of expectations! Luckily we love the challenge,” the group jokes. Their recent single, “What Could’ve Been,” checked all the band’s boxes, and then some: Most importantly, it highlighted the vocal harmony that has been the key to their synergy as a band ever since their first performances.
Plus, “What Could’ve Been” is a breakup ballad. Not much heartache goes on in the personal lives of a band comprised of two long-term couples, but the members of Gone West still love digging into the sadder stuff from a musical standpoint. “We do love a good heartbreak song,” the band adds.
The band is at work on the follow-up to their 2019 EP, Tides, and they promise more heartache ahead — among other things. “As well as other songs about friendships, life and this amazing journey we’re on,” says Gone West. “One of our favorite moments to come on the EP is a reggae country song!” After all, the group itself is an unexpected — but unexpectedly apt — collaboration. It’s only fitting that their songs should be, too.