Colbie Caillat: Gone east and gone country with Gone West at CMA Fest

A conversation with Colbie Caillat, Justin Young, Jason Reeves, and Nelly Joy of the band Gone West at the CMA Fest on the new band, the new EP 'Tides,' their new single "What Could've Been," songwriting, producing, and what's next.

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So many of our followers know Colbie Caillat from her top hit songs “Bubbly,” “Fallin’ For You,” “Brighter Than The Sun,” and so many others, but let us introduce you to her new band Gone West that she formed last fall with her fiancé Justin Young, dear friend, and longtime collaborator and co-writer Jason Reeves, and his wife, Nelly Joy.

Leaving behind solo careers to join forces, these musicians have diverse backgrounds. Caillat is from Southern California and a two-time Grammy award winner, Young is originally from Hawaii and a four-time Hawaiian Music Award winner, Reeves is originally from Iowa before relocating to California in 2005 and has received numerous awards and is a certified Platinum and Grammy-nominated artist, and Joy is originally from Texas before relocating to Nashville and a Grammy, ACM, and CMT nominated artist.

Caillat is no stranger to Nashville having visited numerous times to work on collaborations with artists Brad Paisley, Liz Rose, and Taylor Swift, as well as to visit and work with Reeves and Joy, so for her and Justin to make the move to Nashville several years ago to start a new chapter in her life only seemed natural, and she tells us, “Honestly, it feels like home here.”

Signed by Triple Tiger Records earlier this year for the release of their EP Tides, the announcement stated: “The song and our band name, ‘Gone West,’ explains where the band came from,” said Young. “We’re all from west of Tennessee and when we’re not in Nashville, chances are we’ve gone west – back to Iowa, Texas, California or Hawaii. [The song, “Gone West,”] is about going to our significant other’s hometown and bringing them to Nashville. It’s autobiographical and our band’s theme song.”

gone west tides ep coverTheir music has been described as a “fresh harmony, breezy melody group whose myriad influences landed somewhere between Laurel Canyon, Texas roadhouses, Appalachia’s harmony and the plains of the Midwest.”

It was the band’s first time appearing at CMA Fest where they played on the Chevy Riverfront Stage on Sunday. We had a chance to sit down with them while at CMA Fest to discuss their new music, songwriting, and collaborating.

It’s so great to meet you and sit down to talk with you here at CMA Fest about your most recent project, Gone West. Your new band seems to be more family than a business; the chemistry is evident through music on the EP Tides and in the videos…but what drove you all to leave your successful solo careers to form Gone West? 

Colbie:  I think it was just something that naturally progressed. We’ve all been friends for 14 years, for such a long time, and we’ve all worked together in different formations, and so I think we were all ready to try something new. Justin and I had just moved to Nashville because of Jason and Nelly, and we did a tour together. It was four-part harmonies, and we had so much fun that we thought, “You know, let’s just try this.” It sounds so much fun to be in a band, and especially when it’s with your significant other and your best friends.

gone west band
Gone West at the Chevrolet Riverfront Stage on Sunday, June 9 during the 2019 CMA Music Festival in downtown Nashville. (c) 2019 Country Music Association, Inc.

I was going to ask how you ended up in Nashville. Jason, you and Nelly were already here, correct? 

Jason:  Yes, I came here to write songs, and the first trip that I came here, the first session that I got set up with, was with her [Nelly] and her band the JaneDear Girls, and it was part of the reason why I moved here. Well, a pretty large part because she’s an incredible person, and we just wrote a lot of music together and were friends for a long time. Then eventually, we fell in love and got married. She’s been here for 14 years, I’ve been here for 10, and it was because of us, I guess, that they [Colbie and Justin] decided to move here. And we’ve been having a lot of fun. We’ve got some great friends and really talented people that we know that we make music with and just hang out with, and it’s been really fun.

So the move to Nashville for you two has come pretty naturally, and everyone in Nashville has been welcoming? 

Colbie:  Yeah, it really was. You know, I’ve only lived in California my whole life. Justin’s from Hawaii but lived in California, and so for us, this was just a completely different transition to move out of state. And because we had our friends here and because we’d been coming here to visit them and meeting their friends and meeting the musicians and writing with people, it really felt like a natural place to go. And we really felt welcomed, and honestly, it feels like home here.

…the music wouldn’t be what it is if one of us wasn’t in the band. It’s a true collaboration.

As far as the way you all collaborate, and I know you’ve been writing together for a long time, but I’d like to know, now as a group, how you all collaborate on your music. Is there a dominant person? Plus, I know you all come from different parts of the country; how does that blend into your music? 

Justin:  Well, as far as writing, yeah, we all have sort of different approaches. These two [Jason and Nelly] are so fast with their ideas. I feel like Colbie and I are the slower ones, but it kind of balances out in the session because they’ll be firing out all these great ideas and then we’ll kind of help narrow it down. Then once we get rolling, we’re kind of able to help bring it on home. And it’s a fun process because we keep writing until we’re all happy with it, which sometimes takes more than one session. Sometimes it takes weeks and if there’s something we love about a song we’ll keep working until we love the whole thing and we all agree on it.

And our backgrounds are all unique, but they have similarities. Nelly’s got a great background in country music. She loves pop melodies, and she brings that to the table. You know, Jason’s a wonderful singer-songwriter and his guitar playing is really unique and his voice. Colbie’s ‘70s rock history with Fleetwood Mac and her dad is something that she brings. And Hawaiian music has a lot of things in common with country as well.

So I think, you know, the music wouldn’t be what it is if one of us wasn’t in the band. It’s a true collaboration.

Nelly:  What I love about it, too, is that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. I think we fill in the blanks for one another and help each other out. Also, some days are different than others. I might run into a wall being half asleep, you know, and then that day someone else is firing away. So every day is different.

“Gone West” is one of my favorite songs on the EP because that started with an idea that Justin had on his own and then each verse, we wrote by ourselves, so that’s really cool and unique on the collaborative experience. Usually, we write together, but that one was like “write a love letter for your person, by yourself, and show it to them.” Hopefully, they like it. That was probably my most favorite when writing a song.

When I listen to the songs on Tides, I hear what I would call country/folk with a little bit of pop, more so in “Confetti.” 

Nelly:  That idea was actually Justin’s idea.

Justin:  You wrote a lot of the melodies in “Confetti.”

Nelly:  I don’t remember.

Justin:  All those little catchy hooks and stuff.

I loved it. You have a new song releasing “What Could’ve Been.” Tell us about that one. 

Colbie:  So it’s coming out tonight at midnight, which is really cool. We wrote the song two months ago. It was one of those songs that, you know, we’d been writing for a couple of years, but some sessions take longer like he [Jason] said. We won’t finish it that day, or it’ll take us a couple of weeks, and sometimes it’s hard to figure out who sings what lead or what harmony and it just takes some experimenting. But with this song, “What Could’ve Been,” we wrote it so naturally fast in the room and then when it came to singing it that evening, we just knew what parts we were gonna do, who was singing what; it just fell into place, and it’s such a fun song for us to sing.

We wrote it, and a couple of weeks later we went and played some shows. We had our first show in New York and then we had a show in LA and when we started playing it for people and the reaction that we got was just something that we had to follow because it was a brand new song and we didn’t know what people were going to think about it. But it felt so special in the room singing it together and what the audience was saying. So that was the reason we chose it as our single.


So tell me about the recording of the EP and the new song? How does the band approach the recording process? From what I understand you all four produced and/or co-produced, and some of it was recording at home studios and then some at Ocean Way Recording? How long was the process? 

Nelly:  I’d say it was six to nine months, you know if you really break it down. It was a lot of fun because there was no pressure or timeline or deadline. We made it before we had a record deal or anything like that, so we would literally go back and forth between each other’s homes because we both have home studios and whichever house we felt like going to that day, we’d collaborate at that home–and then Ocean Way was incredible. We got to have some amazing musicians come in and play and add some country flavor.

Justin:  We spent a day in Ocean Way and then six months figuring out what the song should sound like after that. I mean, it was a fun process to be able to do that in our pajamas and be comfortable and take the time to go like, “let’s try all these things,” and then decide which way it should go so we’re actually giving each song it’s best chance to be its best self.

So you did have other musicians come in and play on it? 

Nelly:  On a couple of things, but these boys each played a lot of the parts, which is what I love because it has unique piano parts or guitar riffs that other people wouldn’t necessarily play and it makes it special. We did have a couple of our friends come in and play some other parts as well.

What kind of instruments did you play? Because I read something about the steel guitar.

Justin:  I don’t play the steel guitar. I grew up listening to music where it was a major focus of it, but we love it for this music. So we’re featuring it quite a bit. And we had a local, national musician, Justin Shipley, play the steel guitar. But I play guitar and piano and so did Jason. Nelly played guitar on some stuff, too. We did a lot of the programming and stuff like that.

Nelly:  And then on “Confetti,” Eric Arjes played a lot of the mandolin and acoustic, he was co-producer on that song and then on “What Could’ve Been,” Jamie Kinney, we’re producing that song and he did a lot. He played bass, he played drums, he did piano, too.

Justin:  We used a lot of Nashville musicians. I mean, I think it’s important to have that sound of the city infused in the record, but we also wanted to sound like us.

How often do you get back to the West Coast?

Colbie:  Well, we used to get back a lot more. We’ve been so busy since this year started. We just had a show there in LA at the Troubadour, which was really fun, but otherwise, I don’t know when we’re getting back out there. We’re just touring all summer, so that’s our focus for now, which we’re excited about since it’s taken a while to make the music and now that it’s out, we get to go start playing live for fans.

Jason:  The good news about the West Coast and at least, LA, is we had to go there I think three times already just for promo for this project. So although we don’t get to go there to just hang out or spend time with our friends, we do get to at least go there semi-frequently. So it’s not as bad as it could be.

Gone West perform at the Chevrolet Riverfront Stage on Sunday, June 9 during the 2019 CMA Music Festival in downtown Nashville. (c) 2019 Country Music Association, Inc.

For each of you, who have been some of your musical influences? 

Justin:  Well, there’s a lot of Hawaii artists. Fiji and Gabby Pahinui and then I started listening to Boyz II Men, Stevie Wonder, and Donny Hathaway.

Colbie: I think my main influences were Lauren Hill; she made me want to be a singer. Bob Marley, I just like the feel of his music, Fleetwood Mac, and all classic rock, just the organic, bright, acoustic guitars; that’s what I was raised on and helped shape the music I wanted to create.

Jason:  Well, I have a lot of people who have inspired me, but the two main people that made me want to write music are Bob Dylan and James Taylor. They also really made me want to play guitar, as well, and so I kind of started doing both of those things at the same time when I discovered their music. But there’s so many more — every genre.

Nelly:  When I was really little, it was the Beatles and the Judds, and then as I got older, I would say Coldplay and Keith Urban.

I think it’s just important to have a well-rounded base of knowledge for the music industry in the creative side as well the business side because all of it comes together.

Since we’re all about encouraging young girls who want to play guitar just to do it and not be afraid, any advice you would like to share?

Nelly:  Well, these days you have the internet, which is a powerful tool, and so I would say, if there’s a song that you love, start with that and find it online. There’s gonna be a tutorial somewhere; someone teaching you how to play the chords, how to strum with it, and that’s how I actually kind of learned–trying to learn songs that I loved.

Colbie:  Yeah, I think just practice as much as you can and learn as many instruments as you want. Piano and guitar are very important. Take vocal lessons. I think it’s just important to have a well-rounded base of knowledge for the music industry in the creative side as well the business side because all of it comes together and you need all those tools when you’re out there touring and making music.

Nelly:  I had someone encourage me one time when I first moved to town. I don’t even remember who it was; they were like “if you really want to get great at guitar, you should learn all the Beatles songs. Go buy a Beatles chord book.” And I kind of went down a rabbit hole for six months. They use some really weird chords that are really super cool. I don’t remember how to play most of them, but it was a really great exercise. Just to learn how to use your fingers in a way that aren’t comfortable because as a girl, my hands are pretty small. So I loved that challenge, and I would say that would be a great challenge for any female that’s willing to really push the limits and learn some chords that maybe they don’t know.

Jason:  I’d say don’t get discouraged because it’s hard for anyone who’s starting out. I think a lot of people just think, “oh, I can’t do it.” Any gender, because I’ve felt the same way at times. My hands aren’t made to do this or whatever.

Colbie:  It hurts your fingers…

Jason:  It’s hard for everyone in the beginning. And I would also say pick a song that you love because I think you’ll be more excited as you’re learning something that you love to play it. And I’ll say there’s no excuse. We know a guy with no arms that plays guitar with his feet.

Nelly:  Yep, we do. His name’s George.

Jason:  So if you ever think that you have limitations physically to play a guitar, you have no excuse.

Jason:  He plays it really well, too, with his toes.

Wow. Okay, well what’s next for you guys? You’re going out on tour and just promoting your music? 

Nelly:  Finishing radio tour up first, because our single actually hits the radio mid-July, and then starting our tour.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us and enjoy CMA Fest! Good luck on your tour.


Tides Track List:
1. “Gone West” (Colbie Caillat, Justin Kawika Young, Danelle Reeves, Jason Reeves)
2. “Home Is Where The Heartbreak Is” (Colbie Caillat, Justin Kawika Young, Danelle Reeves, Jason Reeves, Liz Rose)
3. “Confetti” (Colbie Caillat, Justin Kawika Young, Danelle Reeves, Jason Reeves, Eric Arjes)
4. “This Time” (Colbie Caillat, Justin Kawika Young, Danelle Reeves, Jason Reeves, Tom Douglas)


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