Gone West

A musical conspiracy

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

No matter how you measure these things, Colbie Caillat is musical royalty. Her lineage might not be as instantly recognizable as a musician who has a last name like Dylan (see also: Bob, Jakob), Iglesias (Julio, Enrique), or Marley (Bob, Ziggy), but don’t let that fool you. Colbie’s father is Ken Caillat, who helped produce Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Tusk, and Mirage, and had a hand in a staggering number of iconic albums.

Whether by nature or nurture—or a bit of both—Colbie inherited some of his musical sensibilities, but it wasn’t until she was 11 years old and listening to Lauryn Hill that she found inspiration to match her musical abilities. Fast-forward a decade or so, and Colbie learned to play acoustic guitar, recorded and uploaded her songs to MySpace, developed an online following, washed out of a couple of American Idol auditions, and became the number-one unsigned artist on MySpace.

The only thing to do at that point was record an album, and when Coco was released in 2007, it set the up-and-coming pop star apart from her contemporaries almost immediately.

If you took a cursory glance in Caillat’s direction at that time, it might’ve been easy to dismiss her as just one more of a type. With her Malibu upbringing, blonde mane, sunny smile, sweet voice and feel-good songs, she certainly seemed to fit neatly into a particular pop pigeonhole. Except for one thing: Her breakout hit, “Bubbly,” was written by her. So was its follow-up, “Realize.” Indeed, every track of her multiplatinum debut was written by her. She wasn’t just another prepackaged pop princess on her way up; Colbie was the real deal.

She followed her breakthrough album with an album titled Breakthrough, which debut at the top of the Billboard chart, spawned the hit “Fallin’ for You,” which itself spawned a video starring Saturday Night Live album Bobby Moynihan as her love interest, and earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Vocal Album, which she didn’t win, but she did get a Grammy that year, for “Lucky,” her collaboration with Jason Mraz (incidentally, at the same time Caillat won for “Lucky,” she lost in the same category for “Breathe,” a song she wrote and performed with Taylor Swift).

While Caillat has always been the driving songwriting force behind her own music, she definitely gets by with some help from her friends, namely Jason Reeves, who has been collaborating with Caillat since her Coco days.

Initially, when Reeves left his home in Iowa to head to California, it was supposed to be a short visit for the singer/songwriter, a surgical strike to record some demos with California producer Mikal Blue, who was also instrumental in Caillat’s development as an artist. However, then Reeves met Caillat, and nothing would ever be the same for either of them. A creative spark was ignited between the boy from Iowa City and the sun-kissed Malibu girl, and it was one that would not only cause him to relocate to California, but also saw him living with Caillat’s parents until he got himself acclimated and established. Reeves repaid that hospitality by helping Caillat pen some of the most memorable songs of her career.

But after the multiplatinum albums, the hit songs, winning a Grammy, being in heavy rotation on radio and MTV, and, of course, exponential growth of that MySpace fame—in other words, after Caillat had done and won it all, where would she go next?

Taking a big leap forward in time—past several more hit songs, including the female-empowerment ballad “Try,” featuring a moving video in which several of her famous friends appear sans makeup—when it came time for Caillat to make her next big move, she decided to go country.

But she wouldn’t be storming the streets of Nashville alone—she’d do it with Reeves, her favorite musical coconspirator, as well as her fiancé Justin Young and Reeves’ wife Nelly Joy. Given that both Young and Joy are respected musicians in their own right, and the quartet had already done a touring stint together supporting Caillat’s The Malibu Sessions, continuing the four-way partnership was simply following a course easily charted.

They dubbed their band Gone West, and lest you think this is Caillat’s band because hers is the most recognizable name, one listen will dispel that notion. Gone West is a true ensemble, with each member trading off lead vocals, all of them playing instruments and harmonizing, hallmarked by strong songwriting and with no piece greater than the sum of the whole. Given their pedigree—and Caillat’s status as musical royalty, of course—it should come as no surprise that the band’s debut was polished, self-assured—and onstage at the Grand Ole Opry, which is both an enormous honor as well as a pressure-packed make-or-break moment.

That the two couples and four industry veterans made the most of that auspicious debut goes without saying, and now they’re making the most of touring, hitting the road for a stint that will bring them to the Skagit Casino Resort for a pair of concerts on Fri. and Sat., Feb. 21-22 in the expansive Pacific Showroom. At press time, only scant seats were left for both shows, so you’ll need to act fast in order to see Gone West before they’re just plain gone.

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