In nature, canyons occur when rivers cut through sedimentary, wearing away at the rock over time to form deep gorges. Much like the natural phenomenon, Gone West’s debut album Canyons captures the ebbs and flows of life that shape us over time.
For the country band founded in 2018 by singer-songwriters Colbie Caillat, Jason Reeves, Nelly Joy and Justin Young, those rivets are shaped by heartbreak that leads to renewal. Though the foursome have been friends for 15 years, the idea to join forces as a group came to fruition while traveling across the country as part of Caillat’s band on her 2017 The Malibu Sessions Acoustic Tour. The four friends sat down for a songwriting session after the tour, one of the first songs they wrote being “When to Say Goodbye,” solidifying the creative chemistry that existed between them. “It established the foundation of the music that we created together and that was the sound that we wanted to represent the four of us,” Caillat tells Sounds Like Nashville in a phone interview about the song that became Canyons’ reflective fourth track. “It definitely was a big part of the catalyst for Gone West,” adds Young.
Heartbreak is a consistent theme across the album’s 13 offerings. Many of the songs were pulled from the stories of the band mates’ friends, such as “Home is Where the Heartbreak Is,” inspired by one of Caillat’s best friends who were experiencing marital difficulties, while “I’m Never Getting Over You” is a haunting ballad told from the perspective of a person in mourning over a love that’s ending. But they also know how to add flair to sorrow, exhibited by “Knew You,” a country reggae number that bids farewell to a dissolved friendship between the band and a pair of mutual friends. “We all like writing songs that speak of that,” Caillat expresses of heartbreak. “It makes people feel like they’re not alone and it helps us know that we’re not alone going through it.”
While Caillat and Young remark that “Knew You” is the band’s most personal song, “This Time” finds them at their most vulnerable. Written in the aftermath of the horrific mass shooting at the 2017 Route 91 Harvest Festival that claimed the lives of 59 country music fans, in addition to the passing of Tom Petty, the band sat down with Tom Douglas to pour their hearts out on to the page, channeling their pain into soothing harmonies and lyrics that speak of cherishing the moment. “We were all feeling like everything is temporary and fragile; that we need to remember more often to spend time with the ones we love and to share our thoughts with the ones that we love because you don’t know if you’re going to get a next time,” Caillat professes.
The song’s message is as timely now as it was the day it was written. On May 25, a 46-year-old black man, George Floyd, died after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes during an arrest. Floyd’s death has sparked protests around the world as people flood the streets marching in support for Black Lives Matter and calling for an end to police brutality and systemic racism. Young believes that taking action is a powerful way to turn anguish into purpose, a sentiment reflected in “This Time.” “In that moment of darkness that we were writing, we decided rather than write about that [darkness], think about what is the other side of that and what can we do to not make this dark moment go for nothing,” Young explains of the group’s intent behind the song. “The best thing you can really do is use it to inform the way that you live and live in a better way going forward. I think this is an opportunity again for all of us to do that.”
Where the album truly ties together is in its closing statement, “Tides.” The breezy tune is a beam of light on the project, offering a sense of reassurance that despite the unpredictability of life, riding the waves of time will lead one where they’re meant to be. The song’s meaning connects to the album’s title, Young recalling driving through the canyons in Los Angeles that prompted Joy to point out the jagged rocks that contrast with the luscious greenery, serving as a metaphor for life. “‘Tides’ really is the thesis statement of the ups and downs of life and being able to ride them without resisting them,” Young observes. “It’s filled with ups and downs and highs and lows, and we often look to nature and see that as well and try to be just as accepting and know that those things are part of life naturally and in our inner lives and all around us.”
Canyons is available now.