Colbie Caillat seems to have this pop-star thing backward.
People are supposed to start in groups. Then – full of success or full of themselves – they go solo.
But after a decade solo, Caillat has now become one-fourth of Gone West.
“It’s fun,” she said. “Now I’m out there with my best friends.”
Last October was their Grand Ole Opry debut; coming is the July 4 mega-concert in Washington, D.C.
There, the quartet will be backed by the National Orchestra; “they’ve arranged our song for like a 90-piece group,” said Justin Kawika Young. It shares a bill with stars of gospel (Yolanda Adams), country (Lee Brice), R&B (The O’Jays), pop (Carole King) and Broadway (Vanessa Williams, Laura Osnes),
This should be an imposing experience – live on PBS, with a crowd estimated at 300,000 to 500,000. But they’ve already seen scary times, such as:
— Back in 2011, when Caillat sang at the Easter egg hunt on the White House lawn. “President Obama could tell we were nervous,” said Young, then her guitarist and now her bandmate and fiancee. “He said, ‘I know it’s a hard act, to follow the Easter Bunny.’”
— The early “American Idol” days. Caillat says people “slept in tents outside, waiting to audition.”
She was rejected; she returned another year and auditioned for producers, daring to do an original song … and was rejected again. “I understand it, because I was nervous …. I wasn’t ready.”
Now the solace: That song, “Bubbly,” went on to be part of the pop ozone. People seem to hear it everywhere – on the radio, in malls … and on “Idol,” where Caillat finally sang it last year.
She’s not sure how the song first popped up. She was in her bedroom (as teens often are). A friend had borrowed the guitar and changed the tuning; “I didn’t know how to change it back.”
Then the song came to her, including that persistent phrase:
“It starts in my toes, and I crinkle my nose,
Where ever it goes I always know;
That you make me smile, please, stay for a while
Just take your time where ever you go.”
Showing up on MySpace, the song made Caillat the nation’s No. 1 unsigned artist. Once she was signed, it reached No. 5 and pushed her first album to two million sales.
More followed; over the past dozen years, she’s sold six million albums and 10 million singles. She’s toured, with Young as her guitarist. “Two-and-a-half years later, we fell in love,” she said.
Both had blue-sky childhoods, but in different circumstances. Caillat, 34, had a Malibu life, with a dad who co-produced, among other things, two Fleetwood Mac albums; Young, 41, grew up in Hawaii, where his mother was a school principal.
“I had a very authentic life there,” he said. “It was a small house, you could hear the neighbors flush the toilet, but you could step outside and walk to the ocean.”
He had 11 singles reach No. 1 on the Hawaiian-music chart, but also worked with Mainland singers and mainstream music. Last year, Gone West was created with Young, Caillat, Jason Reeves (her longtime collaborator) and Nelly Joy (Reeves’ wife).
They have a crossover sound that leans toward country – which Young finds logical. “There’s a lot of steel guitar in country,” he said. “And that came from Hawaii.”
Besides, they already have the approval of another Hawaiian (Obama) and, perhaps, the Easter Bunny.
— “A Capitol Fourh,” 8 p.m. Thursday, PBS; rerunning at 10.
— Music by Carole King and the Broadway cast of “Beautiful,” plus Vanessa Williams, Yolanda Adams, Lee Brice, Lindsay Stirling, Laura Osnes, Gone West and the O’Jays. Also, Angelica Hale from “America’s Got Talent,” plus the “Voice” and “Idol” champions (Maelyn Jarmon, Laine Hardy).