FAMILY. MUSIC. LOVE.
“We are doing what we can with our resources today to contribute to the causes we love... As those resources grow, the potential to be generous grows.”
The History of GUMBO
“The best way to describe our sound is ‘Gumbo,’” Emma Calvillo, youngest of the L.A. based sister-trio said. “Growing up in L.A., we had access to a lot of really different styles of music. Each style that we’ve interacted with has influenced how we sing, write, and arrange. It’s hard to find one stream to be defined within. The most fitting term is Gumbo—everything has inspired us.”
The Calvillos had a truly musical upbringing, with professional musicians on both sides of the family. Family gatherings were always big jam sessions, which provided many opportunities for the girls to sing.
“Yeah, when we were really young our dad bought us a karaoke machine and the tracks he brought home were all driven by soulful, powerhouse vocalists: Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston…the list goes on,” says Angelique Calvillo, middle of the three. “Our parents built a studio in our backyard, so we literally grew up in a studio!”
“Our mom really taught us how to sing in harmony,” Dominique Calvillo, the oldest, added. “We spent a lot of time with her really nailing parts down and nit-picking; that’s how we started arranging. When we felt more confident, we kicked Mom and Dad out of our rehearsals, but they influenced us greatly.”
“Every year on Father’s Day, Dad would say, ‘Do you girls still want to be singers?’” Dominique said. “And we’d all say, ‘Yes, Daddy.’ He’d make us sign a contract saying that we’d practice an hour each day, which might sound awful to some, but it was the way we played together. Hanging out in studios and arranging songs was like our family’s version of a soccer obsession. Our parents believed in us and supported our musicality. If they saw we have a plan and were working towards it, they supported us all the way, and they still do.”
Another huge influence in the girls’ sound was the church they grew up in, Christian Assembly, Eagle Rock, CA. Many talented musicians attended the church, including the McCrary family. The McCrarys were the first people to work on an original project with the sisters when the girls were only 12, 10, and 8 years old.
“The McCrarys instilled in us a love for gospel music, and taught us how to sing with soul,” Emma said.
Christian Assembly also introduced the sisters to vocal producer, Kuk Harrell. In 2008, the Calvillos signed with Kuk’s family team, RedZone Entertainment and worked with the production team for about 5 years. Through their relationship with RedZone the girls signed their first record deal with Interscope Records.
“Emma was only 14 when we signed that contract,” Angelique said. “We couldn’t really articulate who we wanted to be as artists.”
“And there were some things didn’t line up,” Dominque added. “Here we were these three skinny white girls singing these deep R&B or urban tracks…no one seemed to know how to pair our sound with who we are visually.”
About 4 years into their relationship with RedZone, the Calvillos brought Joe Simpson on as a manager. Kuk and Joe’s goal was to find the sisters the right songs to best capture their big voices.
“We were all sitting in a meeting listening through potential songs, when Joe started playing one of the artists he had previously managed. The production was like nothing we’d ever heard before and we became determined to work with whoever had created this music. Enter Davix, who we’ve been creating with ever since,” says Angelique, “We spent most of 2012 driving back and forth to Santa Monica to write the music we now call Gumbo. It was the first time we felt we could really explore who we were with no limits.”
The girls’ new sound was gaining some attention in Nashville, and after their relationship ended with Joe, they decided to make the move across the country to pursue new opportunities.
“Nashville was attractive because there is a lot of true talent in that town. They value family and they have a soulful side as well,” Angelique said. “We thought Nashville might be a way to channel our soul in a more marketable way.”
“The project was great! The final product was a mix of the Appalachian, mountain, earthy, gospel sides of country,” Emma said. “We loved working with Marcus, but the labels in Nashville didn’t quite get the direction of the project.”
Finishing Calvillo Nation brought the group to a turning point. Having hit a wall with the labels that were interested, and uncertain about entering another label deal, the girls were searching for a new approach.
“That’s when Dom had an epiphany about working with Davix again,” Angelique said.
Dominique followed, “I was sitting at Starbucks having a mental breakdown about the walls we were hitting, and I heard God say ‘get Davix to Nashville to work on a project.’ So we spent ten days with Davix, creating music in our tiny apartment. That was the beginning of Ziklag.
“Over the course of those ten days, we started asking ourselves what kind of music do we really want to do, regardless of what a label would say,” Angelique added. “The three of us would each go to our day jobs and then come home at odd times and make music with Davix.”
The group’s time with Davix in Nashville led to their return to L.A. in 2016.
I’m so glad I’m not doing this by myself.
“I never would,” Emma said. “Sometimes it’s really hard to make a team work, but most of the time when we are all doing what we’re best at, amazing things happen!”
The Calvillos play to their individual strengths to manage the mechanics of making music for a living. Angelique, who has a Bachelor of Science degree in music production, is the group’s producer.
“If there is a hashing out, it’s between me and Davix. When it comes to getting the musical details to work out, the girls trust my direction,” Angelique says. “Visually, we refer to Dom.”
“Yes, I take on the creative direction. I think about Instagram filters, putting outfits together, and anything that needs imaging,” Dominique said.
“I do all the boring stuff, like booking shows, finances, keeping everything streamlined,” Emma said. “But it’s cool because with our various strengths we can still be productive as a team even if just one of us is present.”
Musically, the girls have their differences as well. Emma tends to be more urban or edgy. Angelique goes for cinematic themes, and Dominique brings a jazz influence. “It can get a little tough to balance three different people’s opinions with what we each want, but that’s what makes the Gumbo flavorful,” Emma said.
The Mission Behind the Music
“The real reason we’re in this business is to build a platform to give resources and a voice to those who don’t have them,” says Emma, who is passionate about the homeless population in L.A. and regularly works on L.A.’s Skid Row. “We are trying to use our music to speak up about social issues because we know you can make a difference when you have influence on youth culture.”
Dominique and Angelique have made changing the tide on human sex trafficking a focus. Dominique has traveled to be with women in Cambodia, Thailand, and India, teaching them skills they can use to make money, such as how to cut and color hair, and how create a sustainable living with hand made goods.
Dominique also has an organization called Namaste & Crochet. “Deep in my soul, I’m a little old grandma,” she says. “I’ve always loved to knit and crochet, but the reason Namaste & Crochet grew into what it is was because I needed a way to cope with anxiety; I experienced some really traumatic things in my travels. When I moved to Nashville, I brought a suitcase full of tangled yarn. I sat for two weeks and untangled yarn and then made a blanket. Then I began designing dresses. My dream is to create fair trade sustainable business in Mexico, and Africa. Right now, there is this niche form of slave labor where women who crochet for a living, get paid nothing. I want to see them get paid a fair wage, so I want to teach them my dress designs. At the moment, I’m trying to tap into the right market to make that dream come true.”
Angelique teaches music to women who have survived sex trafficking.
“We want to bring freedom for both girls and boys that suffer because of trafficking,” Angelique said. “Not only that, but negative body image across the board is a serious struggle in western culture. That’s what The Body Journal is all about: people loving themselves.”
The Body Journal is a blog that Angelique created which features stories from people of all shapes, sizes, and experiences about what it is to inhabit and love their own bodies.
“We are doing what we can with our resources today to contribute to the causes we love,” Emma said. “As those resources grow, the potential to be generous grows.”