Internationally-renowned South African rock band Tree63 will independently release its seventh full-lengthalbum, Land, on Sept. 11 through The Fuel Music distribution. On hiatus since 2008, the band re-formedfollowing the enthusiastic reception received at a series of reunion events last year in South Africa.Inspired again by fans that participated in a successful Kickstarter campaign for the album earlier thisyear, Tree63's new 12-song recording reflects the natural evolution and progression of the original trioconsisting of John Ellis (vocals and guitar), Darryl Swart (drums) and Daniel Ornellas (bass).
Hallels: Thank you for doing this interview with us. In 2008 you took a hiatus, what prompted all of you to get back together for this new record?
John Ellis: Tree63 quietly bowed out with virtually no fanfare at the end of 2008. I just was burned out after years and years of touring the world, based out of Nashville, and I decided to take a kind of sabbatical and move back home with my family to my hometown of Durban, South Africa, in late 2007. After years of solo projects and producing other people, I started thinking about Tree63 and the legacy of our music. In 2013 I had the idea of doing some shows with Darryl and Daniel in South Africa as a way of formally acknowledging Tree63's legacy. I meant it to be a bit of closure for the band that had never officially 'broken up,' but instead it started a whole new chapter, and here we are in 2015 with our first new album since 2007's "Sunday."
Hallels: Why did you call this new album "Land"?
John Ellis: It's 'Land' as in 'Land ahoy!' - that relieved sense of having reached a destination. It's a weary 'land ahoy,' however; I don't believe we cross the finishing line or arrive at some spiritual destination completely intact. The journey is hard and hazardous and we arrive exhausted and scarred. Jesus warned us it would cost us everything we had. The good news, however, is that we get there. That's the one guarantee we have if we hang on to God for long enough.
Hallels: How is this new album musically different or similar to your other albums?
John Ellis: It's the result of consciously not writing, performing and recording new Tree63 music for seven years. The one thing we did agree on going into the studio is that we'd make the kind of record that Tree63 became known for when we first started: strong melodies hooked onto a lean three-piece rock 'n roll frame. So for us, this feels like the logical next step from 2002's "The Life & Times Of Absolute Truth." We're all better players, a better ensemble, so the album just sounds more mature, the band more weathered.
Hallels: I read in your press release that this is your most lyrically complex album. What do you mean by this? What are some of the lyrical themes that run right through the record?
John Ellis: These are the lyrics of an adult, someone who has been pursuing Christ across dangerous oceans (literally and figuratively) for 20 years. When I typed up all the lyrics before the vocal sessions and collated all the various scratchy re-writes and scribbled corrections, I realized this theme of some kind of 'hazardous sea voyage,' a kind of Jonah-like deliverance tale, was emerging. I thought about Jonah and the various perils of promising to journey with God and the reticence that comes with facing some of the realities of that journey. Songs like "Ship," "Standing On It" and "The Storm" all have that in common. It's also a real challenge to write about what it means to follow Christ in this so-called 'post-Christian,' multicultural, globalized, 'emerging church,' integral and non-dual era we find ourselves in. So yes, it gets complex!
Hallels: Have you released a single off the new album yet? If so, tell us more about it?
John Ellis: Not in the US yet, although in South Africa the new album is distributed by Sony (in keeping with the fact that Tree63 always had mainstream radio hits in our home country), and they felt "Standing On It" would be a good choice for mainstream radio. It's built on the "Rock Of Ages" idea of the reality of God being a solid, reliable foundation that's always under our feet, steadying us, and that we always have more of God than we are ever able to fully comprehend. Tree63 has always been a difficult band to sell to radio: is it CCM? Is it worship? Is it both?
Hallels: What are your plans in the Fall? Are you guys touring in support of this album? And where can our readers find out about your tour dates?
John Ellis: We would definitely like to! Time will tell if our fans still remember us after all these years. I'm sure our tour dates will end up on our website, www.tree63.com, and all over the usual social media channels.
Hallels: One of your new song "The Storm" speaks of how God can deliver us from our storms of life. Can you share with us a personal experience where God had personally delivered you from a storm in life?
John Ellis: Absolutely. Without going into too much detail, during my long sabbatical away from Christian music, I questioned literally every aspect of what it meant to be a 'believer.' It was a very definite spiritual crisis, and for a long time I felt very disenchanted with God. I know now that that is a normal part of 'counting the cost,' but at the time I felt very abandoned and sorry for myself. The existential storm was relentless. These last few years, however, have felt like a slow healing process that has restored my desire to make God the center of my life. It cost me everything, but it looks like I've lived to tell the tale.