Artist Interviews
Tree 63 - Sept 14, 2002


On September 14th, 2002, I (Brent) had the opportunity have a talk with John Ellis from the band Tree63 at Festival Con Dios in Atlanta, Georgia at the Perimeter Mall. While the band was not allowed to play that day due to the torrential rains, I had a great conversation with John. Learn more about Tree63 and their latest release entitled “The Life and Times of Absolute Truth” at www.tree63.com.


Brent: So introduce yourself for our website visitors.

John: My name is John Ellis. I’m the lead singer and guitar player for Tree63 from South Africa.

Brent: How did you guys originally get together as a band?

John: The short version or the long version? (laughter)

Brent: Either one is fine.

John: The short version is we got together back in December 1996. I’d been a Christian for about a year or so playing in bands for years and years. I’d just got saved and I met Darryl the drummer. I knew him from playing clubs around Durban, our hometown. We got together to jam and just play some music with no intention to be in a band, but six years later here we are in America on Festival Con Dios. It’s one of those weird things, eh?

Brent: I’ve heard the band’s original name was just ‘Tree’. What’s the meaning of that and how did the addition of ‘63’ come about?

John: (laugher) The tree thing has always been about the references to trees in the Bible…the tree in the Garden of Eden, the tree that Jesus hung on, all those kinds of things. When we came to America in 2000 we were told that there was a band in Boston called Tree already. They were a mainstream punk band. They weren’t signed to a label…kind of an indie band. They were in it for a few years and had some legal rights to the name first. We were going to have a big problem with the name legally so we had to add something on. So the 63 comes from our second album in the UK which was just called “63”, so the guys here just said to stick it together and call ourselves Tree63.

Brent: What did you do before you were in the band for a job?

John: I’d been working at DRY, a big department store. I was mainly a university student studying English and politics for a few years…I was supposed to be a professor by now. (laughter) Just small stuff.

Brent: What are your musical influences? Who got your started and the artists you look up to?

John: The thing that got me started when I was a real little kid was Elvis. When I discovered guitar bands I liked the Beatles. Guitar-wise I think what really influenced me the most was U2. The way the Edge plays guitar. Also bands like Police, who’ve taken the whole drum, bass, and guitar thing much further than just good old layman’s rock and roll. Lot’s of influences from different things. I was a big Eddie Van Halen fan. All the stuff that makes guitar what it is…I love it all. Mostly guitar stuff is really, I think, interesting.

Brent: What are you listening to right now? Favorite CD’s?

John: I’m listening to the new Coldplay. Bands like Jimmy Eat World, Weezer, and those kind of bands. I’ve always been a big U2 band. An Australian band called Crowded House I’ve always loved. One Christian artist I’ve always admired is Keith Green. I just admire his passion and songwriting and stuff.

Brent: What artists have you heard yourself compared to?

John: They always say, “Oh, you sound like Sting!”, I guess because of how my voice is. We always get the U2 thing a lot. We get compared a lot to the Presidents of the USA because I’m bald. Some weird comparisons…like an 80’s band called The Fix. Michael Tait from dcTalk said we sound like The Fix and I’m like, okay. Lots of weird stuff.

Brent: What are some things that God’s been showing you lately as far as music, life in general, tour, or whatever?

John: God has been changing all of us in the band especially with the whole Christian music ‘craze’ here. You’ve got all the bands selling t-shirts, candy, Cokes, and everything. Lots of bands and this big noise ‘thing’ here…it’s very easy to lose focus on why we’re actually here. We could just sell you a bunch of t-shirts…but there’s got to be something more. To be a Christian musician there’s a responsibility to keep focusing all this back on Jesus. It’s a tough thing, really tough.

Brent: How hard is it playing the same songs day in and day out to keep your focus and relationship with God in the right place?

John: It’s not such a big deal to play the songs because we really love the music and it’s so cool getting up there and playing it. There’s only 20 minutes a day you’re playing…the rest of the day you’re selling merchandise and driving around. It’s a really tough life. It’s the kind of life you really have to be called to to get to the other side of it, otherwise it’s going to take you out of it. Just praying every morning as a team to make sure God’s our unity and that we’re really strong so the devil won’t take it out. It’s a daily struggle, but you know, we’re working it out.

Brent: Do you guys have a theme you go by or anything like that? Perhaps the 63 has something to do with that?

John: The 63 is actually from Psalm 63, which I think is a general theme for Tree. You know, it’s tough to be a Christian, but we’re going to hang in there anyway. That’s the general thing. It’s a tough walk, but it’s worth staying on the course.

Brent: How do you as a band go about songwriting? Music first, melody first, lyrics?

John: There’s no major formula or anything. I may sit down with an acoustic guitar and work something out and a year later work out some words…or it will come all at once. Every time it’s different and it keeps it fresh.

Brent: On your website you talk about the new album title, “The Life and Times of Absolute Truth”, and how you’re sure it will be the subject of lots of interviews, so I’m asking you what the meaning behind that is? (laughter)

John: (laughter) The title is about the society we live in now. There’s not a lot of truth. Absolute values are not exactly considered cool anymore. You take a bit of God, a bit of Jesus, a little bit of Elvis, and a bit of this…you put it together and you’ve got religion. That’s what people think these days. Right now is the time to say Jesus is the only one. That’s the absolute truth right now. That’s what the album title is about.

Brent: What should we expect from the new album? How is it different than the first self-titled American album?

John: The American album you’re used to is actually a combination of the two we had out by the time we got to America. So for us when that album came out here it was very old for us already. This one’s all ten brand new songs that are really really new to us. We really love it. It’s a different style for Tree; we’ve gone a slightly more ‘rocky’ route on some sides trying to get away from the sounds of some of my influences. Some of them are quieter songs…definitely influences from bands like Coldplay and others. There are some more fragile types of songs there. It’s one more step in the direction of Tree.

Brent: What’s a typical day like in the life of Tree 63?

John: I’ll tell you! No sleep, long drives, bad food, short gigs, lots of sweat, more work, more no sleep, and do it again. (laughter)

More information about Tree 63

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