Spirituality Rocks! The Tree63 Interview

2008-03-17 10:37
Many bands who are all Christians shy away from the label of ‘Christian’ band, while you’ve embraced it. Why do you think other bands shy away from it?
The longer I'm in this game, the more I understand those bands. Christian music as a genre is pretty naff, and it's unfortunately a deserved reputation. Christian music in the States is seriously compromised as a genre of music by the fact that it's an umbrella category embracing almost every style of music; Christian death metal and Christian hymns of praise all fall under the term "Christian music", and the label is generally a death warrant for bands looking for creative integrity. I'm not too interested in continuing to label Tree63 as a Christian band... we're a band that happens to be singing about spiritual matters, we're not selling something.

How do you see yourself in terms of the global Christian rock scene?
At one point we seemed to be in it, but now we seem on the periphery. It's a hard thing to judge when you're on the inside. Some people think we're influential, some have never even heard of us.

How to you respond to people who say you're using faith to make money?
It's actually more like we're making money for the faith! You can never win with people like that, they're never going to believe otherwise. Successful Christians are prime targets for nay-sayers.

What’s your take on very rich preachers who tour the world, claiming to heal people through faith?
It's appalling and a complete mockery of everything Jesus said and did and stood and died for. Those people are worshiping a different God, as far as I'm concerned.

What effect does Christian rock music have on teenagers compared with regular rock music?
Not as much as Christians seem to think it does! Music, after all, is music. It's not going to change the world. It can definitely influence a person to go out and change their world, but it has no intrinsic power in itself. That being said, I know what it was to be a young guy getting hope and strength from great music. So music that runs toward God, as Bono put it, even though it doesn't have to be specifically Christian, can nevertheless uplift and create an opportunity in someone's life for them to consider spiritual realities.
What do your fans, and or groupies, talk to you about – does faith come up?
In America, a lot of people around the country asked about South Africa, but Americans generally (and I mean very generally) are a fairly unsophisticated and insulated lot, and had no conception of what it must be like to live in Africa, or even what faith might look like in an African context. So most questions were pretty superficial.

You’re returning to South Africa to play Splashy… which is largely about sex, booze, and rock ‘n roll, and well, mud, I guess? How does this reconcile with your moral stance as a band.
The longer I'm a Christian the more I see that Jesus is more interested in what people are up to at a festival like Splashy than he is at some of the churches I've been in. Anywhere there're people, there's Jesus, pure and simple. He likes to hang out, but he hates religion. So who are we to piously avoid places like Splashy? Besides, 13 years ago, that was me in the mud, running around half-dressed with a Black Label at 6 in the morning.

Is the Bible open to interpretation – in your opinion? And how have your audience reacted to any percieved or real interpretations you’ve made?
Yes it is, or at least, it should be. It's an incredible book. There's stuff going on in there that even Tarantino couldn't stomach. It's not at all what the church over the centuries have made it out to be. There are very real misunderstandings about how to treat the Bible out there, both in and out of the church, so if I said something like what I've just said in a Church, I'd get lynched.

Gospel’s the biggest selling genre in South Africa, yet it gets very little media. Ever feel – for want of a better word - persecuted?
Gospel's the biggest? Really? Bigger than Afrikaans music? We're not really 'gospel' in the true understanding of that word. 'Gospel music' is usually associated with mass choirs from the Deep South, and rightly so. We're not really persecuted (although the music industry generally feels a little weird about having us around... they feel like we're judging them or something, I don't know), we just suck at self-promotion!

Do you get homesick?
Not anymore. We're home.

If you pray for South Africa, what do you ask God for?
Tolerance, unity, prosperity, and above all, justice.

- Jean Barker

Durban’s Tree63 have been tweaking the spiritual rock frequencies with their passionately catchy pop rock songs of praise and worship since 1996. With a new CD, Sunday on the shelves and a headline slot at the Splashy Fen festival this Easter weekend, we figured it was the perfect time to catch up with lead singer, guitarist and pianist John Ellis.

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