Tree63's 7-Year Journey to Their New Album "Land"
It can take years for a message in a bottle, thrown out to sea, to reach a distant shore and be discovered. A journey through waves and storms, always in danger of being broken.
In 2008, beloved South African rock band Tree63 quietly bowed out after releasing six studio albums since they’d formed in 1996. Their 2000 self-titled album won the Dove Award for Rock Album of the Year, and their version of the worship song “Blessed Be Your Name” was called “the definitive recording of the song” by Chris Tomlin and named Billboard’s Christian Song Of The Year for 2004.
By the time John Ellis (vocals and guitar), Darryl Swart (drums), and Daniel Ornellas (bass) went on an indefinite hiatus, they had toured the world several times over building a large and loyal following of their passionate music.
“I became a Christian in 1996 and I started the band soon after,” John Ellis says. “My personal journey with God became intimately enmeshed with the journey of this rock n’ roll band, and some breathing space was required.”
John decided to move his family back to Durban, South Africa while Darryl founded a recording studio in Canada, and Daniel remained in Nashville producing and touring with other artists.
“It seemed like the end of a season for sure,” Daniel says. “I personally never thought we would play together again.”
As far as the world was concerned, Tree63 was over.
“There was absolutely no plan to go back to the band,” John confirms. “I was spiritually in a different place and I couldn’t reconcile my future with what I’d done through Tree63.”
But like that message in a bottle being moved by waves and outside forces, John, Darryl and Daniel came together again in 2014 to perform several “official goodbye shows” to formally “break up.” And what was meant to be the end of the band actually turned into a second beginning.
To the surprise of its fans, in February 2015 Tree63 launched a successful Kickstarter campaign, giving their loyal following the opportunity to participate in the recording and promotion of their new full-length album, Land.
“The three of us are all very different people,” John says, “more so now after seven years apart from each other, with broadly different world views. Somehow, though, we all seem to instinctively know what Tree63 should be doing. It’s almost an unspoken thing between us.”
And apparently what Tree63 should be doing is releasing the most mature, sonically powerful, and lyrically complex album of their career.
The album title, Land, along with its cover artwork, suggest a ship lost at sea, fighting to stay upright in the middle of a raging storm.
The anthemic first single from the album, “The Storm,” uses the intense imagery of a man being swept overboard, treading water and crying out to God.
Even in the storm
The thunder and lightning
I was never alone
No, never alone.
Lyrics that bring to mind not only the story of Christ walking on water, but of Jonah, trying to outrun God’s plan, only to find himself washed up on the shore of the very place he’d been avoiding.
Songs like “Ship” and “Standing On It” continue the theme in what begins to feel like a single story, stretched out over the length of the album, of a man struggling with doubt and fear, beaten down by the storms of life.
At the edge of drowning he calls out to God, and this is when he discovers the truth of God’s presence, sacrifice and undying love.
“Hard To Believe” is a beautiful, and brutally honest, confession about dark days and silence that ultimately ends with hope.
“Lyrically, it’s so honest and real,” Darryl says. “It really encourages those of us who find the going tough at times.”
“Even though we believe we will reach our destination across the hazardous sea God asks us to cross,” John adds, “it won’t be an easy voyage, and often we arrive shipwrecked and battered. The guarantee, however, is that we at least arrive.”
To longtime fans, Land will sound like the evolution of the band they’ve always loved. A hard-hitting melodic rock album with precision musicianship.
“I hope they feel relieved that a band they once trusted can still be trusted,” John says. “Trusted with one vital thing that Tree63 always gave listeners: honesty.”
To a new audience just discovering Tree63, Land will stand out as a highlight across multiple musical genres and markets. All of the elements that made Tree63 so memorable are exactly what make them so unforgettable.
After a long and dangerous journey, the message in a bottle finally washes on up a distant shore. Stuck in the sand waiting for someone to find it. Whoever that person is, when they open the bottle and take out the message inside, this is what it says:
“You are not alone. Somebody else feels just as lonely and forgotten and hopeful and bewildered and resolved to carry on the journey.”
With Land, Tree63 does once again what they have always done so well; they acknowledge the storm, but then they point to a figure in the distance obscured by fog and rain. A figure, not struggling to stay afloat, but walking. Walking on the water, above the waves and the depths. Hand outstretched, walking in our direction.
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