Tree63 frontman apologises for 5FM interview scandal

PHOTO: Times Media Live

“Tree63 never faked a single thing,” shared Tree63 frontman and solo artist, John Ellis, who has been lambasted by Christian fans after an on air interview with Gareth Cliff on 5FM turned sour.

In the April radio interview, Ellis suggested that the band was not a Christian band and joked around with renowned pot-stirrer, Cliff, saying that they were forced to write songs with a Christian undertone and that they were doing it ‘for the money’. This set social media a buzz, with many of the bands’ South African Christian fan base expressing their shock at the lead singers’ statements. “We felt as if all the songs we grew up listening to was a lie!” expressed one furious fan. Another fan shared: “How long will it take for you to realize that you cheated pretty much an entire generation!”

In a chat with Rolling Stone this week, Ellis conveyed his dismay at the response of his fans, saying that he was still trying to ‘get his head around it’. The lead guitarist had also apologized on social media, stating that when he became a believer in 1996, he did not even know that Christian music existed as a genre. “I was just a rock guy who started writing songs about these newfound beliefs. That meant that, unlike most Christian bands, we didn’t come out of any formal Church background, so there’s no Church history in Tree.”

Ellis disputes the claims that he suggested that Tree63 is not a Christian band and shared on his website: “I tried to make the age-old distinction between a band full of Christians and a ‘Christian’ band. It’s a thorny issue that’s been raging since the very first idea of Christian-themed pop music ever surfaced, and any band that has sung about spiritual things in the secular arena (Stryper, U2, Kula Shaker, Delirious?, Switchfoot, Tree63, etc) has had to field those questions. It can come across as splitting hairs, which is ironic for a bald man to do.” He ended by stating, “Be assured, Tree63 fans: I always meant every word on every song that ever ended up on a Tree63 record. I still do. I’m deathly proud of Tree63, and if you were too, you still can be.”

Tree63 came onto the local music scene in 1997, releasing 6 albums in its relatively short career. They received a Dove award in 2001 for a successful US debut and a Billboard award for the most-played song of 2004. The band has also collected various other South African mainstream music industry awards and nominations, as well as song writing and publishing awards for Ellis. The band disbanded at the end of 2007, after 10 years of international success.


  1. statements like what John Ellis made, shock me as a Christian.Thinking about Christian Rock Groups like Petra. Remember John Schlit, the main singer of that group also out of a rough background before he joined Petra, but never did I hear them being ashamed of Jesus Christ in their interviews. Especially when talking to a guy like Garreth Cliff, who is known for his attacks on Christians? You should have known better John.

    • Read it again Robbie. He’s apologised. He made a mistake by being flippant and not serious, and he’s making amends. If you really heard the interview, you definitely didn’t hear him say he was ashamed of Jesus. You have been instructed by the gospel to forgive, can you actually do that? Or will you remain in judgement of a human being who made a mistake, even as he’s admitted it? Walk the talk brother. It’s a hard world and nobody’s perfect, including you.

  2. Why should Christian musicians always be forced into a pigeon hole? It’s always that you have to be one or the other? Christians are still people that have real problems with love, marriage, money etc but are not allowed to speak about these things in their music