Recording an album with a central theme of silence sounds like asking someone to close their eyes to take in a view. It’s a bit confusing and certainly antithetical, at least on the surface, but for his latest album, John Ellis is simply writing honest songs from his own journey—one that’s led him down the contemplative paths of the Christian faith.
Growing Silent (buy) is the latest solo album from the Tree63 front man, a compilation of observances from various stations along this reflective, and often lonely, path. We recently asked John to tell us about album’s formation; his relationship with Matt Redman, who co-wrote a few tracks; and whether Tree63’s recent reunion was a one-time event or not.
CCM Magazine: It’s interesting to see an album titled Growing Silent yet it almost seems antithetical. What drew you to this theme?
John Ellis: Yes, a rock ‘n’ roll album about the onset of silence! I would love to be able to say there was a master plan, but these particular ten songs just happened to end up on the same album together, like refugees from disparate backgrounds, and the song entitled “Growing Silent,” although over ten years old, seemed to speak the most to where I currently find myself on my spiritual journey.
CCM: Did you ever feel the tension of that juxtaposition: creating more noise, so to speak, to encourage the listener to quiet their lives?
JE: Yes, absolutely. I’ve often felt that the church reached its critical mass of worship songs centuries ago, so what we’re all doing with these endless new recordings is beyond me. The need to create is limitless, it seems. I no longer feel the express need to ‘encourage’ listeners to ‘do’ anything; with me, it’s more a case of ‘suggestion.’ Silence is not, very obviously, a popular notion, especially in an industry that by its very nature is noisy. The song “Growing Silent” is more a description of my own journey towards silence.
CCM: Are there works, musical or literary or otherwise, that have spurred you in these same directions? Perhaps authors like Wendell Berry or others who encourage a contemplative life?
JE: So glad you mentioned Wendell Berry! Annie Dillard, Thomas Keating, Cynthia Bourgeault, Meister Eckhart, Richard Rohr, Thomas Merton, Huston Smith, Alan Watts, Bede Griffiths, Simone Weil… the contemplative life is its own universe. I am new in town, but it’s so exciting discovering a path to God that has all but been forgotten and yet is so venerable and so ancient. These are not writers and thinkers the mainstream church embraces in any way, but nevertheless they have revealed new facets of God to me that I always hoped existed.
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