It's the dog days of summer in Nashville, Tennessee where the guys of By The Tree make their home. The air is hot, the ground is parched, the landscape is tinder dry. It is a far cry from the lush Pacific Ocean breezes that wafted through the West Coast studios where the band went to record their fifth album for Fervent Records. In these near-draught conditions it would only take a spark to set the world ablaze. The band is stoked. They've just come off two exhausting, yet exhilarating years of touring, writing, collaborating, and refining their sound; preparing for the construction of their eleven-song tour-de-force that is presciently titled, World On Fire.
Producer Dwayne Larring (formerly of SONICFlooD) had one admonition to the band, 'Go into the studio and rock.' And rock they did. While other bands might get comfortable and rest on their tried-and-true formulas, By The Tree tightened up, trimmed the fat, and delivered a breathtaking, eleven song collection of wild, revved-up, propulsive rock 'n' roll. The album explodes with light and energy, epitomized by the title track, "World On Fire," with its message of a burning hope that consumes despair.
Frontman Aaron Blanton's first words are incendiary. "I don't know that the English language can capture how excited we are!" he says with smoldering intensity. "These songs are going to blow the doors off when we play them live. They are fun. They are intense. They are revolutionary. They really capture the sound that we have always wanted to have, and have painstakingly worked for the past two years to attain. These songs are not easy-listening, but they are definitely easy to listen to."
Anyone who has witnessed the exhilaration of the band's live show will recognize the frenetic drive at the heart of World On Fire. "When we talk about the world on fire, we are not talking about a wildfire that consumes what it burns," drummer Garrett Goodwin explains. "It's more like the sun that covers the earth in its light. It brings life, and growth, and health. For a lot of musicians, music is an outlet for their pain. For us, music is about living out the Word of God. Don't get me wrong, most of the time we are a bunch of goofballs. We love to have a good time, and when people come to see us live they are going to see rock 'n' roll."
World On Fire is a worthy follow-up to By The Tree's multi-Dove Award winning 2001 debut, "Invade My Soul," and three subsequent, critically acclaimed projects. While their earlier albums established By The Tree as expert craftsmen of intelligent, ultra-catchy pop-rock songs, World On Fire marries that craftsmanship to a mission that is more intensely clear than at any time in the band's career.
"We have an agenda," Aaron declares. "Music doesn't matter to us if it is not effective. We love rock 'n' roll, but the question we always ask before we perform a song is, 'Will it be effective? Will these songs reach people? How can we make that happen?'"
"We stand behind and believe in every song on this record," bassist Ben Davis declares. "Every song, every word on this record comes from a real place. We believe people are going to be changed by what they hear. We believe it can be evangelistic, but we also believe these songs can be used to charge up a Christian who may have been living a dull life."
There's a rougher grit to World On Fire. From the barrage of crashing guitars that launches the anthemic title track, to the worshipful chorus of the Martin Smith-penned classic, "Rain Down," the album surges with electric energy and imagery. You can feel it in the center-stage call to action of "Shine." "We are called to be salt and light," Aaron says. "Matthew 5 was a monumental chapter for me. I've read that scripture since I was a little kid, but for some reason it just clicked for me. It's time to make it happen. It is time to use the platform we've got for more than just selling records and making people feel good when they are driving down the road."
But that energy doesn't obscure the wit, melody, and unbridled joy that earned By The Tree a bevy of awards and accolades from both their fans and the industry. And it doesn't stop at the edge of the stage or the end of the disc. "We will do whatever we have to," declares Aaron, "to get this music into as many hands as possible so we can touch lives. It is not about Gold records. We could really care less about that. It is about having songs that minister to people, that touch their lives. We are more interested in changed lives than dollar signs.""