I love how the hardcore world has always had mythical bands bouncing around. Bands that maybe split up before their time or whose recordings were never properly released. California’s Freewill fit the bill exactly. In the late 80s their name appeared on fliers and their demo was doing the rounds on the tape trading scene. I remember getting a tape loaded with demos and radio shows from bands like Pushed Aside, Occupied Territory, Absolution and of course Freewill.
Freewill stood out from the crowd as they had a much more melodic sound. Take the energy of the classic California hardcore sound but inject a whole dose of melodies that nodded to Dag Nasty, Descendents and co. An album was recorded for Wishingwell Records, but it never went beyond the test pressing stage, and then the band disappeared.
After a line-up reshuffle, the band re-emerged as Stonetelling and presented a re-recorded version of that album on Network Sound records. That was the label of band member Mike Hartsfield who played, and continues to play in a million and one bands such as Outspoken, Strife, Done Dying, A18 and many more. But by then, the band was already done and dusted.
Fast forward some thirty years and the band is back in action! Those legendary recordings – the demo and album – have already had the reissue treatment courtesy of Mankind and New Age records. The spark has been well and truly reignited, as they have also now recorded a new album, for release imminently by Unity Worldwide records. We caught up with guitarist Paul Cranston to talk about those formative years. Watch out for our second interview where we talk about what’s happening now.
Interview by Tom Chapman.
MM: The early days – can you tell us about where you are from, and how you grew up?
Paul: Yes, I grew up in Canyon Country Ca. With my Mother, stepfather and sister. We came from modest means, definitely the lower end of middle-class.
MM: What was your first exposure to punk rock? Older brother or sister? School buddies, or the radio, or something else?
Paul: My first exposure to Punk Rock was through a school buddy in the sixth grade (1982). He exposed me to bands like, X, The Dead Kennedy’s, and the Sex Pistols.
MM: Who were the local heroes (bands) when you started going to shows?
Paul: Locally there was a band called OYM(Open Your Mind) and another band called Guillotine that we started seeing around. However, Hollywood was a 25 minute drive for us. So, at around 15 years old I started seeing bands there like Agression, CH3, Suicidal Tendencies etc.
MM: Was it “dangerous”? I have heard tales of gangs being heavily involved in the scene in California in the 80s whether it was regarding Suicidal Tendencies, Adolescents, Uniform Choice etc., what’s your take on that?
Paul: There was no question that the L.A. scene was extremely violent. It wasn’t just gangs, it was individuals that you had to be careful of as well. I always stuck to a large group of friends but, I witnessed fights, and stabbings frequently.
MM: What inspired you to pick up an instrument?
Paul: My stepfather was a musician and he gave me my first guitar at six years old. I was fascinated with groups like Kansas, Boston, and Cheap Trick and wanted to play like them.
MM: And how did Freewill come together?
Paul: Mike and I met in High School and started jamming together in 1986. A year or so later he Met Scott Gravois and Charlie Trujillo and asked me to come to his house In Big Bear Ca to jam with them. We gelled pretty well together and wrote several songs that eventually made their way to our demo and album.
MM: Can you remember what your first show was? How was it?
Paul: Our first show was at the Grange Hall in San Bernardino. The Headline act was Agnostic Front. The Offspring, No For An Answer and Visual Discrimination also played. It went well, we had a great response and we were excited about the future.
MM: Who were your peers at the time? i’m guessing it was after UC were around, was it bands like Chain Of Strength, Excel, Final Conflict? Or did you feel you had more in common with national bands like YOT or Shades Apart?
Paul: We played with bands like Insted, Reason To Believe, No For An Answer and considered them our peers.
MM: Did you get to play any particularly memorable shows?
Paul: We have had some very memorable experiences. For me, playing Gilman St. In Berkeley Ca with Insted and U.C. Was great. Also, headlining our own show in 1989 at the Country Club in Reseda Ca.
MM: Can you tell us a bit about recording your first demo/ album?
Paul: We recorded our first demo in 1 day at Spot recording In Southern Ca. We didn’t know much about the recording process, we were teenagers. However, we loved what we were doing and enjoyed every minute. Later, when we recorded our first album, we were so excited because we were tracking at the same studio that Dag Nasty did Field Day. It was great time.
MM: You picked up interest from Wishing Well, how did that come about?
Paul: Wishing Well came into the picture when our singer Scott went to the Dubar household to get some Shirts printed. At that time Pat’s brother Court did shirts and Scott left our Demo with him. Pat heard it, called us and asked if we would be interested in doing an album. Of course we said yes, as we were big fans of Wishing Well.
MM: And then what went wrong, why was it never released?
Paul: It was never clear to me exactly why the album never came out. We never got a straight answer. I heard rumors that Pat Dubar and Pat Longrie had some sort of dispute. We were very unhappy at the time about it all.
MM: I believe Wishing Well made test presses, is this right, and do you own a copy?
Paul: Wishing Well did make test pressings and we (the band) all still have them.
MM: What caused the transformation into Stone Telling? Were you involved?
Paul: Stonetelling came about because another band at the time owned the name “Freewill.” Mike had left the band at that point and we started to go in a different direction musically. I was very involved at that point.
MM: How did Network Sound Records get involved? Is there a reason why Mike H. decided to release the Stone Telling record himself?
Paul: Mike was involved in Network sound and was frustrated that the Freewill album never came out. So, he asked if we wanted to put it out under his new label. We decided to re-record some parts and put it out under Stonetelling.
MM: Did you ever play any shows under the name of Stonetelling?
Paul: We did play several shows as Stonetelling and recorded a 3 song demo.
MM: I guess that album came out retrospectively – what caused the band to fold?
Paul: Stonetelling ended because Scott decided to join another band that had more of a funky, alternative vibe called “Mothers Kitchen.”
MM: After the band split, am I right in thinking you (personally) stopped playing music? Was there a reason? And what bands/ projects were the other band members involved in (Mike H.’s list will be pretty long!)
Paul: After the split, Charlie and I stuck together and formed a heavy alternative rock band called, “Milkweed Soil.” We stayed in that band for three years and then I became the singer/guitarist and we changed our name to “Superstream.” Another 3 years went by and we reformed Milkweed Soil until 2004. Of course Mike’s list of bands is extensive and he stayed very active in hardcore all this time.
MM: Did you keep involved in the punk scene/ music or did you drift away?
Paul: I wasn’t heavily involved in the punk scene during the post Stonetelling years but I always followed bands like All, Big Drill Car, Bad Religion, The Descendants, and Sense Field.
MM: Was there anything that you took away from the punk scene and brought into other aspects of your life?
Paul: The Punk scene molded the way I play and hear music. The first Dag Nasty and Descendants albums were everything to me and you can hear that In the music I’m making today. Moreover, the bonds I made with friends in the Punk scene are still strong today and I view the world through a punk rock “lens”.
That’s it for Part One – we’ll pick up the reunion/ reissues/ new album in Part Two – So stay tuned and don’t change the MM channel!