Gathering Moss No More

Springfield-based rock outfit Thirty Stones were a scant few months away from securing over a million dollars when technology interceded.

At the dawn of 2004, after steadily building a following and critical buzz, the group were on the precipice of signing a six-album, 1.25 million dollar contract. Then digital downloading exploded, shaking the industry, and big money deals—and dealers—began disappearing overnight.

After mutating, dissipating, and then ultimately disbanding in 2006 to pursue other endeavors, Thirty Stones have decided to jam together once more, driven by a love for the music and the scene that brought them together over a decade ago.

The band reconvenes the rock Nov. 27 at Maximum Capacity in Chicopee.

The Early Days

Brothers Bernard and John St. Onge formed Thirty Stones in 1998. After cycling through several lead singers, John called up longtime friend Keith Hopkinson, who was between projects.

They were anxious to jump into the vibrant late-’90s Springfield music scene, but gigs were hard to come by until current Thirty Stones band member Andrew Freeman helped the crew onto the Geraldine’s Labor Day bash lineup in 1999, which Freeman’s band at the time, People of the Sun, was headlining.

Shortly thereafter, Freeman relocated from New York to the Springfield area and subsequently joined the Thirty Stones crew, replacing the band’s original guitarist.

The band was—and is—influenced by the local and national hard rock/metal scene. Hopkinson says he’s personally inspired by music of all stripes.

“Whether it’s something that I like or dislike, it shapes my writing style all together,” he says. “I do certainly admire bands’ style and sound such as Sevendust—which to me is the best live band—Deftones, Korn, Staind, and Breaking Benjamin. Outside of the rock/metal genre I also was very influenced in my musical growth by Led Zeppelin when I was younger ,and even some rap, R&B and hip-hop.”

The band thrived in the Springfield scene, and lived it up to the fullest. Asked if things were a bit wild, Hopkinson concedes that those days were certainly party-filled. “I think the only thing that would fit under the wild category would be some of the post-show parties and studio sessions at a very cool rehearsal spot we had in West Springfield for about three years,” recalls Hopkinson. “To protect the names and reputations of all of those involved we’ll just leave it at that.”

A Rise and a Near Miss

Thirty Stones put out a full-length album, Welcome to Someday, when they first hit the scene in 2000. After releasing Canvas in early 2003, the band signed on with Concrete Marketing out of NYC, who pushed the record, earning significant airplay across the country on a good many college and even mainstream radio stations.

Canvas charted in the Top 50 on the CMJ and FMQB radio charts for over a month in the summer of ’03, quickly gaining the attention of record labels. After showcasing for some major labels like Elektra and Atlantic in New York City during that summer, the boys caught the eye of a music industry lawyer, Varonica Cooper, who was looking to start up the independent imprint 3L Records.

Cooper’s dealings with major label distributors like Elektra, Atlantic and Arista gave her the capability to sign an act she was interested and believed in while ensuring financial backing for distribution. After Cooper caught Thirty Stones at Don Hills in the Village in New York City, an offer was made and the negotiation process began.

After receiving an offer for an eye-popping six-record, $1.245 million dollar deal later that summer, the group hired an attorney from a law firm whose high-profile clients included Madonna and Eminem. The band and its legal representation chose to thoroughly negotiate the record deal “to assure the band’s best interest,” which, unfortunately, delayed the final signing for several months.

“Right at the turn of the new year in 2004, a lot of industry top-level executives were let go because at this time, everyone started downloading music for free in place of buying CDs,” recalls Hopkinson. “With the financial losses the major distributor labels were suffering, changes were made, and that impacted all three major contacts for Varonica Cooper and 3L Records, including L.A. Reid who, at the time, was with Arista and discovered acts such as Outkast and Pink.”

While the label and band didn’t give up on trying to procure finances to distribute their album, time eventually ran out and the deal essentially died on the vine.

End Times

While the band never officially broke up, significant changes occurred in the wake of the contractual near miss. In late 2004, John St. Onge quit the band. A few months later, Freeman moved to the west coast to pursue music opportunities in L.A.

Thirty Stones soldiered on with different band members, but after drummer Jonathan Girard also made the move to California, things petered out.

“With the support of the Springfield music scene dwindling as ’05 turned into ’06, it just seemed time to discontinue playing,” says Hopkinson.

Meanwhile, Freeman’s music career out west was booming. He performed on three tours as the lead vocalist with Dokken/Lynch Mob guitarist George Lynch, including a much-hyped appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. In 2008, he joined The Offspring and toured the world playing in front of hundreds of thousands of fans from Japan to Europe, South America to the States in support of their album Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace.

Throughout, Thirty Stones’ principals kept track of each other, and kept in touch. “All along,” says Hopkinson, “I have been in contact with Andy about still doing something with our music, which we never lost our love and passion for.”

The Reunion

Hopkinson says the urge to fire the rock machine back up ignited earlier this year at a Three Days Grace concert at the MassMutual Center.

“Though Andy and I had talked about the idea of doing this since his tour with The Offspring ended, it really hit me how much I missed it and how fun a reunion show would be when I saw so many old and friendly faces from the old scene at the concert,” Hopkinson says. “Many of the people asked what happened to the band and [said] how they missed it or fondly remembered the old days. I just felt the time was right to try and make this happen.

“But even more than just a reunion show, Andy and I still feel there is unfinished business with our music and, given new opportunities available to us because of Andy’s Offspring experience, we’re going to take another shot at it.”

Hopkinson says he’s grown considerably since the band’s last go-around, and that he and the fellows are now in a better place, more able to live in the moment.

“I’ve certainly changed, because back when we started, I was obsessed with making it and becoming a potential rock star along with the business side of everything,” he says. “I don’t think I gave myself time to appreciate the fun we were having and just the sheer enjoyment of the art of creating music. Now I just want to have fun and enjoy music for exactly that reason alone and whatever happens, happens. Musically, I feel the same.”

The next step for the band after their reunion gig over Thanksgiving weekend is a January showcase at the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) music convention in Anaheim, Calif. From there, the group hopes to use Freeman’s connections to see if they can secure any industry nibbles.

“Andy is working on tracking a new Thirty Stones CD with industry musicians in California, and we’ll look to complete that and market it online sometime in 2011,” says Hopkinson. “I think the opportunity is there to do something with our music and, ultimately, the connection I have with Andy is a pretty strong bond and one that I’m excited to work with again and just see what happens.

“Either way, we strongly believe in the music and aren’t willing to give it up, even 11 years later.”

Thirty Stones play Saturday, Nov. 27, $7/advance, $10/door, Maximum Capacity, 116 School St., Chicopee, (413) 592-6406. For songs and info, visit http://www.thirtystones.net. For advance tickets, contact Keith Hopkinson via Facebook.

Author: Matthew Dube

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