By Leland Orfield
Walking down Barstow Street in the heart of downtown Eau Claire, many people have probably noticed a shop with plenty of different looking musical instruments and amplifiers propped up in the store windows. Past these initial instruments on display outside, the inside of the shop is decorated with a great variety of other instruments, gear, and as the store’s name suggests, effects pedals. This relatively new store to the downtown area is Pedals Music, a store run and owned by a local musician who is dedicated to providing other musicians with practical and quality equipment and instruments.
Entering the shop, you would immediately notice a sound; whether it be the beat of a drum, the strum of a guitar, or a warm greeting from the store’s owner, Eric Thompson.
Thompson is an Eau Claire native whose interest in music began at a young age. He began playing the bass guitar in a couple of rock bands with friends during middle school. Around this same time period, during the early ‘90s, Thompson remembers that UW-Eau Claire’s concert committee put on some excellent performances.
“We would spend a lot of time down at the university going to concerts at the Council Fire Room,” said Thompson. “The Cabin also had a bunch of great acts coming through, and that really got me excited.”
This newfound excitement for music led Thompson to join a college rock band during his senior year of high school, which allowed him into the various clubs around town. Being able to go see and perform at shows offered him different types of music to experience, as well as the opportunity to meet more people to create music with. The more music he experienced and played, ranging in genre from jazz to punk rock, the more he realized how passionate he was for the art.
Thompson estimates that he has now been playing in bands around Eau Claire for the past 25 years. Some of the acts that Thompson is involved with include The Jim Pullman Band, a blues band with Nick Foytik and The Chippewa Valley Jazz Orchestra. Recently, he has joined The Ronald Raygun, a heavy modern psychedelia band.
Along with all of his experience in performing music, Thompson’s experiences working in music stores also made up a big part of what led him to open Pedals Music. Thompson has worked at Schmitt Music and Brickhouse Music, two other popular music shops in Eau Claire.
“A friend got me the job at Schmitt Music in about ‘99, and I worked there for a number of years,” said Thompson. “And then went on to help open the Brickhouse store here in town and did that for awhile. I then kinda got pushed by a friend to do my own thing.”
Pedals Music was born in 2011 when Thompson opened up shop at 313 E. Madison Street. Thompson said that although it wasn’t necessarily an easy transition, he felt prepared by having gained the knowledge of what was typically sold and what customers wanted while he was working at Schmitt and Brickhouse.
About a year and a half ago, Thompson moved his shop to 307 S Barstow St. where it is currently located. Overall, it’s been a great move, according to Thompson. More foot traffic has increased going past his business since the shop is now in the thick of things downtown. Alex Neeb, a customer and local musician, said that he frequents Pedals because of Thompson’s expertise.
“Pedals is such a cool shop for local musicians,” Neeb said. “Eric is super knowledgable and easy to talk to. It’s easy to see he really cares about the local music scene.”
The new location has a larger space, which allowed Thompson to expand his lesson rooms, where he provides students with drum, guitar, and bass lessons. With the additional space, he has also started working on a recording studio in the basement of the shop, where he hopes to record for musicians who want to record in a nice studio at an affordable rate.
The non-traditional bluegrass band, Evergreen Grass Band, is one Eau Claire group that has recorded in Thompson’s studio at Pedals. According to band members, their experience in the studio was important in the production of their latest album.
“Eric was an integral part of making this album a success,” said bass player and vocalist in the band, Gregory Manning. “His space is exceptional and allowed us to record some great art. He is an awesome person who has helped make Eau Claire’s music what it is today.”
The band’s mandolin player and vocalist, Adam Seland agreed.
“Eric has created a great sounding, comfortable room that helps move along the creative/repetitive process that is making an album,” Seland said. “Plus he’s one heck of a nice guy.”
Thompson, through his wealth of knowledge about music and Eau Claire that he has gathered over his years as a musician, has put forth great effort in order to try creating a unique, for-the-musician type shop in Pedals Music. He sees Pedals as an effort to give back to local musicians, giving the store a communal and refreshing atmosphere.
“I have folks that like to come in and just hang out, chit chat, and talk shop,” he said. “They might buy a set of strings, or some reeds, or drumsticks. It’s a pretty laid back atmosphere, and I’m just trying to contribute to the music scene.”
Below is a clip of Eric Thompson and The Nick Foytik Band rehearsing at the studio in Pedals Music.