Joe P. Furth of Eclipse Records: providing records, all ages shows, and arcade games since 1999
Joe P. Furth is an unlikely scene builder, but the owner/operator of Eclipse Records has been providing a haven for music fans of all ages to buy records and see live music for over ten years. Originally located on Grand Avenue by Macalester and Ramsey Junior High, Eclipse, with its old-school arcade and all ages shows, soon became the epicenter of a young upstart indie rock scene. It became a second home to indie rock bands like Malachi Constant, Volante, and Superhopper while hosting constant, noisy shows that bothered some of the neighborhood's stuffier elements--an issue that contributed to its demise in 2003. Joe never gave up, however, putting the entire store catalog (and presumably a few of those arcade games) into storage until a new location could be found.
In late 2006, using a grant from the City of Saint Paul, he and partner Jason Brazil opened a new space on University Avenue, featuring the arcade and a dedicated space for shows, staffed in part by the same people who discovered indie rock as kids at the original store on Grand. Joe took a few minutes to talk to us about being a neighborhood institution in a new neighborhood, why all ages venues don't last, and hitchhiking to concerts.
What inspired you to open a record store in the first place?
I always thought it would be cool to own a record store. I was a a time in my life semi-between jobs and not wanting to do what I was doing. I have always loved music for as long as I can remember--going to classic concerts w/ parents as a kid, always listening to music (all kinds), but sort of grew up with classic rock. I went to college and was introduced to a wide range of music I did not know existed. I opened the "old" location with two partners on 9-9-99 at 4:20 because I thought it was funny. We started to have shows within a couple of months of opening, very sporadic at first, but built up to a point at its peak of up to five bands a night seven nights a week. The partners left after the first year, so I quit my day job and just ran the store noon to midnight seven days a week.
My new partner and I re-opened at the new location [on University Avenue] in December of 2006 and had our first show May 2008. We do shows three nights a week, sometimes more. Unlike the first place, which had free shows, the new location has a self contained venue with a cover charge. Both locations have stand up arcades.
What is it that sets Eclipse apart from other record stores in town?
We're just better, hahaha. We offer a full experience from the live music to the unique store fixtures. Do we have the best selection? No. Do we have the most knowledgeable staff? No. Those things don't make to best store anyway. Music is infinite--someone will ALWAYS want something we don't have or know of a band I've never heard of, but we've created loyalty that the other stores don't have. People will/do go out of their way to experience the store. Having lots of touring bands come through not only are we a step apart locally but nationally. People may not consider us the best but there is not another like us.
You had to close down for a few years. What did you do with that time? How have things changed after a few years with a new location?
I went back to cooking. It's a great thing to fall back on, if you're good you can always find work. The big difference now is downloading. It's a whole new monster, but overall music is pretty much the same. Sure, it's evolved, but it will continue to do that.
Tell me about shows at Eclipse--why is it important to have a venue that hosts all ages shows? In the past places like the Foxfire have eventually pulled the plug--what makes Eclipse different?
Running an all ages place is tough business. It's hard to come up with enough revenue to support it. It is important because it exposes kids/people to music at an early age and only helps venues that are not all ages. We are a record store first, venue second. I think the two go hand in hand but I'm in the minority. Otherwise you would see more of this model. In the time the store was closed no one attempted to do anything all ages or a record store. Maybe I'm stubborn, I knew I was going to open again, but I thought some one would at least try to do something. I in the time Eclispe was closed people still talked about it. It was more than just a store closing like Let It Be, Aardvark, and Root Cellar. Nothing against those stores, they were great, and I did shop at them, but when they closed people just shopped elsewhere. People missed them, sure, but their closing did not impact a demographic as much as when Eclipse closed.
The type of shows we have, they have a special feel so bands want to play here. Unfortunately the other stores don't really host in-stores so we get contacted by bigger bands (Spoon) to local staples like Dillinger 4 and Off With Their Heads. Next week we have the Soviettes who contacted us. They said when the talk of doing a reunion show came up they wanted to do an all-ages show and we were their only choice. We also get high school bands playing their first shows.
I feel we are also set apart from the other venues in town. There is not a genre we won't have play here.
What's your favorite personal rock and roll story?
Maybe not my favorite, but it's a story. For a brief time in the early Nineties, I attended school in Northern California. It was a lovely 7th day Adventist School--no smoking, drinking, or fun. I would sneak out on the weekends sometimes and see music. I was planning to see the Grateful Dead in Oakland so I hitchhiked my way down to Oakland to see them. To the rest of the people at school, I think they thought I was insane. Well, before the show, the famous promoter Bill Graham died, so when I went to the show rumors were running wild about a memorial concert in Golden Gate Park. I thought, "wow, this could be cool." I got my way down to San Francisco, about 70 miles from my school, for the Bridge School benefit show, which is a famous yearly show hosted by Neil Young, then after that show I hitched a ride to Golden Gate Park. It was blocked off so I slept in the bushes, and when I woke up there were about 10-20,000 people already there. It ended up being over 300,000 people. Biggest show i've been to. Santana, Grateful Dead, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Journey, John Fogerty, many more, all playing this great show free in the park. When it was done I ended taking a cab and giving him all my money for a ride. I was a little short...I think he is still looking for me.
Eclipse Records is located at 1922 University Avenue, in Saint Paul. They're open seven days a week and feature live music at least three days a week.
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