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Chris Haise Fine-Tunes His Folky Debut, ‘Your Ugly Friends’

Feb. 28, 2017
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Like many of the city’s most committed songwriters, Chris Haise has staked out a home for himself at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn, where most Wednesdays he can be found at the venue’s long-running open mic. It’s where he’s honed his craft. The event, Haise says, is an opportunity to workshop new material and to network with fellow artists. And, just as importantly perhaps, it’s also an ego check.

“It kind of teaches you to manage expectations, in the sense that you never know what will go over with the crowd,” Haise says. “You know, the worst trap you can get into in any form of art is thinking the most recent thing you’ve done is the best thing you’ve done. When you utilize an open mic like that, or any venue that lets you perform your stuff in a low-pressure environment, it’s just a good exercise in being self-aware and self-critical, and learning what works and what doesn’t.”

He takes that feedback seriously. “Writing is more about re-writing than anything else,” he says. “That’s where those open mics come in. You write a song and think it’s really good, then you play it at Linneman’s and it doesn’t go over well and it’s back to the drawing board. You put it back in the shoebox with all the other songs that didn’t work.”

Haise is such an evangelists for open mics that he now hosts one of his own, Tuesday nights at the Miramar Theatre. The vibe is quite different from Linneman’s. “It’s a totally creative open mic, so we give people 10 minutes to do pretty much whatever they want on the stage,” Haise explains. “I always say I draw the line at mass hypnosis. But otherwise we get a lot of comedians, poets—we had a belly dancer a few weeks ago. But there are a lot of songwriters, too, and since it’s all ages we get a younger crowd, which is nice for UWM kids who can’t get into Linneman’s yet.”

This week Haise will release his debut EP, Your Ugly Friends, a culmination of his long process of writing, rewriting and vetting his songs. It’s peppered with generous nods to Bob Dylan—Haise cites Blood on the Tracks as his favorite album ever—but there’s an analytical undercurrent to these songs that’s all his own. The songs are as precise as they are concise, each finely tuned for maximum efficiency. Despite the live-in-the-studio looseness of his performances, nobody will mistake these songs for first drafts.

The EP plays out as a loose narrative about him falling for the wrong person, licking his wounds, and discovering the right person. “I like to write songs more reflectively than cathartically,” Haise says. “I have a history degree, so for me, I write about times gone by that I am now able to look back on with some distance and have a better understanding of what I was feeling, what I was going through.”

For his EP release show March 4—at Linneman’s, naturally—Haise will be accompanied on stage by his openers, songwriter Myles Coyne and the Americana band Paladino. “So I’ll have a 5-piece band, which I usually don’t do,” Haise says. “I usually perform solo, but I really like the way this record ended up sounding and I wanted to be able to recreate it for the night.”

Chris Haise’s Your Ugly Friends release show at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn with Myles Coyne and Paladino begins at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 4.

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