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Chris Schafer

Remembering 25 years of the Hour Haus with one of its longest-running operators

Photo: Frank Klein, License: N/A, Created: 2011:03:17 18:07:42

Frank Klein

The Hour Haus 25th anniversary party with Telesma, Gag School, Condor, Greenspan, and more

March 26, The Hour Haus

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The Hour Haus, the Station North Arts District’s storied practice/studio/performance space, existed well before “Station North” and its official arts district designation were twinkles in City Hall’s eye. Now extant for 25 years before, it is almost certainly the longest running underground space in a city where underground spaces surface and burst almost too fast to keep track of. Fifteen years ago, Chris Schafer and his brothers Joey and Ray took the space over and have had it ever since. A week before the Hour Haus’ 25th anniversary party, City Paper talked to Chris in a room overlooking North Avenue that now houses his burgeoning custom clothing business.

City Paper: How did you wind up with the Hour Haus?

Chris Schafer: It was me and my younger brother Joey. We started practicing in here in the mid-’90s. We were sharing this room up front with Joe Loverde, who used to be in this band S.Q.U.I.D. There were, like, three bands using this space all at once. It was really in disarray. Before we had the Hour Haus, there were people kinda doing a lot of shows in here and ran it into the ground a little bit. You can’t let the space get too hot. You’ve got to pace it out. ’Cause it’s not a club.

I think one of the reasons we lasted as long as we did is we looked at the things the people here before us had done right and done wrong, and it’s that risk management of not going and doing stuff too often. In Baltimore, if you do things too much, people get sick of it and move on. We decided just to do stuff maybe once a month. When Landis [Expandis’] wife fell down the stairs, that’s when we realized this is serious, and stuff can really go wrong.

There was trash everywhere and things were all messed up. So we talked to the owner of the building to try and work out a management agreement, get the place cleaned up, make it be decent. And make it so we don’t have to pay for practice space. That was the goal. It was either work and pay for practice space, or work around the Hour Haus and not pay for practice space.

So that’s how it all started, getting the trash taken out and collecting the rents. Finally, the owner really pushed us to lease the space from him. By 2000, my older brother Ray got involved with us and we built the studio.

CP: So you’ve been redoing that process lately, the cleaning up and so forth?

CS: Sometime around when we built the studio is when I lived up in the loft upstairs—I guess for about a year and a half. I had to take that route. I’m glad I did, but I don’t ever want to go back. It’s a tough lifestyle. And now to go through all of that and to be making custom clothes in here? Wow. This was my bedroom.

We ended up moving some stuff around [with the space]—and then I moved over to London. My older brother was running it, and renting it out to Steez Productions. Like, full-on underground raves with international DJs, all that stuff. I didn’t think it was a very good idea. Like I said, this place is a practice spot. You can’t have kids partying all night and passing out outside your practice room. It’s not cool.

I was overseas at the time—this was four years ago? three?—and my feeling [when I came back] was that this is not good for what’s going on up here. This area here, this Station North, it’s been developing. It’s always been an artist area, but now there’s signs up saying it’s an artist area. So I came back home and saw kinda what was going on up here, and I said to ’em, “Look, if you want to turn the place around and get it to be about music and about real positive stuff . . .”

I love this place. It’s been my creative home for years. I’m pretty in tune with the energy, you know what I mean?

So, I was like, “We need to do some work, we need to get the place cleaned up, we need to get a positive vibe going.” Everybody’s mature and stuff, so it’s just been time. You gotta evolve. That’s the way life’s supposed to go. We thought it was going to be a six-month project, and here we are a year and a half later.

CP: Is there one show that really stands out from your time with the space?

CS: I was at shows here in the mid-’80s. One of my favorite bands then was called Grey March. They were just freaking so tight. God those guys were good. This was when I first started seeing performance art and music come together, and it was the same time the Marble Bar was going on. There was a really cool music scene happening and I was young and thought that was normal.

This show with All Mighty Senators was really cool. Those guys had lived here too, in the late ’80s. It was this late-night show and there were these big puppets and people were getting naked. That was definitely an out-there show. There’ve been lots of great bands—Motor Morons on my birthday. Frickin’ Flipper played here. Lots of really cool shows and so many cool people. I think I was 13 [when I started coming here]. I would never let my 13-year-old come here.

CP: Is there a character that stands out in your mind from over the years?

CS: don’t think I even ever talked to her, but one person that stands out was Spoon Popkin. I remember just sitting at the top of the stairs, and she had these dreads that were green and stuff, and I was like 13 and sitting there with her having this conversation. And she played in Womyn of Destruction. I loved all those bands. I have this very vivid memory of sitting at the top of the stairs talking with her, and I’m this really young kid . . . and she’s a great artist. A moment I clearly remember.

But I owe it all to Louis Frisino. He lived in my neighborhood and was an awesome drummer. His parents were deaf, and you’d ring the doorbell and the lights would flash. He’s phenomenal. Way to make lemonade. He’s a cool dude. He was friends with my older brother. Everybody was skateboarding, and this guy was riding handstands. Louis was the one that brought me up here and taught me this whole thing.

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