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Four and out as Dollar Bar celebrate Pyrrhic Victory with final album

Culture

For a brief period in the early 2000s, Brisbane indie-rock quartet Dollar Bar appeared to be on their way to a successful musical career – but despite the four-piece’s innate knack for writing catchy pop hooks, timing was never their strong suit.

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This tendency to inadvertently wrangle defeat from the jaws of impending victory is something the members of Dollar Bar – singers and guitarists Dale Peachey and Chris Yates, bassist and singer Patrick McCabe and drummer Brendan Rosenstengel – readily acknowledge with the title of their “fourth and final” album Pyrrhic Victory.

“It’s definitely about us having a jab at the fact that we kind of sabotaged ourselves as best we could throughout the course of the band’s history,” Yates told InQueensland when asked about the album name.

“It wasn’t through anything deliberate or particularly creative, it was more just by life and circumstances changing, like people leaving the city right at the point where we probably could have gotten more popular.

“We sort of broke up for the first time not long after we’d had some songs on Triple J – Peachey named the new album and I thought it was entirely fitting … once I’d googled it and figured out what it meant.”

Pyrrhic Victory is filled with the same rough-hewn but melodic brand of power-pop and verbose and witty lyricism – as evidenced by song titles such as ‘House of the Rising Damp’ and ‘Bonus Tracksuit’ – as its predecessors, with ’90s indie rock, particularly Guided By Voices, an obvious point of reference.

After releasing four EPs between 1999 and 2003, Dollar Bar topped the 4ZZZ Hot 100 in 2003 with their sardonically titled ‘Cute Gurls Have the Best Diseases’.

Airplay for that song, along with further singles from their 2004 self-titled album such as ‘Red Electric’ and ‘House of Cards’, ensured Dollar Bar remained on high-rotation for months on Triple J, where they were a favourite of then-Breakfast presenters Wil Anderson and Adam Spencer.

Dollar Bar embraced a DIY approach, for reasons of necessity as much as ideology, releasing their own zines, starting their own label Permanent Records and becoming a lynchpin of the early 2000s Brisbane indie-rock scene, which also included bands such as Turnpike, Extra Foxx, The Quickening, Dick Nasty and Knaw.

“It was a real coup to get played on Triple J, Patty and I were quite organised and we hit up the right people and we’d done our own zines and had gotten pretty good at pushing the band out there as best we could to whoever we could with limited means, and by that I mean zero money,” Yates said.

“We didn’t have publicists pushing it to radio or anything, I think it was actually [then Triple J program director] Chris Scaddan that originally got right behind us and he seemed to champion us pretty hard and would reply to our emails and things, which was nice.”

After drawing decent crowds at Brisbane venues such as The Zoo, undertaking several increasingly successful east coast tours and performing nationally broadcast live sets for Triple J, Dollar Bar’s future was suddenly looking bright.

“I think there was definitely a kind of ‘wow, what are we going to do next?’ thing but what really caused things to slow down was not long after that, Pat went overseas for a couple of years and that was the end of it for a while … well forever, we thought.”

Then in 2010, friend, long-time fan and current co-owner of Sonic Sherpa Record Store Steve Bell – who was the-then editor of Brisbane street press publication Time Off – made Dollar Bar an offer they couldn’t refuse when he put in some calls to get the band back together to perform at his 40th birthday party.

“Everyone was in touch and we got together in Brisbane and practised for about an hour and then played a set,” Yates said.

Emboldened by their first performance in several years, the band booked some studio time to record “a bunch of drum tracks and other bits and pieces” that became the foundation for Dollar Bar’s second album, Paddington Workers Club.

The band continued to perform sporadically and the critical acclaim and moderate success of that album was enough to motivate the four members of Dollar Bar – who were now living in various locations in three states across the east coast – to apply a similarly piecemeal approach to leisurely writing and recording what would become 2015 LP Hot Ones.

“The Hot Ones album came about because we  had a bunch of half-finished things, so, they were sort of songs that we were always going to keep working on and keep doing but we did it over a very long period of time basically and did a bunch of sessions where we’ve got other people in and still managed to patch it all together quite remotely.”

Dollar Bar haven’t played a show since their appearance at Sonic Masala Fest at Stones Corner in 2015 but the band still had some unfinished business, in the form of several partially completed songs.

Peachey, Yates, McCabe and Rosenstengel continued to collaborate on the songs remotely and the resulting 13 tracks have now been released as Pyrrhic Victory, which has just been released on streaming services and as a limited-edition vinyl album.

“We had it finished a little while ago,” Yates said. “We were originally just going to put it up on [music download site] Bandcamp as a free download and it floated around for a little while and we kept tweaking it and making little changes and edits here and there and it got to the point where me and Patty really loved it.

“Then we showed it to Dale and he really loved the way we’d sequenced it and the edits and other things we’d done to make it sound more like a band record and not just a bunch of songs and Dale got really enthusiastic  about it and wanted to put it out on vinyl.”

The members of Brisbane band Dollar Bar in 2002.

Looking back on Dollar Bar’s career, for want of a better term, Yates said the friendship and camaraderie he and his bandmates had remained his fondest memory.

“I think the main thing for me personally that I remember as a highlight of Dollar Bar was that it was such a great learning curve and I got to learn about so much amazing music and culture from being in the band.

“Peachey was just such an incredible guy and Patty had such amazing taste in music and Brendan was just a really awesome guy to hang around with. Dale got me into reading Kurt Vonnegut, which I became obsessed with and became a big fan of, and he got us into bands like Guided By Voices and the world of music that I liked was really opened up because of him.

“Twenty years later, I’m still mates with so many people from that time and that scene,” he said. “We really did have a fantastic camaraderie.”

Dollar Bar’s Pyrrhic Victory is out now at Bandcamp and on streaming services.

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