By Jason Keil   Published Feb 05, 2004 at 5:22 AM

{image1}It might surprise some listeners who lend their ears to the self-titled debut release of Chicago's Dollar Store, the latest project from former Milwaukeean and current Waco Brother Dean "Deano" Schlabowske, that embedded in the 12-track collection of country and bluegrass tunes that come heavily dipped in a heaping helping of rock and roll sensibility is a cover of Cher's dance hit "Believe."

What may seem to some as a tongue-in-cheek parody of the current mediocrity that plagues rock music is really what Schlabowske sees as a "country song in disco clothing."

The song fits in perfectly with the other 11 tracks that explore the lives of cynical characters that have in some way or another encountered an enormous amount of disappointment in their lives brought on by their careers, the government or their significant others.

For example, "Explain Away" deals with the disillusionment that is found in the music industry. "Amazing Disgrace" touches on what Schlabowske observes as amazingly talented people tearing themselves apart. It's his "glass half-empty" point of view that provides the inspiration for his songwriting.

"I don't write in a stream of consciousness," says the former leader of the local industrial punk group Wreck as well as earlier groups like Modern Values and Blind Robins, "I'm fascinated with the media creating and tearing down people."

Dollar Store was formed because of Schlabowske's desire to explore his observations of this dog-eat-dog world, something that he really couldn't do as a member of the alt-country group The Waco Brothers. The hopes and expectations he had as a member of critically-acclaimed Waco Brothers, much like the characters in his songs with Dollar Store, were dashed away as the group began turning in a direction that he didn't expect.

"When The Waco Brothers first started, I was hoping that the music would move in a forward direction," Schlabowske explains, "I was kind of disappointed that it turned into a bunch of guys in cowboy shirts playing Hank Williams at 150 beats per minute."

Finding the right people to help Schlabowske bring his songs to life was no easy task. Bassist Alan Doughty, who has played with The Waco Brothers and on the 2001 Jesus Jones release "London," helped things gel. It was when drummer Joe Camarillo, who had made a guest appearance on The Wacos' 2002 release "New Deal," when things started to really come together.

Guest appearances by musicians Dave Alvin (Blasters, Knitters), Jon Rauhouse (Neko Case), Tex Schmidt and Celine (Sally Timms) help round out the album's textured sound.

Then came the band's appearances at last year's South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) in Austin and the 2003 CMJ Music Marathon in New York City, which included the lead guitar of Schmidt (of the German rockabilly band The Roughnecks). The audiences at both shows were blown away by Dollar Store's rocking and raucous live sets.

"I'm kind of combining the guitar attack of Wreck with the style of The Wacos," says Schlabowske, "I'm not sure that we have totally achieved that yet, but our live sets are starting to come into focus."

The band's live show should come in clearer this spring when Schlabowske takes Dollar Store on the road for a tour of the Midwest and East Coast. Like good Boy Scouts, Dollar Store is preparing to face the struggles that every independent band faces when they first begin.

"It's tough for any independent band to get attention with the stranglehold big business has," Schlabowske admits.

But he is already getting excited about recording another Dollar Store album, which should begin after he is done recording the next Waco Brothers disc. He hopes that listeners will be drawn to the band's country and bluegrass rooted songs, just as he was drawn to the simplicity and directness of those roots when he first started playing punk and new wave music in the '80s.

Schlabowske recalls, "You meet these punk rockers and you look thought their record collections and oddly enough, there is always some Hank Williams and Patsy Cline records in there. They're drawn to the no-nonsense sensibility of it."

What is Schlabowske's biggest wish for listeners of the album?

"Hopefully I have written a song or two (on the album) that will be annoyingly stuck (in the listener's) head for two weeks. I hope it makes their hair on the back of their neck stand up."

The self-titled debut release from Dollar Store was released February 3 on Bloodshot Records. For more information, please visit