What can a poor boy do?(also published in Winter 1995 / 1996 as a slightly longer version under the title 'Dogstar Article')
by Katherine Tulich
Conducting an interview with the three members of Dogstar is like orchestrating a three ring circus. They're chanting race calls as I walk into the room, and a video camera is stuck in my face as numerous people (not in the band) mill around the room.
My first question is greeted with chip munching as they all plow into a packet of Pringles. They're joking about Jon Bon Jovi's comments about the band, who praised Dogstar for their enthusiasm.
"I don't even think he's bothered to watch us yet," lead singer and guitarist Bret Domrose says. "Maybe he just liked the way we got ready to go on stage. Maybe he thought that was enthusiastic."
In fact, if Dogstar were just another grunge band playing support spot with Bon Jovi, they'd probably slip through the country all but unnoticed. No one has heard them and they are yet to release a record.
But it's Dogstar's bass player, Keanu Reeves, that everyone is coming to see. He may be one of the hottest actors working in movies, but when it comes to Dogstar he's just another member of the band - and expects to be treated that way. Any direct reference to his movie career in interviews is strictly taboo.
"I'm grateful for the publicity my movie career gives the band and I realize audiences are coming to see me because of it, but if it brings them there then at least it gives the band a chance to be heard," says the softly spoken Reeves, looking more like a slacker musician than a movie heart-throb, unshaven and dressed in faded black jeans, black jumper and black beanie.
"Having Keanu in the band is a double-edged sword," says Domrose. "A lot of good comes with it, but also a lot of bad - especially when people just single him out all the time and just want to talk about his movies. That angers me, but it's not Keanu's fault. That's other people. But at least I am here in Australia and getting to play the songs that I wrote."
On stage Reeves shuns the spotlight. While he used to perform one song he wrote called Isabelle, he no longer sings any songs in concert, and shuffles coyly on the side of the stage, his head bent. Apart from the few dedicated Keanu fans screaming at every move, Dogstar's unfamiliar repertoire of thrash grunge had most of Bon Jovi's audience unmoved.
"We're still at the stage where we don't know how the audiences will react," Domrose says, "and we don't have a reference point. I think once we have a record out it will be a lot different."
At which point Reeves interjects: "But surely you play for yourself - I think that's what is important, to be able to express yourself. That's what I enjoy."
While it's the band's first visit to Australia, Reeves in fact lived for a short time in Melbourne as a child. He was born in Lebanon in 1964, but his parents moved to Melbourne a year later for six months where Reeves' younger sister was born.
As a child, Reeves' mother worked as a seamstress for rock stars and there were regular visits to the house by artists as diverse as Dolly Parton and Alice Cooper.
"I was always comfortable around musicians and the music scene," Reeves says, "and even though I became an actor I always harbored a childhood ambition to be a musician."
Dogstar have been together since 1991, when Reeves met drummer Robert Mailhouse - also an actor - through a mutual interest in hockey. Domrose and Greg Miller (guitar) joined later, but Miller has since left to form his own band.
"It wasn't about music at first," says Reeves. "I wasn't even thinking of being in a band, but I had a space at my house and Robert suggested we have a jam. At first it was a case of making noise, then we realized we could start doing gigs and then we began to get a following."
At this point the other two members are adding to the mayhem of the interview by making snoring noises.
"I seem to be boring the other members of the band," notes Keanu. "I guess it's my dulcet tones!"
Domrose describes Dogstar as part Afghan Wings, part Replacements. If the band plays a cover it's No Matter What by Badfinger.
"I think we sound like Dogstar," Domrose says. "The songs we write have their own distinctive sound, but I also realize we're not the first band to claim that."
Says Mailhouse: "We may not be the most talented band in the world, but we have a bond of friendship and energy that I think really comes across."
The band have just signed a mega-deal with BMG records worldwide, and hope to have an album out by March. "We had some record companies interested before, but we feel we're now ready to go into a studio," says Reeves. "I'm looking forward to going on the road for about three months when the album is released."
Reeves doesn't feel that Dogstar will interfere with his movie career.
"I see my career as being quite linear - it's not a question of having to make priorities," he says. "I'm just as committed to the band as I am to acting, and hopefully I will be able to continue with both forms of expression."
Dogstar support Bon Jovi at ANZ Stadium this Friday (November 17).