ETC (Singapore), Winter 1995 / 96
(Previously published on November 15 as a slightly shorter article under the title 'What can a poor boy do?')
by Katherine Tulich
Conducting an interview with the 3 members of Dogstar is like orchestrating a 3-ring circus. They are chanting race calls as I walk into the room and a video camera is stuck in my face as numerous other people mill around.
My first question is greeted with chip-munching as they all plow into a packet of Pringles. They are joking about Bon Jovi, who praised Dogstar for their enthusiasm.
"I don't even think he even bothered to watch us. Maybe he just liked the way we were ready to go on stage. Maybe he thought that was enthusiastic," says lead singer and guitarist Bret Domrose.
If Dogstar were just another grunge band they would have slipped through Australia barely noticed. No one has heard of them and they haven't even released a CD single. But Dogstar's bass player happens to be Hollywood actor Keanu Reeves, hence the huge fuss.
When it comes to Dogstar, Keanu is just another member of the band and expects to be treated that way. There are strict instructions not to mention his movie career at all in interviews.
"I'm grateful for the publicity my movie career gives the band and I realise audiences are coming to see me because of it," says Keanu. "But if it brings them there, I'm happy because at least it gives the band a chance to be heard."
Throughout the interview, Keanu is polite, softly spoken and sincere. He definitely looks more like a grunge musician than a heartthrob now, in faded jeans, black Doc Martens, a big baggy loose black jumper (hiding the Pringles paunch that seems to be developing) and a black beanie pulled low over his unshaven face. He greets me with a warm handshake, but is always conscious of his fellow band members and if too many questions are aimed at him, he'd push the microphone in their direction. Bret and drummer Robert Mailhouse, on the other hand, are intent on causing mayhem the whole time - cracking stupid jokes, throwing potato chips and making snoring noises whenever Keanu speaks for too long.
"Having Keanu in the band is a double-edged sword," says Bret. "A lot of good comes with it but also a lot of bad. especially when people 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's. But at least we're getting to travel and play our songs."
Keanu doesn't expect the first class treatment he normally gets on a movie set. The boys agreed to fly economy from Los Angeles to Australia (but were upgraded to Business), and all of them including Keanu share hotel rooms with their road crew.
"We are trying to conserve our money. As a band, we're not making tons of money yet, so we can't quite afford the first class tickets, but we can't complain, we're well looked after," says Bret.
Bret, Robert and the rest of the crew party every night in Australia, but Keanu rarely leaves the hotel. One of his few excursions down Chapel Street in Melbourne to do a spot of shopping doesn't last long as he is mobbed by adoring fans. The last time Keanu was in Australia he was a year old; his parents had moved to Melbourne for 6 months and his younger sister was born there. When Keanu's mother settled in Toronto, she worked for a time as a seamstress for rock stars and there were regular visits to the house by artistes from Dolly Parton to Alice Cooper.
"I was always comfortable around musicians and the music scene and even though I became an actor I always harboured a childhood ambition to be a musician," says the bassist.
Dogstar have been together since 1991 when Keanu met Robert, an actor from Days of our Lives. They both shared a mutual passion for hockey.
"We used to get together because we both loved hockey, so it wasn't about music at first," reveals Keanu. "I wasn't even thinking of being in a band but I had space at my house and Robert suggested we have a jam. At first, it was just a case of making noise, then we realised we could start doing gigs and before we knew it we began to get a following."
Dogstar began playing the LA club scene as a 4 piece with Robert on drums, Brett and Gregg Miller on guitars, but Gregg has since left to form his own band.
Keanu picked the bass guitar because he enjoys the physicality of it. "For me it feels like an art form that's about expression and feeling and that's why I enjoy it," he says. At which point Brett and Robert fall over him and start to snore. "I seem to be boring the other members of the band. I guess it's my dulcet tones!"
So far the critics have been less than kind to Dogstar, and admittedly their first gig in Melbourne's Olympic Park is pretty atrocious. On a huge stage they find it hard to keep the sound of the band together, and all of them especially Keanu look uncomfortable.
On stage, Keanu shuns the spotlight. While he used to perform one song he wrote called Isabelle which the band says is now banned (but they wouldn't tell me why), Keanu no longer sings any songs on stage. He shuffles coyly on the stage, his head bent, and apart from a few dedicated Keanu fans screaming at every move, Dogstar's unfamiliar repertoire of thrash grunge left the Bon Jovi audience unmoved.
Keanu admits that it wasn't that long ago that he proclaimed "the band sucks". "I did say that but that was quite a while ago, and I said it more as a disclaimer, but we've been practising hard and I think we're pretty good now."
"We may not be the most talented band in the world," says Robert. "But we have a bond of friendship and energy that I think really comes across."
"We're still at the stage where we don't know how the audience will react. I thinkonce we have a record out, it will be a lot different," said Brett. Keanu disagrees. "But surely you play for yourself and that's what's important, to be able to express yourself, whether you have a hit record or not."
Dogstar have just signed a mega deal with Zoo Entertainment, and hope to have an album out by March. "We had some record companies interested before but we feel we're ready now to go into the studio," Keanu says, "I'm looking forward to going on the road for about 3 months when it is released."
And don't worry, our Speedster isn't planning to retire from the big screen. "I see my career as 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 do both."