KEANU'S JUST A BOY IN THE BAND(also published on November 17 as a shorter version under the title 'The big star in Dogstar is bassist Keanu Reeves')
by Paul Freeman
Usually a band's vocalist, guitarist or primary songwriter receives the bulk of the attention. In the rising rock trio Dogstar, Bret Domrose capably fills all three roles. Yet it's the bass player who inevitably finds himself in the spotlight. He's a fellow named Keanu Reeves.
"I've still managed to maintain much of my anonymity,'' Domrose chuckles. "It's kind of nice, actually. I don't feel deprived by any means. I feel that I get my share.
"I see the things that Keanu deals with,'' Domrose continues, "and I wonder if I'd be happy if I had to handle that all the time. If he wanted to meet with the fans after a show, there would be mayhem. It's weird.''
Reeves accepts his fame with a shrug. "It's not always that extreme,'' the actor/musician says. "It's flattering. But I would like to be able to go out and go my own way, and sometimes I can't.''
Certainly Reeves' cinematic celebrity has led to opportunities for Dogstar that would have other bands panting with envy. But it also has prematurely placed the trio in pressure-packed situations. There was no chance to develop invisibly.
"The band,'' Reeves says, "in its innocence, has sometimes jumped into things. Our first show as a three-piece was opening for Bon Jovi at the Forum in Los Angeles. That was just crazy.''
He laughs and continues, "But we did it and did pretty good. We threw caution to the wind and just went for it.''
Drummer Rob Mailhouse remembers another early gig, opening for David Bowie. "We were really nervous. We probably shouldn't have been there. But Bowie was so gracious to us. We all ended up having a great time.''
Despite rushing into major venues, the band took its time about recording. The debut album, "Our Little Visionary'' (Zoo Entertainment) deserves to make a big impact. The power of Domrose's edgy pop is maximized by Ed Stasium's production. Stasium has worked with such bands as the Ramones, the Smithereens, Talking Heads and Soul Asylum.
"I think the album is surprising a lot of people,'' Domrose says. "We were really careful not to record or release anything before we were ready. We waited until we had 100 percent confidence from all three of us. I think that comes across in the music.''
Dogstar was born almost four years ago. Reeves and Mailhouse connected as a result of their interest in ice hockey; they played together in pick-up games and discovered that music was another mutual passion. About a year later, Domrose was invited to join the band, which was then a quartet.
Mailhouse says, "When we started, we had good, bare rhythms, but it was just sort of a bashing sound. The melody lines had all been coming from Keanu's bass. When Bret joined the band, he became the melodic link.''
A year ago, the other guitarist/vocalist/songwriter, Gregg Miller, parted the band amicably to go in a different direction musically. As a threesome, Dogstar proved more potent.
"We didn't know if it was going to work as a three-piece,'' Domrose says. "But it has. We have new arrangements, new songs.
"I've always liked three-piece bands. There's a strong unity there. Everyone plays a very important part. With a four- or five-piece band, it's harder to keep in touch with all the personalities and moods. You can break into factions. A three-piece is more intimate.''
The three Dogstar members hail from diverse backgrounds: Domrose from Santa Clara, south of San Francisco, has played in bands for 10 years, including a stint with the influential punk group the Nuns.
Of his songwriting style, Domrose says, "I don't like things to be too predictable. Whenever you think you know which way a song's going, I like to take a turn.''
Reeves says of Domrose's compositions, "All of Bret's songs have a pain aspect to them, but there's also an optimism. They're not destructive, but positive. They don't get weighed down emotionally.''
Mailhouse, who also has had some acting success, has gotten an emotional charge out of music since his teens, when he was attending clubs in New Haven, Conn. For 10 years, he played keyboards.
"In the '80s, when everything was keyboard-oriented, like New Order, I got tired of the sound,'' he says. "I had always played keyboard in a percussive, attacking way. So I just picked up drum sticks and started playing drums instead. I guess I had pent-up anger and keyboards weren't cutting it. I needed to bang on something. Drums were more physically satisfying.''
For Reeves, who was raised in Toronto, bass provided that sort of satisfaction. Self-taught, he began playing eight years ago. "I found that, when I was listening to music I liked, my ear would go to the bass. I got curious, and one day I went to Sunset Boulevard and bought a bass and a little amplifier and started playing. I enjoyed it right away. I liked the physicality of playing that instrument.''
And the actor isn't intimidated by playing in front of huge crowds. "Playing music takes concentration, but, for me, acting is much more intense. To go on (stage) for 'Hamlet' is much different than going on for a rock show. They're such completely different energies.''
Though Reeves has had fun on stage with Dogstar, he has no plans to abandon acting, his primary artistic love. He is scheduled to begin shooting Taylor Hackford's "The Devil's Advocate'' this fall. But he is proud of what his band has accomplished.
Some reviewers have ambushed Dogstar because of Reeves' star status. "That's disappointing,'' he says. "I don't mind if they don't like the music. But at least listen to it. Judge it by hearing it.''
(c) 1996, Paul Freeman. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate for Marinex Multimedia Corp.