Keanu Reeves and Dogstar find their sounds in classic rock
by Kevin Ransom
The word came down from Keanu Reeves' publicist:
The movie actor, part-time rock 'n' roller and full-time teen heartthrob would agree to an interview - under two conditions.
He'd only answer questions about his side project - his band Dogstar - and he'd only do an interview in tandem with one of his bandmates. That meant questions about movie-biz topics - like "Just why is Sandra Bullock so darn perky?" - were off-limits.
Which is somewhat akin to interviewing Madonna and not being able to ask about her private life. All the other stuff is sort of beside the point.
That's exactly the kind of media attitude that rankles Reeves. He's serious about Dogstar - serious enough that, in the last two years, he's devoted three or four months a year to touring, rehearsing and recording with the band.
But for Dogstar - who perform Saturday at St. Andrew's in Detroit - having a famous movie actor for a bass player is clearly a double-edged sword.
"The pluses are that we get people to come out and give us a listen - people who might otherwise not come out," says Reeves, who's calling from Montreal.
"Plus, we've had some interesting travel opportunities. We got to open for Bon Jovi in Australia, which was ridiculous for a band that didn't even have a CD out at the time."
(The group has since released its debut album, Our Little Visionary, but the record went into limbo when the group parted ways with its record company in March. The band is selling the CD at its shows while they shop it around to other labels.)
"The bad side, of course, is that when some people come out to hear the show, they don't really hear the show - we're not judged for our music."
Reeves is talking about the group's early reviews. When the current three-piece line-up played its first live gigs in 1995, under-rehearsed and unprepared for media scrutiny, they were slagged by some Los Angeles critics who cared more about what Reeves wore than what the band played.
"When we opened for Bon Jovi at the (20,000-seat) Los Angeles Forum, that was our first gig as a trio," Reeves says. "But I thought we put on an OK show."
The group has also taken some critical heat for its sound. Rock critics have sniffed that the group's music isn't "relevant" - which, in modern-rock parlance, means that Dogstar's music isn't nihilistic, raging or cacophonous.
Brett Domrose, the band's guitarist, singer and main songwriter, is obviously more influenced by U2, Cheap Trick and the Police than by Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins. Dogstar makes straight-ahead guitar rock that also recalls the crunchy power-pop of the Kinks or the Smithereens.
"No, we're definitely not an alternative band," says Domrose. "I'm definitely more a fan of the classic rock sound - although these days, I guess that's a dirty word - than I am of the music of today.
"I'm trying to get into the songs of today, but there isn't a lot out there right now that I'm really digging."
Reeves, meanwhile, is bewildered about the prevailing rock-crit attitude that equates screechy bile-spewing with "relevance."
"We're not an angry band," concedes Reeves matter of factly. "We're not bitter or cynical, and we're getting bashed for that, and for not sounding like what people thought we should sound like."
Reeves also waves off media speculation that he turned down a role in Speed 2 - after starring in the original - in order to go on tour with Dogstar.
"Dogstar had nothing to do with my not making Speed 2," says Reeves. "My decision had more to do with the script. Plus, I'd just come off doing another big action movie" (Chain Reaction, with Morgan Freeman). Instead, Reeves opted for a role in Devil's Advocate, with Al Pacino, to be released in October.
Reeves doesn't buy into the yin/yang theory of being an actor/musician.
"It's not like playing music satisfies some part of me that isn't satisfied by acting," remarks Reeves. "I really don't see them as all that different. When you're onstage, and the band is really together, and the audience is into it, you can really lose yourself in the music and in the community of the crowd.
"And it's the same with acting. If a scene is really hot, and it's working, you can lose yourself in that creative act as well."
As for the future of Dogstar, Reeves says that, although he's committed to the band for the long term, "We're sort of making this up as we go long. It's like Brett says, 'We go where they'll have us.' "