Dogstar - Paw man's music
It was probably inevitable that Keanu Reeves' band, Dogstar, would one day find themselves in circumstances that would imitate footage from the actor's acclaimed career.
Tearing around the streets of Los Angeles with Sandra Bullock in Speed, although unlikely, may have been the preferred scenario. Instead, the alterno-pop trio found themselves in a situation more like a cut from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure: playing a heavy metal festival in Milwaukee before thousands of denim-clad headbangers. But, what could have been a case of musical lambs to the slaughter, was salvaged by Reeves' sense of humour.
"I told the band 'let's play one of the Grateful Dead covers'," he laughs during one of his weekend's off from shooting The Matrix in Sydney. "(Adopts country drawl) 'I was born in the desert!'... just as a joke. They started throwing stuff at us. It was really fun."
The word "fun" neatly sums up the entire objective behind Dogstar since its beginnings in Hollywood back in 1993. The core of the band - bass player Reeves and drummer Rob Mailhouse - met through a mutual interest in ice hockey and subsequently fell into music together - firstly with two jazz musicians then in a punk rock format before taking the name Dogstar and embracing the sounds of Joy Division, the Grateful Dead and all points in-between.
The present three-piece line-up of Reeves, Mailhouse and guitarist Bret Domrose has been together for about four years. In 1996, they released the Quattro Formaggi EP followed by their debut album, Our Little Visionary. The threesome are currently working on their second album which is "a little heavier, a little more sophisticated and a little more diverse".
The band's schedule fits comfortably around Reeves' film commitments, and the actor relishes his position out of the spotlight as Dogstar's bass player. He felt no need to alter that stance even when Dogstar were special guests of Bon Jovi on their last Australian tour.
"We were the first band of three. Jimmy Barnes was the second band so we would tend to play for the security guards (laughs) in the daytime. It was great. We had some people come out. It was great to play. But it's not like we went on after Bon Jovi with fireworks and 60,000 people.
"We had great gigs last time we were here. The show we did in Sydney after our gig with Bon Jovi was rained out was a seminal show for us. Before I came here, I said to the guys 'We should figure out a way to play Australia again'."
Despite the enormity of that experience, according to Reeves, it wasn't Dogstar's defining moment. Not surprisingly, that came at the hallowed Fillmore West in San Francisco, which has hosted legends from Jimi Hendrix to The Doors and Led Zeppelin. Reeves was jumping out of his skin at the memory of the show.
"Oh man! We got a poster and everything! Our sound man, Matt Dubin, is the house sound guy so we kind of did it for him," he laughs. "But it was amazing to play that place. We had such a great time. I think we stopped being a bar band after that. It changed us."
But it hasn't entirely been a dream run for the trio. They've had to deal with their share of hurdles.
"About a year-and-a-half ago, I had a motorcycle accident and snapped my ankle. We were making Our Little Visionary so I sat in a wheelchair. It was funny because I don't generally play sitting down. I do when I'm diddling by myself but when I play... that sounded funny didn't it?" he asks, having recognised his slip. "I do when I'm diddling but not when I play!" he repeats with a cackle.
Not surprisingly, the band's critics seized on the fact that Reeves wasn't particularly mobile on stage during the subsequent tour.
" '...and Mr Reeves is staring at his feet!'," he mock quotes.
"I'm the bass player!" he yells. "I'm supposed to stare at my feet or look around! I don't have to jump! Gee, I hope you like the music!
"(He mock quotes again) 'Keanu Reeves is wearing a black T shirt!'. Who cares!" he bellows again before resuming in a near whisper. "It's funny sometimes."
After Mailhouse and Domrose joined Reeves in Sydney last week, another brief chat revealed more of what Australian fans can expect from Dogstar's shows.
According to Rob, the venues on the Australian tour should be more in tune with Dogstar's live performances. Although they've played a few stadium gigs, they're not U2 yet.
"I don't know if we played that many large gigs, it was just a handful, really," Mailhouse explains. "It made us kind of well-rounded, I think, because we've seen all sizes of venues."
"Yeah, we play bars, festivals, some stadium stuff, opening up...," Keanu pipes up.
"Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs... the usual stuff," Bret adds.
Do you have a preference when it comes to live gigs?
"It's really different," Reeves answers. "It really depends on how it's going; the audience, the music, how you feel at the time."
"It's kind of fun to be outdoors," Rob continues. "There's always something exciting about that, the wind, the rain... the crowd seems to be a lot more committed outdoors, especially if they're willing to stand in weather. There's a thing about an energy coming from them that nothing's going to get them down."
"I don't know about that," Brett retorts. "I think, no matter what we did or what we do, there's always going to be someone with an opinion one way or the other. It's part of the nature of the business."
Dogstar play the Alexandra Hills Hotel on Saturday June 27 and The Playroom on Sunday June 28 (with One Eyed Milkman).