Deathstars can be temporal things, but a Dogstar, maybe that’s forever. That is the lesson the rock world can learn after the reemergence of the trio of that name after a mere 23-year layoff.
There might have been a reasonable assumption in the interim that maybe the group was a hobby that its most famous member, bassist Keanu Reeves, got over as his other gig just grew and grew. But he, guitarist-vocalist Bret Domrose and drummer Rob Mailhouse never considered Doghouse officially extinguished, and now, they are picking up about where they left off. (Which was 2000, as records go, or 2002, when they last reformed to play a few select gigs in Japan, a market that had particularly cottoned to the group in its heyday.)
The reunited trio’s first single and video back, “Everything Turns Around,” came out earlier in July, to be followed by a full album on the group’s own Dillon Street Records, “Somewhere Between the Power Lines and Palm Trees,” on Oct. 6. A couple of one-off gigs Dogstar already did at the Roxy and the BottleRock Festival in Napa Valley were teasers for a 29-tour that will start with another L.A.-area show on Aug. 10 and wrap up Dec. 20 at Nashville’s Brooklyn Bowl. (See the full itinerary below.)
But that’s not all. Interviewed by Variety via Zoom, Dogstar members insist this is not a “one more for old time’s sake” run, and that more records and touring will be in the offing come next year and thereafter. Read our Q&A to behold these vows, along with their thinking about how the band’s sound has changed — and whether it was ever grunge.
After doing the Roxy, you guys have announced a tour for this fall, and you’re doing the clubs — including coming back to the Troubadour. Did that feel like the most comfortable thing to do after coming back after this many years — to not either go out opening for somebody, but not to try to overdo it in terms of big theaters either, but keep it at that level?
Mailhouse: Yeah, we’re just stepping back into the shallow end, and seeing what the world has for us. We’re just taking it nice and slow, and so far so good.
Reeves: It’s not like, Chris, we were playing stadiums before. It’s not like “Oh, we used to be a stadium band, and now we’re gonna do some small clubs.”
Domrose: Don’t you remember when we headlined the Hollywood Bowl? Plus we have this record coming out, so we don’t know where that’s gonna take us too. Next year we could have a different conversation and it might be a little bit different. Or we could be playing at a bar mitzvah.
Mailhouse: I think it would be flattering to be asked to open for a bigger band. We’ve done that before [including opening for David Bowie, at his behest]. … And it’s a different era now where there’s so much different gear and different in-ear monitors. Everything is so different and better… and sub-woofers… I think sounds, for most people’s concert experiences, are much better now.
Reeves: Welcome to Tech Talk with Rob Mailhouse.
Do you have the fire in your belly after 20 years away to go back out and do clubs? Some of these cities don’t even have major airports, so we’re imagining you will probably be on a bus…
Reeves: Yes, please! We’ve always loved playing on the road.
What has been the reaction to the single so far? And how do you feel like it either fits in with or contrasts with the style people knew for you back when you had the string of albums in the ‘90s through 2000? It seems like the word “fun” is something that you’re willing to embrace. And people have described the single as summary. Does that feel the same or a little different?
Domrose: I think this is a little lighter maybe than some of the last albums, subject-matter-wise. I think we’re 20 years older, and a lot of life has been lived since the last time we made a record, and it was a nice surprise to see that this is what came out of us. You know, it turns out we’re not as depressed as we used to be. Not every song is summery and happy, but… I hate to say it, but it’s fun.
Reeves: I would say it’s definitely representative of Dogstar today and not a comp with the Dogstar of the past. I think it’s developed, as Fred said, just who we are now. We had an amazing record producer, Dave Trumfio, and engineer, Ruddy Lee Cullers, and I think it’s a little more sophisticated. I think there’s a lot of craft in it to make it a feel so summery. so there’s a lot of intention and skill and craft behind the song. And I feel like it’s different than what we were in the past.
It was interesting looking up some old articles and remembering how often you were described in the ‘90s as “a grunge band.”
Reeves: We were never a grunge band. Dogstar never chased a sound; we never chased being like anybody else. And we certainly weren’t grunge, ever.
Domrose: I think what happened is, we recorded our first EP with a producer from Seattle right around the time when grunge kind of had been peaking, Rick Parashar. We went to the same studio that Mother Love Bone and Pearl Jam recorded in, and so I think maybe that might be where it came from. That and the fact that I had long hair and a goatee back then.
Mailhouse: We did an interview with David Wild and he wrote this thing and the first thing he said is, “Everything you know about Dogstar is wrong.” Maybe he’s saying that because he heard this whole record, or maybe he always felt that way. We got sort of put in a box. I think people like to do that. They do it with painting: Oh, you’re an impressionist, you’re a realist, you’re a pointillist. That’s the box we kind of fell into at the time. But this record, man … I’m not exactly sure what it is. And that’s OK.
Domrose: We turned the grunge knob all the way down.
Reeves: We have guitars. It’s rock songs.
Mailhouse: I do want to call it indie pop rock folk.
Domrose: Oh, it’s getting shorter. Only four adjectives now.
Mailhouse: You know how they say your tastebuds change every eight years? It’s probably not true, but it really felt that way, playing some of the old songs. There are a few that I still love, there’s no doubt about it. But there was the bulk of ’em that just was… I didn’t even know who that band was.
Domrose: It’s just always more fun for us to play the newer stuff or go forward. We made some changes to our equipment… Not to get back on gear talk. But we went after a sound and then I think the songs started coming. Again, 20 years later, a lot of different things have happened, and Keanu was bringing in a lot of bass riffs… The way he plays bass is a little unlike most bass players. Part of that’s because we’re only a three-piece band, I’m sure. The other part is because of his influences from Peter Hook. But he comes in with chord structures on the bass, which allows the guitar not to have to play chords, because it’s being handled. So that opens my world up to apreggiated picking and little intricate things that maybe a second guitar player might do. With this album, we got a lot of that from Keanu, and it really gave a dimension that those other albums didn’t have. Before, I think those other albums were kind of just like, we’re all playing the chords, you know? And this one was a little more diversified and spread out sonically.
Mailhouse: What you’re saying, I agree with. What you’re saying also applies to what I did in the drumming too. I felt like he’s very percussive, and when Keanu brought in all these different things, I felt like they were almost like drum parts. So I sort of beat (the drums) around those beats on the bass, and it was very effortless and inspiring.
And Peter Hook figures in there somehow — his style is filtering into this, Keanu?
Reeves: Well, the fellas have heard me speak ad nauseum about my affection and influence of Peter Hook on my bass playing.
You did say in an interview I saw that you had spent a lot of time on your instrument, which might be surprising to people that you’d done that so much, even though the band wasn’t together? Were you just kind of jamming with yourself or trying to teach yourself to be more of an expert?
Reeves: No, man, I love playing bass.
So you’re doing that no matter what, whether there’s a band around or not.
Reeves: [He pulls out his bass and starts jamming on it.] Yep.
Mailhouse: That’s the next song! … We would get together quite often, just sometimes just the two of us, and do bass-and-drum jams a lot, quite often, and that would just keep us going. So that was very helpful.
Some people might think it was free time during the pandemic that brought you back together, but didn’t we read you were getting back together just for fun even a little before that, in 2019?
Mailhouse: Yeah, for sure. Bret and I went to a rehearsal space and tried to bang out some ideas. He played in another band after Dogstar for many years called Becky, too. But I would say it didn’t formalize really until probably 2021 when we got together and decided to get together and try and play and see how we felt, and that turned into committing to trying to write some songs with the vision of making a record, which we did.
People assumed that Dogstar was a thing of the past, and you weren’t correcting that assumption until recently. So are you unsurprised that people are surprised? It always kind of makes people happy when something they assumed was consigned to the dust bin wasn’t after all.
Domrose: It’s different this time around. I was talking to Rob about that before the show last night in the dressing room. It’s hard to describe, but maybe it’s just a tone, the way the world is. I mean, there’s a lot of bad things happening in the world, but there’s also a lot of good things happening. And I notice that with people helping each other out more. I saw the thing in Glastonbury with someone having a mental health breakdown on stage, and in the old days maybe they might throw things, and there, they’re like helping and singing along. It just seems like there’s a little more humanity going on, at a time when it almost feels like there isn’t. This time around it just seems like a lot more love (for the band). I don’t know whether it’s deserved or not, but I feel that and it’s appreciated.
Reeves: Don’t you feel like we really felt that at BottleRock, the Napa festival we played last month?
Mailhouse: I almost broke down while I was playing drums. I just never felt like that before.
Reeves: We had a really warm response from the audience, playing. And it’s tough to see a show when you don’t know any of the songs. But people hung out and they heard our music and they were really appreciative.
Mailhouse: It’s like going to a Broadway musical for the first time when ou don’t really know the play.
Domrose: It’s kind of cool because there’s some YouTube videos that people have posted from that BottleRock show. It’s like being a fly on the wall because you hear them talking while they’re recording you, and they’re like, “They’re not that bad!” “Yeah !You wanna hang out? Let’s hang out a little longer.” Like, you know, “Let’s not go get barbecue yet.” “I don’t think I’m gonna pee now.” So you do feel a little voyeuristic about it and you’re like, “Oh wow, cool, that’s what they’re thinking.” Because when you’re looking out at all these people, you never really know what they’re thinking. It’s like, they’re staying; that’s a good sign.
Mailhouse: Right, you didn’t have 10,000 people with Zoom mics before.
Domrose: It was kind of endearing, you know? It’s like having a ring camera in the audience
Before we go, just a moment of nostalgic trivia, if we can. Do you have a best show and worst show from when you were first active as a band?
Reeves: Fillmore West (in San Francisco). Love it.
Domrose: I mean, for me, the first time we went to Japan just blew my mind. And the people, the enthusiasm — there’s some serious rock fans over there. I just picked up that energy, for sure. And so, I mean, I’ll always remember that as being a milestone in my life.
Mailhouse: Now I’m getting hungry.
Reeves: There was New Orleans, when we played a show and the club owner pulled a pistol out on the table. That was kind of interesting. I remember that I was with Ken when he was trying to collect. And the promoter was like, “So…” and then he put the pistol on the table. But the show was fine.
Mailhouse: I don’t remember that. Did we get paid?
Domrose: We didn’t get robbed, but I think there was some negotiating going on… It was like an episode of “Deadwood.”
And worst gig? Wasn’t there a metal festival that was kind of iffy for you?
Reeves: It was like, we’re fucking playing the metal fest, and now we’re playing a Grateful Dead cover. Which is, you know, kind of punk rock… Yeah, man. How do you like some Grateful Dead? Yoo-hoo!
Domrose: I think psychologically, we probably won them over in the end because there was like this weird moshpit going on. I can’t pinpoint a worst gig like date, time, or location, but there are those gigs where maybe it’s not a true music crowd. Maybe you’re playing the grand opening of a restaurant, or we did a few things that that were like promotional things that weren’t as fun. Last night at the Roxy was just fun because it was hot and sweaty and people were screaming and having a great time and it was all music. And so there are those other gigs where you’re like, sometimes you come away for a bit going, I’m kind of glad that’s over. But we still play and we have fun when we’re on stage together.
Millhouse: Last night I was playing drums. I don’t like to look at the audience too much because it throws me off, but then I saw Steven Tyler in the audience, and then that was like my heart went dinging. I was like, maybe that’s someone that looks like Steven Tyler. That’s probably not …
Reeves: I don’t think anyone looks like Steven Tyler. He’s a beautiful Merlin man.
Millhouse: He was rocking out to “Breach” and then he came back. I was like, wow, that’s never happened to us before.
Are you thinking about next year… if this isn’t necessarily just like a one time go out and that’s it type of thing?
Reeves: We want to make another record. We wanna get in the studio, we wanna tour, we wanna play, we wanna travel, we wanna have great shows and have people have a really good time.
Dogstar’s tour itinerary for the remainder of 2023:
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