During 1990s and early 2000s, much of Keanu’s public persona and, to some extent, his artistic expression were connected to the bend Dogstar, to which he was one of the founders and the bass-guitar player from the beginning to the end. The original band was Robert Mailhouse (drums), Keanu Reeves (bass guitar) and Greg Miller (lead guitar) later joined by Bret Domrose in 1994 with Gregg leaving it in 1995. At first, they called themselves Small Fecal Matter, which gave way to BFS (Big Fucking Shit, or slightly more politely, Big Fucking Sound) and finally, they settled on Dogstar – the colloquial name for Sirius – the brightest star of the night sky and member of Canis Major (The Big Dog) constellation.
The band was formed in 1992 after Keanu and Rob Mailhouse proverbially met in Mayfair Market in Hollywood and very soon become friends. Before long, their love of music led them to private jam sessions.
Rob, who had previously played keyboards, was keen on teaming up with Keanu to form a band in which he would change from keyboards to drums. He invited his NYC friend, Gregg Miller, to come down to LA and join them.
Gregg arrived in LA at the beginning of 1992 and on his second night in the town they met up at Keanu’s house. As the story goes, it was an instant chemistry between the three of them. They jammed practically all night, crashing out in front of their equipment about 5 a. m.
Keanu, who was filming Dracula at the time, offered Gregg to stay at his place and since then, it was the three of them for months, practising and shaping up their future sound either at Keanu’s or Rob’s place. The music at the time was sloppy – just noise and jamming – but the chemistry was there and the three friends became quite inseparable for a while.
Only six weeks later, the band, who called themselves BFS at the time, had their first gig at a Hollywood club called Spice. In truth, the new band wanted a quiet trial show, but somehow people found out and the place was packed full. Owing to their short existence, the band was in no shape to be judged yet and quickly picked up the reputation of being bad.
But they did get better. Their greatest flow of time and harmony between them was in 1993 when they had just made the Ride video while Keanu was filming Speed. He was prosperous and happy at the time and their life was a continuum of jamming and having fun. At that time, Gregg was a bar tender in Club Shelter – a night-club in Pasadena – where they played twice and filmed the Ride video (a song that Gregg and Keanu had written together). It was there that Gregg met the future member – Bret Domrose – who was his bar-back for a year.
After a year, Bret, invited Gregg out to see his band. Bret’s guitar playing was quite impressive. Dogstar had been looking to add another guitarist to take the load off Gregg so that he could focus on his prime strength – the rhythm guitar. The original trio had already written many songs together but Gregg was doing most of the arrangements and all the guitar work.
Bret started out as Gregg’s guitar technician helping out at rehearsals. At one point in 1994, when the band had hit a bit of a creative wall, Rob said to Bret, “Why doncha go home and get your guitar?” … and Bret was in the band. He energized Dogstar with good guitar sounds and made a fine leading guitarist. His first gig with the band was in Troubadour.
Bret, on hold to tour as Sheryl Crow’s guitarist, definitely added a nice new dimension to Dogstar and once his songs were introduced, the band’s sound took a somewhat different direction. Gregg, who had always wanted to play punk (similarly to Keanu) left in 1995 thus making it a trio once again.
The group put out a modest EP in early 1996 distributed by BMG’s now-defunct Zoo Entertainment: Quattro Formaggi (defined as “four cheeses” in Italian). It was a tasty four-track preview of what was to come the following year on the band’s first full-length album. Although their official debut LP, Our Little Visionary, was distributed only in Japan, Dogstar played a sold-out tour thanks to its Western culture-loving fan-base. The band continued to play another sold-out U.S. spring tour and covered England, Australia, and India. They attracted a foreign audience of 7,000 to the equivalent of the Academy Awards in India, the ZeeTV Cine & TV Awards, and were also honoured by being requested to play at England’s prestigious Glastonbury Festival.
Amazingly, the three rockers managed to create and record their second U.S. album, Happy Ending, intermittently in 1999 despite conflicting schedules and employing two producers. Michael Vail Blum (Suicidal Tendencies, Goo Goo Dolls) worked on eight of the 10 tracks, while producer /recorder /mixer Richie Zito (Cheap Trick, the Cult) tackled the rest, including the group’s late addition of a cover of the Carpenter‘s hit ballad, Superstar, a favourite during their live shows. Domrose called the music on the new record more “pop-aggressive” than the band’s earlier work. Although Dogstar‘s music was often eclipsed by the presence of its bassist, movie star Keanu Reeves, perhaps stunting the band’s growth, the talented trio was extremely committed to its music and its growing fanbase. That truly sounded like just the beginning of a Happy Ending.
Unfortunately, Dogstar didn’t have the chance to become its own star, given the presence of its bassist, Keanu Reeves who had already established himself as a well-known Hollywood film actor and a world-wide movie hunk. To add to the confusion, Rob Mailhouse had also become a familiar face on one of TV’s most popular soap opera, Days of Our Lives, and guitarist/ front-man Bret Domrose spent his free time writing screenplays as well as songs.
For Dogstar, it was about the music and not the trappings of life on tour. Not the critics. Not the record-label crap.
Which ingredients went into a Dogstar song? Simple stuff:
Start with lyrics that invite you into a secret, personal world. Words that tell a story about a relationship on the rocks, about dishonesty, about how lovers hurt each other.
Bring those words to life with soulful vocals, powerful guitar playing, and hard rhythmic drive, and you’ve got a Dogstar song.