Keanu Reeves dismisses the idea that playing bass in his long-defunct rock trio, Dogstar, was a passion project that he hoped to make time for in between a prolific Hollywood career. “It’s not ‘make time for it,’” he tells Billboard, his hair shagging into his eyes, during a Zoom call earlier this week. “It’s something that’s part of my life.”
Although Dogstar hadn’t released an album in over two decades — 23 years and four John Wick films ago — Reeves says that a proper reunion with his pals Bret Domrose and Rob Mailhouse had been on his mind for a while. “I missed playing together, I missed writing together, I missed doing shows together. It’s something I’ve always missed,” he admits. “We came to a spot where we weren’t playing anymore, and I missed it … Once we started to play, and it felt good, and really positive and creative, that’s when it was like, ‘Okay, let’s make this happen.’”
The reunion of Dogstar — which has been teased since last July, when a newly created Instagram account declared, “We’re back” — finally comes into focus this weekend, when the trio takes the stage for their first public performance together at BottleRock Napa Valley music festival on Saturday (May 27). The band will play a mix of older songs from their previous studio albums, 1996’s Our Little Visionary and 2000’s Happy Ending, as well as unveil cuts from a forthcoming, as-yet-untitled album — which was always part of the plan when the reunion became official.
“I think all three of us just said, ‘Well, if we’re going to do this, let’s make a record,’” says Reeves. Singer-guitarist Domrose adds, “We just knew that there was ‘X’ amount of time, and we needed to make the most of it. We just locked on as wanting to make this record, and it happened pretty quickly.”
Reeves, Domrose and Mailhouse kept in touch over the years after Dogstar played its final show together in 2002. “We’ve sort of been sporadically getting together, because we’re all friends,” Mailhouse explains. The three would occasionally meet up in the rehearsal space of drummer Mailhouse’s home in Silver Lake to jam, but would seldom come up with new song ideas.
During the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, however, those jam sessions became a bit more concentrated: house visits turned into shared quarantining, and with travel restricted, soon the trio were “stuck together, like we were at camp,” as Mailhouse puts it, and logging eight-hour rehearsal days together. Reeves adds, “We played the catalog songs, and then we can’t help it — we just started writing.” Within two and a half months, the guys had written more songs than they needed for Dogstar’s third studio album.
The timing and release details of the Happy Ending follow-up have yet to be announced, although the band members are confident that they and producer Dave Trumfio (Wilco, Built To Spill) have located a sound that will satisfy new listeners as well as longtime fans who have been waiting for their return. “[Dave] understood where we were coming from,” says Mailhouse, “and worked really well with Bret, layering guitars and doing lots of different sounds and ambient things — things that weren’t just hard rock, in-your-face music, [but] a little more textural.”
Dogstar has played private performances since reuniting, but Saturday’s set at BottleRock marks their years-in-the-making return to the spotlight, and the first of what they hope to be many more shows. The trio says that they’re too excited to feel jittery. “I’m sure as the hour grows closer, I’m gonna get much more nervous,” Domrose says with a laugh.
For Reeves, who joined the band as a rising Hollywood star and returns to it as one of the most consistent leading actors of the century, Dogstar represents a passion that he’s thrilled to return to in a real way after all these years. “It’s a space that I love,” he says, “and a space that I tried to protect.”