Dogstar Return 23 Years Later ‘Somewhere Between the Power Lines and Palm Trees’ 

In 2002, Dogstar left off somewhere between their second album together, Happy Ending in 2000, and their final show together, a gig in Tokyo, Japan. By the early ’00s, the trio, singer, and guitarist Bret Domrose, bassist Keanu Reeves, and drummer Rob Mailhouse set off on their individual paths. Reeves had already entered a saga of Matrix films, while Domrose continued composing for film, and Mailhouse—who also appeared in the Reeves’ 1994 Speed film—continued acting in film and television.  

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Dogstar had come to its end as far as they were concerned, though all three remained friends and continued getting together to jam without much music materializing, until a year into the pandemic. “We got together over the years from time to time, so it wasn’t 20 years not speaking to each other,” Domrose tells American Songwriter. “Maybe every year and a half it was ‘Want to get together?’ And it was just that, getting together. It wasn’t a concerted effort.”

In 2021, they found themselves in the same room again at the premiere of Reeves’ The Matrix Resurrections in San Francisco, California. A month later, they began jamming again where it all started in 1994, at Mailhouse’s home studio in Silver Lake, California.

“Keanu’s bass rig never left my house,” jokes Mailhouse. “So once in a while, I would take pictures of it and text them over to him like ‘Look at this thing sitting down there. Should I clean this? Should I polish this?’”

[RELATED: Dogstar Share “Everything Turns Around,” Interview with Bret Domrose]

Picking up right where they left off, the trio started piecing together the 12 tracks for a third album, released 23 years after the band’s split, Somewhere Between The Power Lines and Palm Trees.

It happened the same way the songs were ready,” Domrose says. “We have been given some sort of gift where nobody was thinking too much about anything. We found ourselves in the same room together at Keanu’s ‘Matrix’ premiere, and the next morning, we got together, we had breakfast, we had some laughs and we just all kind of looked at each other, and that was that.”

Domrose adds, “It wasn’t some big plan, like ‘Let’s just try and see if we can still write songs. I guess it was the right place and the right time. I’m telling you, there’s some supernatural shit going around this album that I’ve never seen.”

Working predominantly off a blank canvas with the exception of some fragments of songs Domrose and had around earlier tracks like “Lust” and “Dillon Street,” and some riffs he and Reeves had, they came in with blank canvas. Once recorded, the three performed live for the first time in more than 20 years at the BottleRock Napa Valley festival in May of 2023.

Produced by Dave Trumfio (Wilco, My Morning Jacket, Built to Spill), Somewhere Between The Power Lines and Palm Trees is filled with bittersweet “what ifs” and sunnier dispositions, from the opening “Blonde” and summery haze of “Everything Turns Around.”

Grappling a more sobering subject, “Overhang” examines addiction, says Domrose, and how it affects loved ones: And if I fall behind or hit the wall tonight / Remember who I was before it went wrong / I will return, wait and see. “I have a friend who is going through that and watching them struggle with it and watching their loved ones struggle with it. That’s where the ‘Remember who I was before it went wrong’ came. They’re gonna do what they do, and they love the person they’re going to hurt, but they can’t help but hurt them. If I speak to that person or think about that moment, that song is gonna meet a lot more to me.”

Channeling through their ’90s alt bases on “Sunrise,” “Sleep” and “Upside,” the album makes a heavier tilt on “Breach,” which initially started off from a Domrose riff. “The pre-chorus we took from one of my riffs that didn’t make it into one song,” says Reeves of the latter track. “Then, Robert added the vocal during that part in the studio.”

Early on in their reunion, Domrose found himself with a collection of songs that needed lyrics. Eventually, the songs played out like a collection of small scenes in his head. “I got into this what if zone where I felt like exploring things that that maybe were not happening to me or had not happened, but very easily could happen,” shares Domrose. “I got on this hypothetical thing, and it was almost like I was getting little movies in my head—not necessarily about me, but I was just seeing people and seeing them go through these experiences. It wasn’t directly about me in all cases so let me explore a little more freely and not as guarded.”

On the personal end, there were some songs that did connect with his real life, like “Glimmer,” which was about a breakup. “I wasn’t sure that I was ready to have that breakup, so I crafted an experience of what’s it going to look like” shares Domrose. I had to ask ‘Was I okay with it or not? Am I going to be torn the fuck up? Maybe I’m making a mistake.’ So ‘Glimmer’ was born from looking into the future and seeing that ex and what would that feeling be. Do I want to feel that? or should I just try to hold it together now, so I don’t ever have to be faced with it.”

He continues, “It sounds convoluted, but for me, personally, there were some things that I was going through [where] I had a little conversation with myself like ‘You better watch out or you’re going to end up like the guy in the song you just wrote.’ There’s some cautionary tale stuff, and when I sing those every night, I get to remind myself not to screw up in life.”

Though Domrose is the chief songwriter, Somewhere Between The Power Lines and Palm Trees was a collaborative effort, lyrically, and musically. “We got in the same room, and we didn’t leave till we had this album,” says Domrose. “Everybody did their part more so than any of the other [albums]. Keanu, you’ve always got the bass riffs that you show up with. We’re blessed with Keanu and all his little ditties as we call them.”

[RELATED: 4 Songs You Didn’t Know Keanu Reeves Wrote]

Whatever the origin of each track everyone was also invested in each, says Mailhouse, who has his own emotional connection to Domrose’s “Glimmer” and “Dillon Street.”

“A lot of those songs might mean something different to the audience when they hear them,” says Mailhouse. “That’s what poetry is. Everyone has a different connection to it. With some of Bret’s stuff, he’s told me what certain songs are about, but when I hear it, it means something different to me. I’m 10 feet from him, and I have a different experience.”

Dogstar (top, l to r) Robert Mailhouse, Keanu Reeves, and Bret Domrose (Photo: Ross Halfin)

Reeves also has his own bond to particular tracks and calls out “How the Story Ends,” “Breach,” and “Dillon Street” as more favorites of the album. “I love the emotion of ‘Glimmer’ … and the groove of ‘Sleep,’” shares Reeves. “I love going into ‘Sunrise’ because it kind of lifts out of that.”

Sonically, the band wanted to capture a warmer ’70s vibe, which coalesced with bringing Trumfio on board to produce. “We were so in love with our songs, we wanted a producer that wasn’t going to take a hatchet to them and start rearranging them too much,” says Domrose. “Dave is a master of melodies and ideas and his energy was the frosting and sprinkles.”

There were different tempos and moods moving through Somewhere Between The Power Lines and Palm Trees that also needed to be captured, says Mailhouse. “It’s not like the same style throughout the whole record,” he says, “and Dave really highlighted that by enhancing and challenging us, and giving Bret the opportunity to do all sorts of layered guitar work and vocal and the way they make countless bass sounds.”

Live, the band is no longer locked into playing the new album without revisiting parts of their past catalog live, something that shifted when fans began calling out older songs at recent shows. “It’s hard to explain,” says Domrose. “For me, there’s a permission now to go back and play the old music, because I feel so comfortable with this new album.”

Recently playing one of the band’s earlier tracks “Nobody Home,” from Dogstar’s 1996 debut Our Little Visionary, gave Domrose a rush of unexpected memories. “It blew me away, the memories I was getting just playing it,” he says. “I was remembering where we were when we wrote it, what is was about. All these sense memories were just flooding in.”

Mailhouse adds, “That’s the beauty of music. It bookmarks your life. Everyone has a different bookmarked memory. When we started playing some older stuff, it took me back completely to that decade, and it was emotional. Some of the songs work, and some sound like [it’s] a different band.”

Reeves says he’s enjoying playing through the entire album and capturing the “journey” of each song. “We’re basically playing our album, not in the same order but it does start with ‘Blonde’ and finish on ‘Breach’ like the album,” says Reeves. “I’m getting to play live the journey of the music, and share that with the audience. It’s cool to see how they respond to our concert—sitting forward, sitting back listening—and what they’re connecting to more.”

He adds, “They can feel Robert playing harmonica, or Bret’s leads on ‘Glimmer’ and ‘Overhang.’ We’re literally playing the album, and we’re doing that in the present as opposed to 20 years later. It’s the album that’s out now [that] we’re playing,’ and it’s fun to literally be in the moment of all of that creativity and time that we all spent writing, recording, and being on the road. You’re literally getting to have a reaction with the audience as if they’re listening to the record.”

For now, the shows will go on for Dogstar. There’s already another batch of songs that may flower into another release that will likely make its way out sooner rather than 23 years later.

“We’re having a blast,” says Domrose of where Dogstar is in this new stage. “It’s the highlight of the day to walk out on stage with these two. Every night we have our little moment right before we go on stage where we thank the lucky stars for our good fortune and our luck and our friendship.

As long as that keeps going, we’re gonna keep doing it.”

Photo: Brian Bowen Smith / Courtesy of Full Coverage Media

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