Keanu Reeves isn't one to leave a story unfinished.
The star of the Matrix, John Wick and Bill & Ted film franchises has turned in his fair share of sequels over his career, but Keanu's latest follow-up isn't a movie, it's the third album with his longtime musical muse, Dogstar.
Between the Power Lines and Palm Trees arrived in October, more than two decades after the band's previous album and subsequent hiatus. The album is a refreshing hunk of alternative rock that deftly waxes between garage rock abandon and post-punk jangle.
Keanu tells Q104.3 New York's QN'A that when he moved to Los Angeles in the 1980s in search of an acting career, he would often daydream about his other passions: motorcycles and the electric bass. He traces his journey into those realms in the Fender-produced short film 'Don't Quit Your Daydream,' which you can watch via the player above.
Dogstar's return this year with Between the Power Lines and Palm Trees is another elaboration on a career-spanning arc. Keanu says he's been blessed with many.
"I feel really lucky and grateful," he says of his divergent careers. "I love working. I love working hard. I love being dedicated. I love the feeling of believing in a vision and wanting to make it happen. ...[Films and music are] about people being on the same page and collectively coming together on stage with your talent and your craft, your passion."
Read the full QN'A below.
I don’t know if the world at-large really knows that you’re a bass player, but I think other bass players know and are happy that you’re one of us!
Oh man, I mean, nice is nice. I really appreciate that. I’m sure there’s the other side to that coin as well. You know, I love the bass, I love playing in a band, I love touring, making music, writing songs. I love the instrument.
Do you find playing bass to be an extension of the traits that make you a leading man in your film career? Or is it maybe an escape from the scrutiny that you get in film?
Let’s unpack that question.
I didn’t pick up the bass until I was 22 years old. I’m self-taught. I kind of grew up in the music industry. My mother was a costume designed for Dolly Parton, Anne Murray. I was around Bob Ezrin in Toronto, when he was doing Alice Cooper's Welcome to My Nightmare. My mom knew another producer, Brian Ahearn. I went to concerts at the Troubadour in L.A. when I was like 15.
But when I would listen to music, I would listen to the bass. I was drawn to it. Like when I would listen to the Beatles, I heard McCartney, you know. When my world exploded and I was hearing Hüsker Dü and Joy Division and the Ramones and the Pixies, even the Feelies, I would hear the bass. I would like to my mom’s Steely Dan records, I would hear the bass.
There were some things that I wanted to do; I wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle and how to play bass.
Off of the collaboration I did with Fender with ‘Don’t Quit Your Daydream,’ part of what attracted me to the documentary/web series was being able to connect the daydream, playing music, following your passionate side.
I loved the sound of [the bass] and I wanted to make that sound.
So that was where that impetus came from. I went to Guitar Center [in L.A.] and I ended up buying a bass on the street another guy.
Your other question was talking about the different roles the bass plays…
...In your psychology if that makes sense. What does it mean for you to be on the side of the stage, rather than front and center, like you are in so many films.
I guess [people may wonder] like ‘Why aren’t you a lead singer?’
Because a little kid wanted to play that instrument; he didn’t want to be the frontman. That’s not what I was drawn to. What is that? I think I was also walking into worlds that I didn’t know when we started Dogstar.
‘Well, you could have sang backup.’ Well, I can’t sing; we don’t want that.
But when I was picking up the instrument, I also fell in love with the melody of the bass, like the riffs that you can make that become fundamental to songs. When I would listen to Radiohead or Interpol, coming back listening to the Pixies, the basslines are so central. Then when I would play bass by myself, there is a central idea to the instrument and what the music is. What I came to learn, that conversation that happens with the drummer and to the guitarist. What part of the beat are we sitting in? If the drummer is behind and the guitar is pushing, as the bass player, what do I do there? How do I fit into the drama of the song? Compliment the vocal, the feel.
So it’s not just standing in the shadows.
Yeah, ‘cause that’s an archetype for a bass player. The guy who just wants to be part of it, but doesn’t necessarily want any attention.
Yeah, but I can’t say that I’m not that. Like [when Dogstar plays live] my hair is down. I’m just f---ing playing bass, and I’m doing my fair bit of shoegazing. It’s not an escape, but it is a part of the band that I like.
I don’t miss not having to sing the songs and be in front, for the performance aspect of it.
Also, in terms of acting. I do love playing supporting roles. I love being part of a supporting cast, part of a chorus. I love that as well.
I don’t feel that it’s like I get this over here in acting and I get this over here in music; I feel like they’re connected for me.
It’s a balance then?
Why don’t we call it an ebb and flow? Sometimes you’re in the lead, sometimes [you’re] not.
I’ve got a couple songs in Dogstar where the bass starts the riff. So they’re central to the idea of the song. A song like “Sleep” or a song like “How the Story Ends” starts with a bass riff.
I want to talk about the record, too. This is the band’s third full-length album?
Yeah, it’s the first full-length recording. We did one EP previously, too.
Is the music on here mostly new ideas or were some of these ideas that have kind of been around since the last time the band was together?
You mean [when we were together] 20 years ago? (Laughs)
I mean, we’d get together once in a while. Brett played in another band. I played in another band with the drummer after Dogstar decided to breakup, which turned into a hibernation, which turned into a reunion, which turned into the present.
I think there was a riff off of [the song] “Lust” that Bret had that we built the song around. Then he had a song, which we called “Dillon Street.” The rest of the songs we all band-written, musically. Bret Domrose, the guitarist and lead singer, writes all the lyrics and sings all the songs. Robert [Mailhouse, drummer] sings some backup.
Between making albums and making films, is there a process that you prefer? Is there a process that you find easier?
They’re both super collaborative art forms, for the most part. A movie, for sure.
The differences are kind of technical. You look at the credits of a film, there are sometimes thousands of people. You look at the end credits of an album, maybe there are 12 names.
For our album, Somewhere the Powerlines and Palm Trees, there’s Dave Trumfio the producer, there’s Rudyard Lee Cullers the engineer, and then the three guys in the band.
I would say, creatively, it’s play. The music, trying to invent a song, a riff, and then that idea of trying to bring it out, crafting it and then going into the studio. The relationship with the band and the producer, how are you shaping the script? The engineer is a kind of cinematographer/production designer, set designer, making sure we’re capturing the sounds. The artists are kind of like the writings and performers, the actors.
It seems like there’s fewer ways an album can go wrong than a movie.
But doesn’t it all come with a vision, with the story you’re trying to tell? And it’s about people being on the same page and collectively coming together on stage with your talent and your craft, your passion.
Is the feeling of completing an album anything like the feeling of completing a film?
Privately, yes. You don’t get a premiere oftentimes with an album; you might get a listening party. But you do have it go out into the world, and just like with a film, you hope people like it.
But the sense of accomplishment, they are very similar in that way. Because like, what did you have to go through to make it? What were all the steps?
Between Dogstar and your film career, there are lots of decades-long threads with you. This album coming 20 years since the last one. The Bill & Ted sequel a few years ago. The latest Matrix film. The latest John Wick. Is it laborious to have these things in the works for a long time — trying to get them made — or is there a sense of security having all of these proverbial balls in the air?
I wouldn’t use laborious anywhere in it. I feel really lucky and grateful. I love working. I love working hard. I love being dedicated. I love the feeling of believing in a vision and wanting to make it happen. The John Wick films I participated in are over 10 years of my life. The Matrix films are over 20 years. Bill & Ted, over 20 years.
They do have similarities. The Matrix and Bill & Ted, they made a couple of films, and then we didn’t work on them for 20 years. You see oftentimes so many things come back and so many things being reinvented, or the story is continuing. It was cool to do John Wick Chapter 3 … ‘Yes, something I love.’ And there is some security, going back into that character. Then the challenge of ‘Okay, well, what the f--- are you going to do? It better be good. It better not f---ing suck!’
And you can’t know that. You can’t know how the audience is going to respond. But you can hope and try your best and follow your passions.
So with Dogstar you have a run of North American dates this fall. Do you like the touring lifestyle; would you do it more if you could?
I do have a gypsy bone in my body, sir! I do like the road. I’ve lived a lot of my life on the road. We’ve been really fortunate to work with some total pros and really good people. Like the 8 people on the bus get along.
I love going to new cities, playing a show. That adventure. The band, well, you’re brothers. Some days you love each other, some days they’re getting on your nerves. Sometimes you’re getting on their nerves, but then you huddle up and you go play a rock show, and it’s good.
There’s lots of laughs.
What would you like to say about your short film with Fender, ‘Don’t Quit Your Daydream’?
Making ‘Don’t Quit Your Daydream’ was really extraordinary. I love music. For me, the idea of being able to share something personal that would maybe speak to someone else about wanting to play music was just really an honor to be a part of.
Like, you know the impact of music on your life, my life, our friends with their kids’ lives. They might take up piano and hate it, but they might come back. [Playing music] what that means to how you feel about yourself, to who you are creatively.
Music can be another team sport, right?
Yes, for sure.
I play a Fender P-Bass, that’s my favorite bass. To have some kind of a relationship with Fender, I never would have thought of that in my wildest dreams.
Well, I look forward to talking to you again when the Keanu Reeves Signature Bass comes out.
They’re not going to give me a [signature bass]— I’m not a shredder, man! (Laughs) I play rock and roll and love it.
Maybe they’ll do the color! I love a blue bass.