Bret Domrose - vocals, guitar Keanu Reeves - bass Rob Mailhouse - drums
Ask singer and guitar player Bret Domrose what it was like for Dogstar to record Happy Ending, the Los Angeles-based rock band's debut U.S. album, and he thinks for a few moments and, in a moment of absolute understatement, replies:
"Well, I will say this. It was a long process, but it's finally done."
A long process? How about a grueling test of a young band's commitment to succeed, and to make great music together, while up against the longest of odds?
Try working in the recording studio with two different producers, over a full year, just to get it all perfect. Hell, just try getting all three members of the band together at the same time to write and play and record, when it always seems like at least one of the guys is supposed to be elsewhere, perhaps halfway around the world, doing something else.
Try writing the best songs of your life while your band is on tour in Australia (now there's inspiration!), even while one of your bandmates is, at the same time, in the middle of filming a major motion picture in the Aussie outback.
Not to mention the preconceived notions and uninformed opinions that many people seem to have about Dogstar, in so many cases before even hearing the trio's distinctive and compelling music.
Ah, but these things comprise merely the tip of the iceberg that the threesome encountered as they journeyed to record their much-anticipated second full album, and their first U.S. release following the 1996 overseas-only issue of their debut album Our Little Visionary (Zoo/BMG).
But as is often the case with Rock 'N' Roll, it's the overcoming of obstacles and the meeting head-on of challenges that makes for the best music. And so it is with the eleven lovingly-crafted, intimate songs on Happy Ending.
The album was recorded by the band (Bret on guitar and vocals, Keanu Reeves on bass, Rob Mailhouse on drums) in various stages during 1999.
Many of the songs found on Happy Ending were worked into ultimate shape during a sold-out U.S. Spring concert tour, as well as at concerts that the band played in England, India and Australia.
Producer #1 Michael Vail Blum, who's best known for his work with Suicidal Tendencies and Goo Goo Dolls, worked on 8 of the tracks in the Spring.
In the Fall, producer #2 Richie Zito (The Cult, Cheap Trick) was on hand for the recording of the new songs "Cornerstore" and "Blown Away," as well as for the band's striking rendition of The Carpenters' hit "Superstar." Zito also mixed Happy Ending at his facility in Glendale, Calif.
The decision to record an update of "Superstar" (following a cover of Badfinger's "No Matter What" on the first album) came late in the process, according to Bret.
"It wasn't originally slated to be on there," he says. "But I like putting a cover song on there because we're still a fairly unknown band, and it's nice to have a song for people to immediately relate to. It's fun for the band, too. We've been playing it live for a while."
If one were to imagine the ideal conditions under which to record an album, clearly those under which the guys in Dogstar have been working wouldn't qualify. But, according to Bret, the unique and unpredictable circumstances the band has found itself in have worked in positive ways to shape the confident music found on Happy Ending.
"There's never a shortage of drama around this band," he confirms. "Not because there are actors in the band, but because weird things just seem to happen to us. It made for some interesting tension that I know helped to make many of these songs that much better."