Don’t knock the volume: Dmitry “Vitamin D” Owens, singer-guitarist of local duo the Volume Knockers, offers the band’s slogan, which will soon adorn their shirts: Rock Out With Your Knockers Out. Indeed, the group, rounded out by drummer Neal Mashburn, aren’t sensitive folkies, nor do they play, as Owens puts it, “whiny emo.” Rather, their sound is a return to the ear-splitting power and attitude of true, heavy rock’n’roll — but with a few twists.
First of all, they are a two-piece, and while rock duos have come somewhat into vogue as of late thanks to the White Stripes, no one is pulling it off in quite the same way. “We’re a two-piece band that sounds like a hundred-piece band,” Owens says. And secondly, even though Owens describes himself as a “traditionalist” — he loves raw, blues-based rock — Mashburn is more into the groove of funk-rock and old school hip-hop. Combining their influences, the Knockers meet somewhere at the intersection of Thin Lizzy and Red Hot Chili Peppers, making them one of the more distinct musical outfits in the area. “Funkified metallic grooves,” Owens calls it.
Hard rock homecoming: Owens grew up in Ojai, playing in various bands around the county. Back then, he says, the scene around Ventura “was more vibrant for harder rock.” In the mid-’90s, he left for Tempe, Ariz., one of the cities pundits believed would become “the next Seattle.” He returned to California five years later and formed Gemini Moon. After that group split up, Owens began jamming with Mashburn, an old high school friend. Although they came in with different musical aesthetics, each influenced the other, with Owens encouraging Mashburn to play aggressively and Mashburn inspiring Owens to shred more rhythmically.
They tried out a few bassists, but they “couldn’t find the right fit,” Owens says. “We wanted someone who was pretty diverse, who could do funk and metal but have a punk edge, too.” Eventually, they decided to perform with only guitars, drums and vocals. “It ended up getting us attention, because there are generally not too many two-piece bands playing harder-edged, high-energy rock.”
Moving on up: When Owens first moved back to Ventura County, he found the thriving hard rock scene he left had begun to wither. A lot of clubs closed down; today, only a handful of places cater to heavier music, he says. But a small clutch of bands has risen recently to give Owens hope for the future. In response, he is starting an open mic night Thursdays at Ventura’s Red Cove specifically designed for groups of the heavier persuasion to use as a public rehearsal space.
Still, Owens is hoping to relocate to Hollywood soon in hopes of pushing the band to the next level. It is there, naturally, that the Volume Knockers have received their best reactions, such as at a recent Knitting Factory gig, where the audience moshed and danced along to their bludgeoning grooves despite having no idea who they were. The band is currently recording an album at a studio in Glendale, and will be returning to the Knitting Factory on Sept. 29, where they plan to prove that hard rock is making a comeback — in the form of “funkified metallic grooves.”