D.C., DC — It would be fair to call it D.C.’s version of Abbey Road. But after 31 years, a major launching pad for some of the D.C. area's best-known musical artists has closed its doors for good.
Inner Ear Studios in Arlington was founded in the late 1970s but moved to its permanent location in 1990. Inner Ear was a pivotal place for the birth and development of some of DC’s well-known punk rock bands. Musical acts including Fugazi, Minor Threat, Henry Rollins and later, Dave Grohl of Nirvana and the Foo Fighters honed their craft at Inner Ear.
The studio space and its décor summons the nostalgia of mom’s basement meets garage band space fused with dorm room comfortability while at the same time adorned with music memorabilia dating back to the late 1980s.
“This building will be leveled and will be asphalt. And there will be a temporary stage here for performances,” said Don Zientara, the longtime owner of Inner Ear Studios.
Zientara founded Inner Ear and started recording bands in his home in the late 1970s. After leasing space in an Arlington building to permanently house his recording studio, Zientara proved to be pivotal in elevating D.C.’s musical talent to the next level.
I asked him about the vibe during a live studio recording session.
“It’s great. I’m in heaven,” he mused. “There’s nothing like hearing a good song being put together.”
It should come as no surprise there are more than a few big egos in the music profession. I was curious how Zientara navigated headstrong musicians.
“I kept my ego in check,” he responded with his signature deadpan humor. After a chuckle, he answered more directly.
“There is ego, but at the same time there is immense vulnerability,” Zientara said. “They’re artists coming in here with something that needs to be finely shaped and sculpted and it has to be cooperative.”
Zientara is adamant this move is not a retirement. Arlington County purchased the building he’s been leasing since 1990. According to ARLNow, the building will be demolished and the space cleared for an arts and industry district.
There is barely any free space on the walls inside Inner Ear. It’s all adorned with memorabilia and photos. I asked Zientara if it felt overwhelming to think all of it has to be removed.
“Yes it is,” he replied while surveying the hallway. “Because there’s a lot.”
He suspects some of the items will end up in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
“I guess so,” he replied when I asked. “And some of it will get there.”
Zientara says he has already had a discussion with a museum curator about items the museum might want.
After clearing out of the space, there will be more music to record and more bands to elevate to the next level.
“What’s next really is basically an extension of this but on a smaller scale. I won’t have a big room to record bands in,” he said.
Zientara didn’t reveal a new location he may be moving to or when he might start recording sessions again.
“I feel good. You can’t stop evolution. It’s not the end. There’s more to do. And I’ll do it somewhere else. And it just moves on.”
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