Inner Ear Studio to close this October: ‘It needs to come to an end’

Henry Rollins, a friend of Minor Threat, during the band’s first recording session at Inner Ear Studio. (Courtesy Skip Groff)

For all the punk-fueled emotion packed into music recorded at Inner Ear, and social media angst that the Arlington, Virginia, studio will close Oct. 1, Don Zientara — as always — is the calmest one around.

“We’ve been in that location for 32 years, it’s been a long run, and a good run,” Zientara told WTOP, shortly after announcing the studio on Oakland Street in South Arlington will shut down this fall. “It needs to come to an end, at least at that location.”

“It’s evolution,” Zientara said. “Heck, I can move onto other things — I hope I had an impact while I was running it, on the arts community and the community in general.”

The self-effacing Zientara was recording harp music and Celtic folk songs in the basement of his Arlington home in the late 1970s.

But in September 1980, Zientara recorded Teen Idles‘ “Minor Disturbance,” eight songs produced by Skip Groff and the first record released on Arlington-based Dischord Records.

Many bands in what became D.C.’s hard-core punk scene recorded at Inner Ear, including Bad Brains, Minor Threat and Fugazi.

Arlington County has announced plans to build an arts district in the neighborhood where the current Inner Ear Studio sits, located in a former Hair Cuttery.

“I believe it will eventually be leveled, and there will be a stage there for live performances, which is great,” Zientara said. “It will fill a void — heck, I can move onto other things.”

Although the date in which the building will be torn down is yet to be determined, Zientara isn’t booking recording dates after September.

“For all intents and purposes, it’s going to be closed down on Oct. 1,” he said.

Despite Zientara’s equanimity, music fans are reacting strongly to his announcement:

Zientara said only the location won’t stay the same.

“Inner Ear is not going away — it will be set up somewhere else. I’m still gonna be working. I’m not finished. I haven’t bought a fishing pole, or worms or flies yet.”

The 72-year-old will be setting up a much smaller studio: “I’ll be cherry picking a lot of the equipment I have, and the microphones, just winnowing down to the things that I need.”

Foo Fighters, including founder Dave Grohl whose early punk experiences focused on music recorded in Inner Ear, recorded a song for the documentary, “Sonic Highways,” reflecting on the studio’s importance.

Zientara seemed to sense others are concerned the current studio’s closure spelled his imminent retirement.

“I almost feel strange calling it a job. I like doing it. I like interacting with people. Helping them form their music that is something intensely exciting for the people it’s being played for,” Zientara said. “If you have something that you want to present to a broader audience, I’m going to be there to record it for you.”

WTOP’s Luke Garrett contributed to this story. 

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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