Inside Arlington’s inner ear studios soon to be demolished



from Arlington Inner ear recording studios is sure of its place in music history no matter what happens next.

The revered music recording studio tucked away on S. Oakland Street in the Green Valley neighborhood of Shirlington is where some of the area’s most iconic punk and rock bands have recorded.

Fugazi, Minor threat, Bad brains, and, one of the greatest rock groups, the Foo fighters, all worked here in this indescribable gray building that sits between a brewery and a used tire store.

There are the first pressings of recorded albums hanging on the walls, scattered memorabilia, and new and old equipment dot the studios. The place seems inhabited, probably the product of many sleepless nights and decades gone by.

Some have called it the Abbey Road of Arlington, comparing at the famous London studio where the Beatles recorded.

But owner Don Zientara balks at such comparisons and distinctions. For him, Inner Ear is his home, where he has been recording music for 31 years.

“Sure, I’ll take it but I don’t know,” he told ARLnow. “I’m just doing the job and doing my best.”

This piece of Arlington and musical history, however, will soon fall apart.

Earlier this year, Arlington County purchased the property that Inner Ear has called home for a generation. The $ 3.4 million sale was part of an agreement reached in June 2019 between the county and the owner. The plan is to demolish the buildings there, including the recording studio, to make way for a arts and industry district, including space for festivals, markets, film screenings and concerts.

Arlington Director of Cultural Affairs Michelle Isabelle-Stark told the Washington Post that they essentially prevented the property from being bought by a private developer who would install a “self-storage” there.

Zientara tells ARLnow he’s “all for it” and doesn’t seem quite in tune with the recording studio’s physical demise. The building, with a leaky roof and a drab gray exterior, is not in great condition, he admits.

While a music studio would certainly fit into an arts district philosophy, Zientara – who has an electronics background – doesn’t think the county would be ready to run one.

“It takes a lot,” he said. “You have to make it work, make it work, make all the components work, which means a lot of repairs and maintenance. “

The county says Inner Ear has until the end of the year to vacate the premises. Zientara said he doesn’t know when they are actually leaving. During this time, he tidies up details, moves equipment and recounts memories.

Last month, (local) rock icon Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters stopped by record with a punk pioneer based in Northern Virginia Scream.

“Yes, [Grohl] entered. There were hot dogs and burgers, ”Zientara says, looking unimpressed. “He played a few timpani… There are a lot of people passing by. When you stay a long time, it happens.

Asked about her favorite memory here, Zientara says it’s like asking “what’s your favorite breakfast?” Because every memory is good.

“Are those pancakes?” Are these eggs? Is it huevos rancheros? A breakfast burrito? Everything is good, really good.

However, Zientara is not necessarily finished yet. While the inner ear will no longer exist in its place or in its current form, it begins to search for other locations.

“I want a house, a garage, whatever. Anything, ”he said. “A place that is installed… a storefront costs more. In addition, it attracts attention. I don’t need this. Studios don’t want attention.


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