The Inner Ear of Don Zientara
A Half Century of Recording in One of America’s Most Innovative Studios, through the Voices of Musicians
Published by: Akashic Books
Imprint: Akashic Books
A photo-filled oral history of the DC-area music studio that brought us some of the most iconic recordings by Bad Brains, Bikini Kill, Fugazi, and so many more
In the late 1970s, Don Zientara—a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War—founded Inner Ear Studio in the basement of his home in Arlington, VA, using the electronics training he received from the army. Inner Ear remained in Don's basement until its 1990 relocation to a larger space on South Oakland Street. Along the way, Inner Ear became best known for recording iconic DC punk musicians including Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Bikini Kill, Rites of Spring, Mary Timony, and Fugazi.
Composed by photographer Antonia Tricarico, The Inner Ear of Don Zientara is an oral history of not just Inner Ear's recordings, but the role that Don played in creating one of the most welcoming and nurturing recording studios the world over. Alongside 250 photographs, this volume includes testimonials from members of Fugazi, Scream, Fire Party, Shudder to Think, Jawbox, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Dismemberment Plan, as well as musicians like Kathleen Hanna and Henry Rollins, among other notables.
In addition to DC punk bands, Don also recorded many other styles and genres, including Celtic folk tunes, harp music, Russian balalaika groups, political advertisers, and choral singers. The studio was also featured on Dave Grohl’s Sonic Highways television mini-series. The Inner Ear of Don Zientara pays tribute to this iconic studio, celebrating the man at the heart of this remarkable space.
Introduction by Antonia Tricarico
Don Zientara Interview by John Davis
Part I: The Basement Years (1972–1989)
Part II: Inner Ear (1990–2021)
Part III: Engineers and Producers
"The book also includes funny asides that might otherwise be lost to history: like the fact that during the basement years, the studio was essentially Zientara's children's playroom--and sometimes band members would put on the kids' dress-up clothes for a laugh. Or how one time, Fugazi sound engineer Joey Picuri used the kitchen in the house above the studio to make pasta for Zientara's daughters, Emily and Kate."
"Now in its third iteration, Inner Ear is the studio where many of DC's best albums have been made. This lush book combines old photos with the memories of musicians who have worked with owner Don Zientara."
"[A] masterfully curated book . . . Recording some local high schoolers, Zientara forever linked his name to Ian Mackaye, Dischord Records and the world that emerged from the label . . . Without a space these young bands could be free to pursue their own creativity, the culture that grew from DC punk might never have taken roots."
“‘To me, Don Zientara is one of those persons you can definitely rely on,’ Tricarico tells City Paper. ‘It’s not just because he’s the adult in the room; he was, especially in the beginning with all those kids. They were punk, hardcore and he just . . . gave the opportunity to those kids. Many, many bands they went back and they continued to record with him because the feeling that they got was a special attitude, noninvasive role that he had.’”
—Washington City Paper
“This is a time capsule of a studio . . . known for recording many iconic DC area punk bands, including Minor Threat, Bad Brains, and Bikini Kill . . . Through the compilation of memories of recording at Inner Ear and the experience of working with Zientara, the editor pieces together not only the history of the studio but also Zientara’s story and the space he created for musicians. VERDICT: With a wide range of pieces and candid photographs throughout, this work will likely appeal to music fans and readers interested in independent music studios and music history.”
"A unique and very special compendium of photos and commentaries, The Inner Ear of Don Zientara: A Half Century of Recording in One of America's Most Innovative Studios, through the Voices of Musicians is a coffee-table style volume that will be a highly valued and enduringly appreciated contribution to personal, professional, community, and academic library American Music History and American Photography collections."
"Antonia Tricarico's photo-filled (250!) book on Don Zientara gives us a wonderful glimpse into who Don is, and what has made his Inner Ear Recording Studios one of the most culturally-important places to make records in the US. We hear about sessions with Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Fugazi, Bikini Kill, Foo Fighters, The Dismemberment Plan, and so many others . . . Just like Don's determination to have a studio open for helping anyone and everyone make records, this book gives us a documentation of so many of the people who have captured music at Inner Ear, and in doing so sets a standard for artistic openness and nurturing creativity in all forms that so many of us should hold ourselves up to. Thank you Don Zientara, and thanks to Antonia Tricarico for providing a wonderful glimpse into the life of this selfless lover of the arts."
"If Memphis rock and roll had Sun Studio, and the Beatles had London's Abbey Road, DC punk had Inner Ear."
"Don was like . . . he just disappeared. Kind of. I felt like he was trying to get the best performance out of us. It wasn't about his ego, and it wasn't about him telling us what to do. He just gave us space to make what we were making."
—Kathleen Hanna, Bikini Kill
"Don Zientara had a very gentle approach, and everything he did was perfect. He did not assert himself on the music, but rather had the sensitivity to respond to the vibe of the songs. I wanted everything to sound very intimate, with minimal compression and no reverb, and Don was comfortable with that. More importantly, he knew how to make those restrictions sound good."
—John Frusciante, Red Hot Chili Peppers