Inner Ear of Don Zientara, The, Edited by Antonia Tricarico, 164 pgs.

Jul 21, 2023

Do you ever wonder what people would say about you at your funeral? Recording engineer Don Zientara will never have to wonder. The Inner Ear of Don Zientara commemorates the man and his legendary recording space, Inner Ear. Some may already know of this Washington, DC, studio. For those who haven’t, it’s where many legendary DC bands recorded, such as Bad Brains, Fugazi, Minor Threat, and most bands on Dischord Records.

Zientara is still an engineer, but 2021 marked the end of Inner Ear’s recording studio space. What originally started in Zientara’s basement has now moved back there. With the passing of the actual studio space, it felt like an appropriate bookend for a work like this to be produced. Photographer Antonia Tricarico composed a number of historic and more recent photographs of Zientara, bands recording at Inner Ear, and the studio space to make this impressive hardcover coffee table book filled with large color photos. 

The book is roughly arranged chronologically by albums recorded at Inner Ear. It’s divided into two parts: the studio at Zientara’s home (1972-1989) and the studio in its own building (1990-2021). What makes this book so genuine and appealing are the accounts of the artists who recorded at Inner Ear. Some are well-known, others not so much, but they all attest to the importance the studio and Zientara had on their music and lives. Additionally, the reader can get otherwise unknown insights into aspects of album recordings.

What comes through consistently is how sincere, friendly, and kind Zientara is and his support for the music scene. (Also noted often by writers is he’s tall—6’6”—wears flip flops everywhere, and likes bread and olive oil.) The role he played in supporting musicians and getting them to challenge themselves is highlighted. Zientara also provided a welcoming, inclusive space for anyone who wished to record in his studio. Additionally, there are words from Zientara’s wife, daughters, and engineers who recorded at Inner Ear, and an interview with the man himself, conducted by John Davis (who played in Q And Not U).

Growing up and seeing Zientara’s name on so many of my favorite albums has always made me curious about him. Was he one of the original punk rockers in DC? Was he some experienced super producer? It turns out he’s neither. Zientara is a gentle, generous individual who became a sound engineer almost by accident and happened to be at the right place at the right time to record DC punk bands (as well as acts from many other genres). In doing so, he secures his place as an integral part of punk rock history which The Inner Ear of Don Zientara attests to. –Kurt Morris (Akashic)