February 10, 2022
Mitch Easter’s studios have always been deeply interwoven with the idea of home. Whether at his first real studio, which he built in his parents’ garage in the early ‘80s, or in his current Kernersville-area studio, Fidelitorium Recordings, which is just a few steps from the home he shares with his wife, Easter’s commute to work has never been very far.
One look around the homey Fidelitorium, with its flair for mid-century design, abundant living space, and airy, atrium-like live room, and this idea becomes clear.
Of course, for Easter, it’s not about the creature comforts of home as much as it is about creating and fostering an environment for bands and artists to create their best work. Though having a comfortable studio mere feet from home doesn’t hurt.
“I always wanted to have a cool-looking building downtown or whatever,” Easter said. “But now I appreciate the fact that I don’t have to drive anywhere. I can just walk down there and get into a session.”
After a lifetime spent in the studio, and as a member of some of North Carolina’s most beloved bands, Easter has become something of a cornerstone producing and engineering a certain type of guitar-based rock and roll. His name is synonymous with first-gen indie rock that was borne of and fostered in many college towns throughout the Southeast. His studio is revered in many circles as one of America’s premier recording setups.
Mitch Easter grew up in Winston-Salem where, like so many other young people in the 1960s, he became obsessed with the sounds, the styles, and the idea of rock and roll. Being raised in a musically fertile household, Easter naturally found his way into playing in bands by his early teens.
“There were a million basement and garage bands popping up,” Easter said, remembering visiting a friend’s house where a local band was practicing in the basement. “I just never heard anything so loud and glorious as these electric guitars coming out of an amp. That was just riveting. Truly life changing.”
In high school, Easter began experimenting with four-track recording alongside his friend and lifelong collaborator, Chris Stamey.
“Chris and I just really got into recording, learning how to build songs in pieces on a four-track in my basement,” Easter said. “The next step was to try to get a hold of some professional equipment, which you had to go into a recording studio to get and, gosh, that was really expensive.”
By focusing his attention on pre-owned recording equipment, Easter was able to amass enough gear to outfit a humble studio. After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill, Easter nearly set his roots down far from home.
“I had a space to do it in New York City but I chickened out,” Easter said. “I could just feel that it was too intense. I would have to totally devote myself to pulling it off. But I didn’t want to be that dedicated. I still wanted to play in bands.”
By 1980, Easter was back at home in Forsyth County, where he constructed a studio in his parents’ garage which he christened Drive-In Studio. Within a year, Easter recorded R.E.M.’s debut single “Radio Free Europe” at Drive-In.
A few months later, the soon-to-be megastars invited Easter’s new band, Let’s Active, down to Atlanta to play their debut show. Within a few short years, Let’s Active signed to legendary alternative label I.R.S. Records and began touring the country in the back of a van.
“The studio was kind of like my real job and that made the band less of a hard thing to pull off,” Easter said. “We were able to prop the band up with the studio money that I was making.”
Over the next decade and a half, Drive-In became an integral part of North Carolina’s burgeoning indie rock scene, with Easter offering great rates and quick turnaround for young, upstart bands with little budget. His sessions were often booked between Let’s Active tours.
Bands like Athens, Georgia’s Pylon, Minneapolis’s Crackers, and New York City’s The Individuals started trekking to Winston-Salem to cut records in Easter’s garage-based studio.
“We did a whole bunch of records in that garage that really kind of mattered,” Easter said.
In the late ‘90s, Easter set out to build a proper studio, rather than the relatively ramshackle setups for which he had become known over the previous two decades. It wasn’t long before Easter christened his new studio with its first session, mixing a record by the Orange Humble Band, of which he was also a member, in 2000.
Since then, Fidelitorium has welcomed such wide-ranging acts like Alejandro Escovedo, Gin Blossoms, The War On Drugs, Birds Of Avalon, Drive-By Truckers, Polvo, Yusuf Islam (fka Cat Stevens), Godspeed You, Black Emperor, Ben Folds Five, and hundreds upon hundreds of others.
Though the environment became much more professional, moving from garage to proper studio, Easter’s approach to making records never changed. His philosophy has always been to keep things somewhat loose and fun, find what makes each artist unique, and foster it and help them bring it to the fore.
“It’s great to admire (other artists) and get stuff from them but then you have to realize that those people already exist,” he said. “And now, ‘I have to be me.’ And that’s a special thing, too.”
One look around Fidelitorium and it’s easy to see why so many bands have flocked to this little pocket in central North Carolina. There’s a homey and easygoing vibe, and the building is stocked with tons of vintage and contemporary equipment that would make any musician drool. It’s a place where you want to spend entire days and nights cutting records.
Above all, it’s clear Fidelitorium is a studio dreamed up and executed very much in the vision of its owner, almost as if it’s the realization of what Mitch Easter might have been dreaming of when he was fresh out of college, building a studio in his parents garage some forty years ago; someplace he feels at home.
In this article
- Alejandro Escovedo
- Ben Folds Five
- Birds of Avalon
- Black Emperor
- drive by truckers
- Faye Hunter
- Fidelitorium Studio
- Fidelitorium Studios
- Forsyth County
- Gin Blossoms
- Godspeed You
- indie rock
- Jangle pop
- Let's Active
- Mitch Easter
- north carolina
- Radio Free Europe
- Sara Romweber
- the war on drugs
- winston salem
- Yusuf Islam