Fidelitorium is a studio imagined and executed largely from the vision of its owner, Mitch Easter
Through Michel Venutolo-Mantovani
February 10, 2022
Mitch Easter Studios has always been deeply connected to the idea of home. Whether at his first real studio, which he built in his parents’ garage in the early 80s, or at his current Kernersville-area studio, Fidelitorium Recordings, which is a short walk from the home he shares with his wife, the Easter commute to work has never been far.
One look around the welcoming Fidelitorium, with its flair for mid-century design, abundant living space, and airy atrium-like living room, and this idea becomes clear.
Of course, Easter isn’t so much about the comforts of home as it’s about creating and promoting an environment for bands and artists to create their best work. Although having a comfortable studio a few meters from home does not hurt.
“I always wanted to have a cool building downtown or whatever,” Easter said. “But now I appreciate the fact that I don’t have to drive anywhere. I can just walk over there and walk into a session.
After a lifetime in the studio and as a member of some of North Carolina’s most beloved bands, Easter has become something of a cornerstone in the production and engineering of a certain guitar-based type of rock and roll. Its name is synonymous with first-generation indie rock that was born and nurtured in many college towns in the Southeast. His studio is revered in many circles as one of America’s premier recording facilities.
Mitch Easter grew up in Winston-Salem where, like so many other young people in the 1960s, he became obsessed with the sounds, styles and idea of rock and roll. Growing up in a musically fertile family, Easter naturally found his calling playing in bands in his early teens.
“There were a million basement and garage bands popping up,” Easter said, recalling visiting a friend’s house where a local band was training in the basement. “I have never heard anything so loud and glorious as these electric guitars coming out of an amp. It was just captivating. Truly life changing.
In high school, Easter began experimenting with four-track recording alongside lifelong friend and collaborator Chris Stamey.
“Chris and I really got into recording, learning how to build songs in chunks on a four-track in my basement,” Easter said. “The next step was trying to get your hands on some professional gear, which you had to go to a recording studio to get and, my God, it was really expensive.”
By focusing his attention on second-hand recording gear, Easter was able to amass enough gear to outfit a humble studio. After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill, Easter nearly put down roots away from home.
“I had a space to do it in New York, but I chickened out,” Easter said. “I could just feel it was too intense. I would have to devote myself totally to getting it right. But I didn’t want to be so dedicated. I always wanted to play in bands.
By 1980 Easter was back home in Forsyth County, where he built a studio in his parents’ garage which he named Drive-In Studio. In less than a year, Easter recorded REM’s first single “Radio Free Europe” at the Drive-In.
A few months later, the future megastars invited Easter’s new band, Let’s Active, to Atlanta to play their first gig. Within a few years, Let’s Active signed to legendary alternative label IRS Records and began touring the country in the back of a van.
“The studio was kind of like my real job and it made the band less difficult to pull off,” Easter said. “We were able to support the band with the studio money I was earning.”
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 turnover for young upstart bands on a shoestring 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 began traveling to Winston-Salem to record records in Easter’s garage studio.
“We made a whole bunch of records in that garage that really mattered,” Easter said.
In the late 90s, Easter set out to build a proper studio, rather than the relatively ramshackle setups he had become known for over the previous two decades. It wasn’t long before Easter christened his new studio with his first session, mixing a record by the Orange Humble Band, of which he was also a member, in 2000.
Since then, Fidelitorium has hosted artists as varied as 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 and hundreds more.
Although the environment has become much more professional, moving from the garage to the real studio, Easter’s approach to making records has never changed. His philosophy has always been to keep things a little loose and fun, to find what makes each artist unique, to nurture it and help push it forward.
“It’s great to look up to (other artists) and get things from them, but then you have to realize that these people already exist,” he said. “And now, ‘I have to be myself.’ And that’s also a special thing.
One look around Fidelitorium and it’s easy to see why so many groups have flocked to this small pocket in central North Carolina. There’s an intimate, laid-back vibe, and the building is filled with tons of vintage and contemporary gear that would make any musician drool. It’s a place where you want to spend whole days and nights recording records.
Above all, it is clear that Fidelitorium is a studio imagined and executed largely in the vision of its owner, almost as if it were the realization of what Mitch Easter might have dreamed of when he was fresh out of college, building a studio in his parents’ garage some 40 years ago; somewhere he feels at home.