It's hard to believe that the Kernersville home of producer Mitch Easter is also a recording studio.
The property's central element is a large but charming two-story brick house, fitted with pieces of artistic plate metal at the eaves, like a castle that somehow also feels comfortable. But there are two large metal outbuildings around the house, too—both nice, one accessorized with pink eaves and matching window frames. Further back, the other small gray-brick house is the Fidelitorium, the exquisite studio Easter has operated since 1999.
These days, Easter's clients range from largely untested locals to established indies with bigger, but still constricted budgets. This space almost seems too nice. It takes a quick search of the grounds to ensure that this is the right place; sure enough, through the windows of a brown sports wagon, a genuine platinum record inscribed with Mitch Easter's name is nestled against the seats. There's a gold one, too.
"Those things were stacked down here, and I've been trying to clean this place out. I just never unloaded them from my car," Easter says a few minutes later, sitting behind the mixing board in his roomy, wood-paneled production booth. The platinum record is for the Squirrel Nut Zippers' unexpected 1996 hit Hot. Easter doesn't care to keep it around, as he didn't produce the record; it was merely completed in his studio. He just doesn't seem to know where to take it.
Right now, Easter's recording Raleigh's Mollybond. Their soft harmonies waft in from the sun room attached to the studio. He's too busy to step away for a proper interview, but he has a few minutes between takes. Easter says it's been a good year for business, and he's as surprised as he is grateful. After all, 2010 was one of the studio's worst years. Between the stunted economy and the increasing trend of indie bands opting for fuzzed-out self-recordings, Easter found himself with barely enough work to get by.
Easter has been a producer for more than 30 years. His previous space, Winston-Salem's Drive-In Studio, opened in 1980. He's had a hand in some of the most iconic records in indie rock, most notably the first two R.E.M. LPs, including the 1983 landmark Murmur. He's an accomplished musician as well. His band Let's Active was an underground force in the '80s, well-regarded for their potent power pop. Dynamico, released in 2007, was his first solo LP and his first output since the band's 1990 dissolution.
Despite his success, he now charges $500 a session, the same rate he charged in the early '80s. The low rates are a move of necessity, but they also satisfy Easter's ideal of maintaining a studio that's accessible to anyone who can benefit from it.
"It's not just the space and the equipment," he says. "It's also the fact that you have this dedicated environment, and other people work there. I just always thought that was a romantic notion. I like thinking about EMI in England or CBS in New York as these kind of magic places."
That dreamland seems more feasible in 2011. He recently finished the debut LP for the buzzing Big Troubles, and he's currently mixing the next record from North Carolina indie rock mainstay Polvo. To keep his studio viable, he has to cram in as many projects as possible, but that doesn't seem to bother him. He loves his work, so doing more of it isn't a problem.
"When you make a recording and you play it back, and everybody in the room is excited, you can't beat it," he says. For Easter, that is all the magic he needs to endure.