Nestled among 10 acres of greenery in Woodinville, WA, Ryan Hadlock’s Bear Creek Studio — built by his father in 1977 to record ad jingles — is unlikely among hit factories. But that’s where producer Jack Bryan brought “Something in the Orange” to life. As minimal and bleak as modern country is, the steel guitar-driven tearjerker not only conquered Nashville, but slowly entered the mainstream — landing a Grammy nomination and reaching No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. To date, the single has logged more than 3.3 million on-demand streams, per Luminet’s data, and has the highest consumption in the country for 2022.
An old hand at producing Americana records (his previous credits include releases for The Lumineers and Brandy Carlyle), Hadlock was introduced to Brian by Columbia Records SVP of A&R Stefan Max. “Stefan first contacted me years ago before Zach left the Navy,” she recalls. Brian, who had already amassed a large following on social media, made a strong impression on Hadlock when he finally met at Bear Creek Studios. “It was pretty clear that he was a powerful soul,” he says. “You can feel it with people like this.”
Instead of sending Hadlock a demo, Brian just sat next to him in the control room and started playing “Something in Orange”. The producer immediately knew it was special. “It tells a story that’s somewhat ambiguous, so everyone can create their own reality about what that means.” It was the raw jolt of emotion that Hadlock was looking for, and he tried to recreate the impact of that first listen in his production.
“We tracked that song to tape in a very old-school way,” he recalls. “Zach wanted to make sure there was a lot of authenticity in his music.” At the same time, Hadlock kept an eye on the bigger picture. “As a producer, I tried to keep that raw emotion of what Zach does, but somehow bring in a twist that makes him unique,” Hadlock says, “as well as trying to stand out and be effective in the radio format.”
Although the cross-genre success of “Something in Orange” has exceeded all expectations, Hadlock understands the appeal. “It stood out because of how vulnerable it was,” he says. “People connect with that vulnerability and emotion.” Brian is the antithesis of the glossy, manufactured country music that began in the ’90s, which sits well with Hadlock. “Here at Bear Creek, we’ve become the flip side of Nashville.”
After all, Hadlock has a track record of helping artists make music that blurs genre lines without compromising their integrity. “The number of records I’ve produced has really exceeded,” he said, citing Lumineers and Gossip. Interestingly, he doesn’t think of “Something in Orange” as a country song. “Zach is a talented singer-songwriter who hails from Oklahoma and has an accent.”
Despite being born into a musical family, Hadlock was not particularly interested in joining the industry. He was intrigued when Soundgarden came to Bear Creek Studios to record “Badmotorfinger,” but — at that point — he was more healed. “I rebelled against the music industry when I was about 17, the way people who grow up in conservative homes rebel against their families,” he laughs. “But I was the opposite. I cut my hair short and I wanted to go to business school and wear a suit.”
The corporate world didn’t hold his interest, and he found himself interning at Bear Creek Studios in the late ’90s. “The Foo Fighters came out and worked with producer Gil Norton on ‘Color and the Shape,’ and I got to spend a lot of one-on-one time with Dave Grohl,” Hadlock recalls. “It was a very long and intense session.” It’s a wild ride that he doesn’t want to end. “One day Gwen Stefani showed up. I was right out of college, it was crazy.”
Hadlock produced a series of records for influential underground acts such as Black Heart Procession and Blonde Redheads, before Gossip became his commercial breakthrough. Since then, he has left his mark on the industry by recording songs and albums for Lumineers, Brandy Carlyle and Vans Joy. Despite his success, he is still looking to prove himself. “Every time I go into the studio, I’m nervous,” he says. “I wonder if I can do it again.”
Milestones like the critical and commercial success of Bryan’s “Something in the Orange” at least temporarily quelled these doubts. She is particularly excited about the singer-songwriter’s Grammy nomination for Best Country Solo Performance. “It feels great,” he says. “And one thing I’m excited about is that this is the third time that a project I’ve worked on has been nominated.” (The other two are Luminaire and Carlyle.) “Sometimes there’s magic in three.”
While awards and radio hits are welcome, Hadlock’s number one goal is to bring an artist’s vision to life. “My job is to make sure the environment fits the music and serves the music,” he says. “I want the artist to fall in love with it.” In doing so, Hadlock hopes to create classic records: “I hope that in a thousand years, people will hear the music I worked on and feel what I felt when we were making it.”