Hitmaker of the Month: Zach Bryan Producer Ryan Hadlock on Defying Nashville Norms With ‘Something in the Orange’

Nestled among 10 acres of lush green in Woodinville, WA, Ryan Hadlock’s Bear Creek Studio — built by his father in 1977 to record advertising jingles — is the unlikeliest of hit factories. But that’s where the producer brought Zach Bryan’s “Something in the Orange” to life. As minimal and forlorn as modern country gets, the steel guitar-propelled tearjerker not only conquered Nashville, but slowly seeped into the mainstream — landing a Grammy nomination and peaking at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. To date, the single has logged more than 3.3 million on-demand streams, per data by Luminate, and tops Country consumption for 2022.

An old hand at crafting Americana records (his previous credits include releases by the Lumineers and Brandi Carlile), Hadlock was introduced to Bryan by Columbia Records SVP of A&R Stefan Max. “Stefan first contacted me a couple years ago before Zach left the Navy,” he remembers. Bryan, who had already amassed a large following on social media, made a strong impression on Hadlock when they finally met at Bear Creek Studios. “It was quite obvious that he was a strong soul,” he says. “You can feel it with people like that.”

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Instead of sending Hadlock a demo, Bryan simply sat down next to him in the control room and started playing “Something in the Orange.” The producer immediately knew it was special. “It tells a story that’s a little bit ambiguous, so everybody can create their own reality of what it means.” It was the raw jolt of emotion that Hadlock had been looking for and he strived to recreate the impact of that first listen in his production.

“We tracked that song to tape in a very old school manner,” he remembers. “Zach wanted to make sure that 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 attempted to keep that raw emotion of what Zach does, but somehow bring in a twist that makes it unique to him,” Hadlock says, “as well as trying to stand up and be viable on the radio formats.”

While the cross-genre success of “Something in the Orange” surpassed all expectations, Hadlock understands the appeal. “It stands out because of how vulnerable it was,” he says. “People connect with that vulnerability and passion.” Bryan is the antithesis of the shiny, manufactured country music that took root in the ‘90s, which sits well with Hadlock. “Out here at Bear Creek, we have 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. “A number of records I’ve produced have really crossed over,” he says, citing the Lumineers and the Gossip. Interestingly, he doesn’t think of “Something in the Orange” as a country song. “Zach is a talented singer-songwriter that just happens to come from Oklahoma and has an accent.”

Despite being born into a music family, Hadlock wasn’t particularly keen to join the industry. He was intrigued when Soundgarden arrived at Bear Creek Studios to record “Badmotorfinger,” but — at the time — he was more into the Cure. “I rebelled against the music industry when I was about 17, the same way that people who grew up in conservative homes rebel against their families,” he laughs. “But I was the opposite. I got my hair cut short and I wanted to go to business school and wear suits.”

The corporate world couldn’t hold his interest, however, and he found himself interning at Bear Creek Studios in the late ‘90s. “Foo Fighters came out and worked on ‘Colour and the Shape’ with producer Gil Norton and I got to spend a lot of time with Dave Grohl one-on-one,” Hadlock remembers. “It was a very long and intense session.” It was a wild ride that he didn’t want to end. “One day Gwen Stefani showed up. I was right out of college, it was insane.”

Hadlock went on to craft a series of records for influential underground acts like Black Heart Procession and Blonde Redhead, before the Gossip became his commercial breakthrough. Since then, he has left his mark on the industry, recording songs and albums for the Lumineers, Brandi Carlile and Vance Joy. Despite his success, he’s still looking to prove himself. “Every time I go into the studio, I’m nervous,” he says. “I wonder if I’ll be able to do it again.”

Milestones like the critical and commercial success of Bryan’s “Something in the Orange” assuage those doubts, at least temporarily. He’s particularly excited about the singer-songwriter’s Grammy nomination for best country solo performance. “That feels great,” he says. “And one thing I’m excited about is it’s the third time that a project I’ve worked on has been nominated.” (The other two being the Lumineers and Carlile.) “Sometimes there’s magic in threes.”

While awards and radio hits are very welcome, Hadlock’s number one goal is to bring an artist’s vision to life. “My job is to make sure that the environment suits the song and serves the song,” he says. “I want the artist to be in love with it.” By doing that, Hadlock hopes to make classic records: “I hope in a thousand years, people listen to the music that I’ve worked on and feel what I felt when we were making it.”

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