As a child, producer Ryan Hadlock helped his parents build Bear Creek Studio in Woodinville outside of Seattle, WA. Since its launch, artists including Foo Fighters, Modest Mouse and Soundgarden have worked there. He’s recorded with the Gossip, Johnny Flynn and the Lumineers. Notably, he produced the Lumineers’ self-titled, Grammy-nominated album, which was certified Platinum on the day Music Connection spoke with him. The single “Ho Hey” also sat atop several charts.
Hadlock views one of the most important parts of his job as uncovering and developing acts. “Most of what I’ve worked on have been projects that I’ve taken from an unknown level, helped bring them forward and make something great,” he explains. “I’m always looking for somebody who nobody knows about. I can help an artist get to the point where they can follow their art as long as they want to. That’s a good way to keep excited about the job.”
For the past 10 years, Hadlock has attended South by Southwest. Sometimes he finds the undiscovered band that he’s looking for. He recalls a story from a recent attendance. “I hadn’t found anybody that had knocked my socks off,” he recollects. “I went to the Seattle party, where I’d know people and wouldn’t have to sell myself. I ran into a friend named Christen Greene. He gave me the Lumineers’ demo and asked me to check them out; he thought we’d be a good fit. When I listened to their CD, I knew I wanted to work with them.
“The demos were rustic,” the producer continues. “They were recorded on a home computer. The band came out to Seattle and played one of the strangest shows I’ve ever been to—it was some kind of plant swap or organic compost sale—on a tiny stage.” Obviously the relationship has developed beyond all expectations.
Not surprisingly, since The Lumineers received its Grammy nomination, Hadlock has become busier. “I’ve had a lot more meetings with top record people,” he says. “I don’t know if the nomination had anything to do with it. I’m finding that these people knew who I was and they knew my track record. The nomination is just one more thing in the long list of projects. It’s making A&R people think that this isn’t a one-time thing. And it’s much easier to get meetings with the management of artists that I like.”
His go-to piece of gear is the Roland Space Echo. As he explains, “I brought my guitar and Space Echo to Greg Dulli’s house [Afghan Whigs] and we did a song together. He said, ‘I want that on everything I do.’ It’s something that I still use on everything. In the world of digital precision, having an element of randomness is important.
MC interviews The Lumineers at SXSW 2012
“I also tend to use the room more than most people. I do a lot of distant miking. I didn’t realize this until I went to Abbey Road. The session engineer who’d been there for 10 years told me that he liked the way I used the room when recording. You can hear that all over the Lumineers’ record with the depth of field. That’s something you can’t get out of a digital reverb.”
Bear Creek is a residential studio with 32-foot ceilings situated in a barn on a 10-acre farm. Hadlock’s upcoming projects include work with Warner Bros.-signed songwriter L.P. and 17-year-old artist Roméo Testa. His production philosophy is a forward-looking one. “The most important project is always the next one, never the last,” he asserts.
By Rob Putnam