How Zach Bryan's 'Something in the Orange' was made at renowned Seattle-area studio

Michael Rietmulder, The Seattle Times on

Published in Entertainment News

SEATTLE — Zach Bryan's music had been bubbling online for a few years. The country-adjacent singer-songwriter was serving as a Navy ordnanceman stationed in Washington state while his passionate following grew, sort of by accident. After workdays spent arming and disarming bombs or training for his next deployment, the Johnny Cash-loving kid from Oklahoma began posting cellphone-shot performance videos on social media and eventually self-released two albums of intimate, heavy-hearted acoustic songs, including his viral breakout "Heading South."

Everything changed in 2021 when Bryan, who lived on Whidbey Island for a time, was given an honorable discharge "to go play some music," he announced that year. No longer a World Wide Web away, Bryan's online admirers became throngs of IRL ticket-buyers as he hit the road on a robust itinerary that eventually led back to Washington last fall, the place where Bryan wrote many of his songs.

Although Bryan doesn't consider himself a country singer — his folky, twang-rocking tunes sang in an Okie's drawl are more in the Jason Isbell vein — country audiences grabbed hold like a bronc rider to a bucking steer, even as Bryan has distanced himself from Nashville's mainstream. Initially recorded in Woodinville with producer Ryan Hadlock, Bryan's emotional sledgehammer "Something in the Orange" became the unlikely country-ish smash of the year, earning Bryan a Grammy nomination for best country solo performance.

Even though he'd already left Washington, some of Bryan's first recording sessions after signing with Warner Records took place at Hadlock's fabled Bear Creek Studio, where marquee artists, local and otherwise, have recorded.

"[Bryan] was working in some sensitive areas in the naval base in Washington and I think he had become a little bit too much of a celebrity to be dealing with the stuff that he was dealing with," Hadlock said. "Like, people were asking for his autograph when they went to go pick up the things that they needed from him at the munitions depot."

From the sounds of it, it wasn't necessarily geography that brought Bryan, who declined an interview request for this story, to Woodinville. Hadlock has a track record of working with folk-leaning artists right before they blow up (The Lumineers, Vance Joy) and a friend, Stefan Max — who happens to be an A&R boss at Bryan's label — played studio matchmaker. Bear Creek's pastoral environs on a 10-acre farm and the warmth of a wooden barn converted into a pro studio also seem a natural fit for Bryan's rugged soul-baring.


The first time Bryan came out to Bear Creek, which was founded by Hadlock's parents in the late '70s, Hadlock knew Bryan had something special even before the analog tape started rolling.

"His charisma is off the charts," Hadlock said. "He looked me in the eyes, he's a solid shooter, shakes your hand and really, I got it. ... Once we started working on the music, it really made sense to me."

Over two or three trips to Woodinville, Bryan cut a handful of songs, two of which were released as singles. Though a rerecorded version of "Something in the Orange" (dubbed "Z&E's Version") appears on Bryan's sprawling triple album "American Heartbreak," swapping in harmonica and piano in place of pedal steel, it was the original Bear Creek recording that first exploded, with more than a quarter-billion streams on Spotify alone.

"With 'Something in the Orange,' he wanted to do something a little more raw," Hadlock said. "So, we tracked his vocals and guitar to analog tape, which not only has a special quality in sound, but when people are playing they know that they have to give it, right? Often in digital technology, as in Photoshop, you go in and really tweak everything. But when you work with tape, there's a feeling of urgency, because it's a moment that's captured."


swipe to next page

(c)2023 The Seattle Times Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


blog comments powered by Disqus